Title

Title

The Mediterranean Dimension Today: Seeds of Hope
Tuesday, January 18, 2005

By Chadwick R. Gore, CSCE Staff Advisor

Recent events across the Mediterranean region, previously unheralded and unappreciated by both governments and their citizens, are heartening signs of the growing interest in democracy and concomitant human rights at the highest levels of these societies.  Various meetings and seminars held in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and elsewhere indicate the fading away of the previously long-held belief that democratic values and international human rights standards are “Western” values.  Participants have shown a growing acceptance that these values are universal, and that inculcating them into the non-democracies of the region ultimately will result in security and prosperity within and among these states. Similar democratic evolutionary steps occurred in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union starting with glasnost and “new thinking.”

With time there has been the growing sense of the possible acceptance by some Middle Eastern governments and non-governmental organizations, especially academics, of a regional security system not unlike the Helsinki model. Commentary across the Middle East, Europe and the United States now suggests that the time is ripe for such a clear-cut progressive step for the good of the region and adjoining areas.  However, for any such process to be successful, it must be accepted by the regional actors as genuine and indigenous. Western involvement should collegial and not dogmatic.

The Mediterranean Dimension

The importance of Mediterranean concerns has been widely recognized from the outset of the Helsinki process. Issues relating to the Mediterranean were included in the negotiations that produced the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, resulting in a section of the Act on “Questions relating to Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean.”  The so-called “non participating Mediterranean countries,” Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia, participated on the margins in the 1973-1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe discussions regarding security in recognition of the relationship between security across Europe, the Soviet Union and in the Mediterranean region--including its southern shore.

The Mediterranean dimension of the OSCE was reformulated in the mid 90s as “Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation” to include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia. It should be noted that such “partner” status does not require commitment to Helsinki principles by these countries. In 1998, Jordan was accepted as a Mediterranean Partner, and Afghanistan, which many consider to lie within the broader Middle East region and which borders the Central Asian states of the OSCE, was accepted as a Partner in 2003.

In an effort to broaden and intensify this Mediterranean relationship, the OSCE, including the Parliamentary Assembly, has convened numerous seminars, conferences and forums emphasizing the issues of the Mediterranean and allowing full participation of representatives from Partner countries from the region. Additionally, a contact group exists within the OSCE to provide an ongoing opportunity for participating States and the six Mediterranean Partners to maintain dialogue on pertinent Mediterranean issues. Periodic meetings of the group are typically held at the ambassadorial level.

While this formal relationship between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners has been evolving, the looming question remains about the applicability of the Helsinki process to the Mediterranean region and beyond.  In other words, would such a multidimensional process work specifically within the region to reduce tensions and advance human rights and democracy? If so, how best should such a process evolve, especially considering the cultural determinants of the region?  Which countries should be involved in such a process?

Regional Efforts toward Acceptance of Democracy

Public expressions of the progress toward acceptance of these universal values within the non-European portion of the Mediterranean region have been best expressed throughout 2004 at the: OSCE Mediterranean Seminar held November 18-19, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt; Priorities and Mechanisms of Reform in the Arab World Conference, Cairo, Egypt, July 5-7; First Civil Forum in Beirut, Lebanon, March 19-22; and, the Arab Reform Issues Conference, March 14, Alexandria, Egypt.

During the OSCE Mediterranean Seminar in Sharm El Sheikh, several participating States, including the United States, supported the proposal from the Algerian delegation that the OSCE provide election observers for the January 9, 2005, Palestinian elections. Subsequently, on November 27, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission formally invited the OSCE to observe the elections, citing, in part, the OSCE’s “wealth of experience in electoral observation.” While a full-fledged observation mission was not sent due to the crush of end-of-year activity, especially the Ukrainian elections, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was represented by a smaller election delegation. The Council of Europe and the European Union, as well as other international NGOs, also sent teams of observers. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has also requested OSCE Partner status. There is no consensus on this issue, with some participating States questioning whether the PA constitutes a state.

What is most notable about both of these requests is that they are from one of the West’s shrillest critics, the Palestinian Authority. To request a seat with other states endeavoring to adhere to OSCE commitments, and to submit an election to the critique of the OSCE, may indicate the acceptance by the PA of universal standards and the realization that these are not “Western” values being imposed on the organization’s participants.

The “Priorities and Mechanisms of Reform in the Arab World Conference,” sponsored by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and Al Siyassa Al Dawlia Journal was arguably one of the most notable pro-democracy and reform meetings in the Arab sector of the Mediterranean region. The conference, convened in Cairo July 5-7, 2004, was attended by 100 participants from 15 Arab states who discussed international reform initiatives in the Arab world arising from the recent G-8, EU-US and NATO summits. They also evaluated the Alexandria Document produced at the March “Arab Reform Issues” meeting, and the “Second Independence” initiative produced earlier in Beirut. They also discussed and critiqued the pretexts under which Arab governments refuse reform, setting forth schemes for follow up and government accountability.  The Conference in addition discussed visions and priorities for political reform in eight Arab countries:  Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Algeria and gave particular attention to the Moroccan experience.

As important as these discussions were, the recognition by conference participants that while democratic and intellectual forces in the Arab world have constantly pushed for reform since 1967, the collective responsibility for the failure of such reform rests with the Arab governments was most important. This was made shockingly evident at the Arab League Summit in May.  There the majority of Arab governments outright rejected calls for reform while issuing a statement that linked reform with resolution of the Palestinian problem. Thus the attendees of the Cairo “Priorities” conference concluded that human rights would continue to be suppressed regardless of statements such as thiers, and that such statements by the Arab League and other joint-government declarations were only issued to placate the West.

Earlier, in response to the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative of the United States, the First Civil Forum was organized by the CIHRS in Beirut, Lebanon, March 19-22, 2004, in cooperation with the Association for Defending Rights and Freedoms (ADL), Palestinian Human Rights Organization (Rights) and in coordination with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Eighty-seven participants representing 52 NGOs from 13 Arab states issued “Second Independence: Towards an Initiative for Political Reform in the Arab World, The recommendations of the First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit.” This initiative contains sections with recommendations addressing: fundamental principles for reform; fundamental demands for reform; nationalities and minorities; renewing religious discourse; women’s rights; rights of migrant laborers and refugees; reform priorities in states in transition (which addresses Sudan and Iraq); the Palestinian issue; which charter for human rights and peoples in the Arab world is best to be considered (such as, among others, the Regional Security Charter for the Middle East developed by the Regional Security Charter Working Group); civil society and reforming the regional regime; and, new responsibilities for the human rights movement. This is a comprehensive anti-statist approach to reform across the Arab world, recognizing for the first time in a major document that the primary responsibility for such problems as economic stagnation, poverty and illiteracy, coupled with systemic human rights abuses, lie with each and every government in the region--NOT an outside boogeyman, i.e. the West.

Just a week earlier, the “Arab Reform Issues” conference was held in Alexandria, Egypt, March 12-14. Their final product is called the “Alexandria Document” which calls upon Arab governments’ reform in four areas: political reform including power sharing, respect for human rights, free media, independent political parties, and constitutional separation of powers; economic reform including privatization programs in banking and property rights, empowerment of women, and small business development; social reform that reevaluates values that have a negative effect on Arab life; and, cultural reform that uproots fanaticism from some religious curricula, mosque sermons and official and non-official media.

In the past, any one of these meetings would have been noteworthy.  But here three were convened in a nine-month period--Cairo, Beirut and Alexandria--each of which puts forth significant plans for reform in the future of the Arab world. These plans share common objectives, are built upon each other in some ways, and are basically arising from outside of governments.  These efforts are somewhat similar to the Helsinki Monitoring Groups of the 70s and 80s which called upon governments to adhere to their international obligations and monitored their compliance.

Helsinki Commission Initiatives

In November 1995, the Commission publicly explored questions concerning the region through a two-day seminar:  “The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions.” Periodic contacts with representatives of Mediterranean Partners at various OSCE meetings, such as Human Dimension Implementation Meetings, Ministerial Meetings and various seminars, indicated that any progress in the region along the Helsinki model, or any other “western” security framework, was inexorably tied to resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Additionally, however, Arab representatives, most notably from Egypt and Morocco, expressed irritation at what they described as “conflicting signals” from the West, especially the United States. They viewed the simultaneous approaches across the region from different Western organs, i.e. NATO, the EU (through the Barcelona Process and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership) and the OSCE as working at cross purposes by approaching the regional security issue with differing proposals and expectations.  The view from Cairo and other capitals was that since these approaches were neither coordinated nor consistent, none of them should be taken seriously--a view that unfortunately came to be shared across much of the region.

Most recently, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 15, 2004, addressing possible roles of the OSCE in the Middle East, and, more importantly, examining the applicability of the Helsinki model writ large in the region. Witnesses included Ambassador Max Kampelman, former Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Natan Sharansky, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs; Dr. Peter Jones, Research Associate at the Munk Center for International Studies, University of Toronto, and project leader of the Middle East Security and Arms Control Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute; and, Ambassador Craig Dunkerley (ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor; and Professor Michael Yaffe, both of the Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University.

The objectives of the hearing were to examine the wide range of ideas concerning the OSCE and the broader Middle East region and to seek ideas for processes whereby the states of the Middle East could create an indigenous Helsinki process, to include the human dimension.  This would be especially problematic as none of the regimes in the region currently have committed to the legal reforms necessary for such human rights commitments.  The hearing also considered what role the West should play, especially the United States.

Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) set the tone of the hearing by defining the Middle East as the region from Morocco in the west to Iran in the east, and from Sudan in the south to Turkey in the north, “trapped today in the polar opposite of the OSCE process.  Instead of democratic principles pushing democratic progress, state repression breeds resentment and poverty.”  He pointed out that leaders from Israel, Egypt and other countries in the region had testified before the Commission as early as 1995 on the need for a regional security system like the OSCE, and yet no progress toward such a system was in evidence.

Former Commissioner and current Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) reminded all that the Commission first examined the possibility of a Helsinki-type process for the Middle East in an October 14th, 1993, hearing. Since, commissioners have continued to raise this possibility with Middle East leaders, believing such a process was relevant then, and is perhaps even more so now. Mr. Hoyer proposed that the very substantial gulf that existed between the Soviet Union and the West when the Helsinki process began and the existing gulf between many of the countries in the Middle East are analogous.

Hoyer explained that as the West and East were, in 1975, bitterly divided, they came together and agreed on certain principles.  Some, perhaps, agreed on them rhetorically, while some agreed philosophically.  In any event, the agreement had great power and that could apply in the Middle East. Notwithstanding the deep differences that existed then, the process established a regional forum for discussion of certain principles which may not be universally followed, but are now universally accepted. “Clearly, the governments and the peoples of the Middle East must embrace for themselves such a process in order to achieve lasting peace, stability and prosperity,” he said.

Ranking House Commissioner Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) noted the uniqueness of the OSCE working through voluntary compliance to commitments by the participating States, not treaty obligations. He also said in some respects the OSCE is stronger than other multilateral organizations due to the use of consensus which requires active diplomacy for results. Originally Cardin strongly supported the effort to expand the OSCE process in the Middle East, specifically a CSCME (Commission for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East). Over the years when he has raised this with leaders in the region, they have supported such a process for the Middle East, without any reservation at all. They have seen this as the right way to try to resolve regional conflicts by creating a forum in which to discuss differences in an open manner where every state is given equal respect in dealing with the issues.

However, Mr. Cardin’s position has changed, accepting Ambassador Kampelman’s proposal to expand the existing organization to include the Middle East diaspora: since there exists the OSCE, and it could take decades, perhaps, for the different states in the region to develop their own commitments, why not just expand the OSCE with stronger participation from the countries in the Middle East? He noted that the OSCE is looking at ways too expand its Mediterranean partners within the OSCE, using the partnership structure as a framework to deal with regional issues.

Ambassador Kampelman proposed the extension of the existing 55-nation OSCE to include the current Mediterranean Partners, noting that the Helsinki Final Act included several references to Mediterranean states, dealing specifically with the “geographical, historical, cultural, economic, and political relationship between Europe and the Mediterranean.”  He stressed the value of providing Middle Eastern countries with a standard for human rights and democracy through becoming OSCE participating States and voluntarily accepting the considerable body of related Helsinki commitments.

Minister Sharansky also supported extending the OSCE to the Middle East, arguing an analogous comparison between the lack of human rights in the region today and the repression of the Soviet regime during the Cold War.  Sharansky argued that just as the Helsinki process in the Cold War used the spotlight of world opinion to expose Soviet human rights violations and their treatment of political dissidents, a similar approach to human rights abuses in the Middle East which would be focused on specific dissidents and prisoners, as well as the linkage of military and economic aid to human rights issues, would work through the OSCE.

Dr. Peter Jones contended that while the OSCE represents an appropriate model for a Middle Eastern regional security organization, he disagreed with Kampelman and Sharansky.  He argued that the OSCE should not be extended or replicated in the Middle East because the people and governments of the region need to have a significant stake in the establishment of a regional organization, and that stake would not exist in an organization brought in from abroad.  Jones emphasized the need to discuss the meaning of “democracy” and “secularism” given the regional cultural, historical, and political context, suggesting that if such discussions were ongoing, they could eventually result in some form of regional charter laying out the basic “norms of conduct” for governments and civil society in the region.

Ambassador Dunkerley and Dr. Yaffe testified in the same vein as Dr. Jones, each emphasizing different points.  Dunkerley stressed that since organizations imposed from outside the region, or perceived to come from outside the region, would fail, reform must be perceived to be genuinely owned by the people of the Middle East.  Reform in the region, he said, is a long-term prospect and that it would involve both regional and bi-lateral relations.  He also emphasized, as Dr. Jones had, that developments in Iraq and the Palestinian issue would play an important role in the establishment of a regional security organization.

Yaffe shared some of the insights he had gained from his previous work on regional security in the Middle East.  Yaffe argued against a broad regional organization because not all of the countries in the region are focused on the same issues.  In particular, he said, a pan-regional approach would mean that the Israeli-Palestinian issue would dominate the new organization’s agenda, perhaps at the expense of progress on less polemical issues.

Besides a sub-regional approach, Dr. Yaffe also urged that bilateral programs tailored to support civil society and democracy in individual countries served as perhaps the best means to advance reform.  Finally, he suggested, as Jones and Dunkerley had, that “Middle East ownership” of the security and development process was extremely important.  The success of that process also depended, he added, on a comprehensive approach to other regional problems, such as the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

In conclusion, Chairman Smith voiced concern about possible isolation of Israel within a strictly Middle Eastern organization.  Dr. Jones responded that Israel might be rhetorically isolated in a regional security system, but in terms of actual security concerns, would not.  Dunkerley added that if the Middle East were simply added to the OSCE in order to prevent Israel’s isolation, the Israeli-Palestinian question would bog down progress on other issues central to the work of the current OSCE, especially given the consensus rule.  Yaffe seconded those thoughts and emphasized that progress throughout the region depends on the ebb and flow of the peace process.

An October 23, 2003, Commission briefing “Democracy and Human Rights in the Mediterranean Partner States of the OSCE: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia” with presentations by experts from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch set the tone for future Commission efforts in the region. Expert panelists participating in the briefing were: Frank Smyth, Washington Representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists; Karen Hanrahan, Director of Advocacy for Middle East and North Africa, Amnesty International USA; and, Joe Stork, Washington Director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Unfortunately the general outcome of the briefing was rather negative. Torture and ill treatment of detainees were described as serious problems within the Mediterranean Partners, as well as arbitrary detentions, lack of due process, and limits on religious practice. Such restrictions have been exacerbated in the name of anti-terror initiatives since the attacks of September 11. It was reported that unrest in the Mediterranean region, as well as repression, had given rise to an increase in human rights violations, with torture in varying degrees remaining a problem in all six countries. Journalists attempting to work in the region faced difficulties as well with several in jail.

The briefing pointed out the stark reality that Mediterranean Partners are not  participating States of the OSCE and have not accepted the OSCE commitments. This picture had several present wondering if there could ever be a Helsinki process with governments so far from accepting basic human rights criteria.

The Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative

Coincidentally, two weeks after the Commission briefing on the Mediterranean Partner States, President Bush delivered what many consider a clarion call for reform in the Middle East in his November 6, 2003 speech on the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. Rejecting the common western cultural condescension of many who believe that democracy and representative government cannot succeed in Islamic Arab States, the President pointed out that champions of democracy in the region understand that while democracy is not perfect nor a path to utopia, it is the only path to national success and dignity.  After delineating the details of successful democracies, President Bush announced the United States had adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This Greater Middle East Initiative, which has become the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) was at first viewed skeptically by the region and much of Europe. The initial practical application of the BMENA was to be the Forum for the Future which first met in December, 2004.

European and OSCE Initiatives

The European Union’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), announced on November 10, 2004, invites adjacent states of the EU to share peace, stability and prosperity, with the aim of creating a secure ring of friendly States around the borders of the newly enlarged EU.  Specifically, for the Mediterranean neighbors the ENP is to build on the 10-year experience of the Barcelona process, thereby continuing to emphasize economic integration and deepening political cooperation.

Europeans have also accepted the June, 2004, G-8 summit declaration titled “Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa” regarding the BMENA with commitments to pursue political, economic and social reform in the BMENA. The EU will support it on a dual track with the ENP.  The G-8 Forum for the Future, held in Rabat, Morocco, December 10-11, at the ministerial level, is the first step in the development of the BMENA.

Previously, in October 2003, the Regional Security Charter Working Group met in Copenhagen to discuss a Draft Regional Security Charter for the Middle East. This experts group has convened periodically for several years under the direction of Dr. Peter Jones.  The Middle East is defined for purposes of this Charter as the States of the Arab League; the Islamic Republic of Iran; the State of Israel; and Turkey.  The Charter is an evolving document which is being developed on a Track 2, i.e. non-governmental, level for eventual consideration by the states involved.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on October 1, 2004, and the OSCE on November 18-19 held Mediterranean Seminars in Rhodes, Greece and Sharm El Shiekh, Egypt, respectively.

The October 1 Parliamentary Forum, led by OSCE PA President and U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL),  focused primarily on combating terrorism in the Mediterranean, although economic security, trade and co-operation in the region were discussed by some speakers. Speakers included: Special Representative for the Mediterranean and recent-past OSCE PA President Bruce George, M.P.; OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis, and Chairman of the OSCE Mediterranean Contact Group Janez Lenarcic.  Particularly poignant remarks were delivered by Dr. Thanos P. Dokos, Director of Studies at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Athens, and Mr. Sotiris Roussos, Lecturer, Institute of International Relations, Panteion University of Athens.  Both discussed the role of Islam in the region, Dokos from the historic perspective, Roussos the economic. In both cases cause for concern about radical Islam was shown to be well founded, yet Islamic States were shown, in the long term, to be necessary and acceptable.  And yes, each believed, democracy was the road these states need to follow in the future.  While some important points were presented, the seminar would have benefited by the broader participation of representatives of Mediterranean Partners.

The well-attended Sharm El Shiekh seminar produced some very positive results for the future. There was a welcome addition of members of the civil society, including a senior Egyptian general and a female parliamentarian.

As previously mentioned, Algeria suggested that the OSCE observe the January 9 Palestinian elections, a move that immediately gained widespread support. Not only would this help to insure a free election but could show the region how an organization like the OSCE might be a positive security structure.  Along the same vein, Ambassador Craig Dunkerley proposed linking OSCE conflict prevention and human dimension resources with regional institutions that are beginning to explore the development of civil society--such as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Association for Defending Rights and Freedoms (ADL), Palestinian Human Rights Organization (Rights)--reinforcing local efforts rather than superimposing European institutions.

Most of the discussions concerned threats to security, confidence and security-building measures (CSBM) and migration.

A key address from Mohamed Kadry Said of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo, laid out the current situation and where the region needs to head for security.  After describing the deterioration of mutual security in the region as the fault of both the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, he called for the Mediterranean Partners to redefine cooperation, threats and the Mediterranean, rejecting unilateral action in the meantime.  His emphasis on cooperation in the region, and the need for expanding the region’s security space to include Afghanistan and possibly beyond laid a basis to consider security architecture for the area.  He also described an evolving Arab-Islamic-Western-Global anti-terrorism perspective, which could be part of the basis for such architecture.

Conclusion

For more than a decade, the lack of and need for a regional security structure in the Middle East has been examined and discussed, primarily outside the region yet focused inward to the Arab states. Momentum toward such a framework seems to be gaining strength, both in the West through NATO, the G-8, EU, and OSCE and through the actions of certain governments willing to fund and act upon such initiatives.  Notably, regional civil society actors are engaged in Track 2, and regional governments are slowly being included in such discussions.

Regarding BMENA and ENP, however, there may be room for concern.  This duality of mutual effort between the United States and the European Union potentially presents a cross-Atlantic confrontation, and not unlike the confusion of multiple regional approaches from the West in the past as cited by the representatives of Mediterranean Partners.  Since the goals of the BMENA are to bring about regional political and economic reformation versus the intent of the ENP, which is to build accommodation with existing regimes for economic and political stability, the two approaches are in conflict.  The Europeans and the Americans need to agree to some common standards regarding regional stability while encouraging political change.  At the same time, the governments of the region will need to strive to be flexible and perceptive enough for both initiatives.  The alternatives to such cooperation are either for little or no progress to be made, or for the competition in the region between the United States and the EU to become the Great Game of the 21st century.

It is clear that there is much ongoing effort on which to build.  However, two points must be made concerning the situation today.  First, the West must be aware of the potential conflict between BMENA and ENP.  Second, regional governments must become the primary actors in their own interest.

When discussions concerning the broader Middle East region take place in forums such as the OSCE, every effort must be made to significantly expand the number and role of speakers and attendees from the region. The day of talking at, instead of listening to, is passé.

  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • 45th Anniversary of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

    I take this time as the Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the Helsinki Commission, as we celebrate our 45th anniversary. The Helsinki Commission is the vehicle for U.S. participation in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), representing 57 states that have come together under the OSCE, all the countries of Europe, all the countries of the former Soviet Union, including those located in Central Asia, the United States, and Canada. Mr. President, this is a unique body in that it represents both the executive and legislative branches of government. The executive branch has representatives on the Helsinki Commission, and both the House and Senate have Senators and Representatives that serve on the Helsinki Commission. I am very pleased to have as my co-leader Senator Wicker from Mississippi as the Republican leader in the Senate on the Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Commission has been responsible for elevating our moral dimension to U.S. foreign policy. Its principles point out very clearly that you cannot have security without dealing with good governance and human rights; you cannot have economic progress unless you have governance that respects the rights of all its citizens. That is why I was so pleased when President Biden announced that his foreign policy would be value-based, that as we participate in our foreign policy challenges, it will always be wrapped in our values, and his recent trip to Europe underscored that important lesson. And then he issued, not two weeks ago, the statement that corruption is a core national security threat and that we have a responsibility to fight corruption in order to protect our national security. I am so pleased of the accomplishments of the Helsinki Commission, particularly from the human rights and human dimension. I go back to my early days in the House of Representatives, when the Soviet Union still existed and the challenges of Soviet Jews trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union. It was the Helsinki Commission that was one of the leading voices to help deal with Soviet Jews. I think about trafficking-in-persons, modern-day slavery, and the efforts that the United States did in leading that effort, including passing landmark legislation in trafficking in persons and establishing a rating system where every country in the world is rated on how well they are dealing with fighting trafficking. Now this has become the model, and so many countries have acted. It was the U.S. Helsinki Commission that led the effort for what Congress was able to pass and the international effort in order to fight trafficking-in-persons. I think about the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide, and recognize that it was the Helsinki Commission that pushed to hold those who were responsible for these atrocities accountable, particularly as it related to the Balkan conflict. Then I think about the landmark legislation that was passed in the Congress that deals with sanctions against human rights violators, first the Magnitsky sanctions and then the Global Magnitsky sanctions. It came out of hearings from the Helsinki Commission and legislation that we authored. It is not only the standard here in the United States. It has been adopted as the standard in Europe, in Canada, and in other countries, to make it clear that human rights violators will not be able to hide their illicit funds in our banking system or visit our country. Perhaps our strongest contribution is the oversight hearings that we hold. We also passed the Elie Wiesel Atrocities Prevention Act. But just last week we had a hearing in the Helsinki Commission on how we can prevent atrocities from occurring in the first place. So I am very proud of the accomplishments of the commission. Part of the responsibilities of every member state of the OSCE is that we have the right to challenge any State’s compliance with the Helsinki Final Act Accords. So it is our responsibility to challenge when Russia violates those provisions or when we see violations in Turkey—any member State, we can challenge. But we also have to do our own self-evaluation. As Chairman of the commission, I have been using that opportunity to question conduct in our own country when it does not match the responsibilities that we should have. We saw that in the past in regard to the torture issues in Guantanamo Bay. My participation in the Helsinki Commission goes back to my early days in the House of Representatives and some of my proudest moments of representing our country on the international stage. Let me just give you a few examples. In February 1991, I joined a fact-finding mission to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. That is when the Soviet tanks were in Vilnius. That is when the Soviet Union was demonstrating oppression against the people of the Baltic States. It was a very sad moment of oppression, and we went there to stand up for the people of the region, to let them know that the United States never recognized the Soviet’s occupation of the Baltic States, and that we stood with the people and their independence. It was very interesting. We went from there to Moscow, and Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t want to have anything to do with us. He wouldn’t have a meeting with us, and he wouldn’t acknowledge that we were there. But we had a meeting with Boris Yeltsin, who at that time was the chair of the parliament, and we got great visibility. And Yeltsin supported our efforts to condemn the Russian use of force. I have been to Germany several times. My first trip on behalf of the Helsinki Commission was when it was a divided country, and we went to East Berlin. We were the voices for those oppressed people whose voices could not otherwise be heard, and we gave them hope that one day they would see freedom. I then returned when we were literally taking down the Berlin Wall, and I joined in taking down part of the Berlin Wall. I have part of that as a prized possession in my home. I have returned to Germany as a united country and see what a democratic Germany means and the work of our commission to bring down the Iron Curtain. Germany is now a leading democratic state and a great ally of the United States. I have been to Kyiv, Ukraine, on several occasions. I was there during the Maidan protests, where the people demanded democracy. And then I had a chance to return and monitor the elections in Ukraine with Senator Portman—again, a country that has been able to rid itself of the oppression of the Soviet Union. I have been very active in the Helsinki Commission in regards to the Parliamentary Assembly. I chaired one of their three standing committees. I had a chance to become Vice-President at the Parliamentary Assembly. Today, I acknowledge Senator Wicker, who is Vice-President. It points out the bipartisan nature of the Helsinki Commission and our work on the international platform.

  • Tribute to Erika Schlager

    I want to acknowledge one individual who recently announced that she is retiring, Erika Schlager, after 34 years of service to the Commission and to the global community. Erika received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where she graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her A.M. degree from Harvard University in Soviet Union studies and her juris doctor degree with honors from the George Washington University Law School. She studied at Warsaw University as a Fulbright fellow and received a diploma from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Quite a record. She used that academic preparation to make a difference in the world—and what a difference she made. Erika has been an unfailing professional in her dedication to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that the commission meets its mandate and defends human rights abroad. Her deep expertise, which she has honed over decades of work, is renowned both among policy professionals in the United States and in the countries of Central Europe that she followed for the commission. Erika is one of our nation’s top experts on Europe’s most vulnerable communities. She is a leading voice on Roma rights—Europe’s largest minority, with significant populations also in the United States. I have joined Erika in the crusade to speak up for the Roma population, a group that has been denied citizenship in so much of Europe. What a difference she has made in their lives. Erika has worked with Members of Congress, the Department of State and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to address issues ranging from the enslavement and sterilization of Roma to a permanent memorial in Berlin dedicated to the Sinti and Roma victims of the Nazi regime, to annual recognition of International Roma Day. She has brought to my attention the candidacy of Ethel Brooks to be the first Roma board member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I know that Erika will continue to bring Roma perspective and history on the Holocaust to further the tolerance, education, and human rights work of the museum. I have the honor of representing the Senate on the Holocaust Memorial Museum board, and I can tell you that Erika is so deeply respected by the professionals at that museum for the work she has done in furthering the goal of that institution to prevent atrocities against any groups of people. Erika has long been one of my top advisers on the Holocaust restitution and Europe’s Jewish community. She has worked closely with me over the years to raise concerns about the rise of Holocaust revisionism in countries like Hungary and Poland; to foster implementation of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets measures to right the economic wrongs that accompanied the Holocaust; and to hold accountable a French railway that transported thousands of Holocaust victims to their deaths. She worked on all of these issues and made significant progress. Erika has been instrumental in ensuring that the Helsinki Commission works to hold the United States accountable for our own human rights record, examining U.S. policies and conduct concerning Guantanamo Bay detention camps and U.S. policy regarding torture. Erika’s counsel greatly assisted me in my role as the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE’s Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance, where I was focused on human rights and justice here at home and across the expanse of the 57 participating States of the OSCE. From the plight of African Americans and Muslims to migrants and refugees, Erika has been integral to the Helsinki Commission’s mandate of upholding the myriad of human rights commitments defined in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE agreements. In addition to her many professional milestones and achievements, Erika retires from the commission having left a deeply personal mark on those she worked with, from diplomats and civil servants to the staff of the Helsinki Commission. She is a natural teacher with a gift of taking a complex issue and distilling it in a way that makes it both relevant and accessible. Erika has taught our diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute and spoken at international meetings and at universities across the nation and around the world. She displayed her exceptional teaching ability at the Department of State’s annual training program on Roma rights, and she has ensured that Roma civil society groups could also participate. She has actively sought out dialogue and collaboration with new colleagues to help deepen their understanding of the Helsinki Commission’s role, of the challenges the commission could usefully seek to address abroad, and of the unique tools at its disposal to do just that. Erika is always quick to ask about a colleague’s well-being or inquire after a family member’s well-being. She has fostered collegiality among the Commission’s staff through her unfailing kindness and good nature. In so doing, she has repeatedly demonstrated how deeply she cares, not just for the work she has dedicated her career to, but also for the people whose great privilege it is to call her a colleague and a friend. I will say on a personal basis that I have benefited so much from her friendship, from her understanding, from her strategic thinking, from where we can make a difference. We know there are a lot of problems around the world. We know we can’t settle all the issues. But Erika helped us focus on areas where we can make a difference, and thanks to her input, we have made a difference. I know I speak on behalf of all Helsinki Commission members and staff and scores of other individuals—many who may not know her name—and groups concerned about advancing human rights around the globe and here at home when I say how we will miss Erika. Henry David Thoreau said: ‘‘Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.’’ Erika has embodied that maxim in her professional career and in her life. She has made an enormous difference, and she will continue to do so. I wish her all the best with respect to her future endeavors. I know we will continue to hear from her. Thank you, Erika, for the way you served the commission, our country, and the global community.

  • Sweden's Leadership of the OSCE

    In 2021, Sweden chairs the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—which comprises 57 participating States stretching from North America, across Europe, and to Central Asia and Mongolia. Even as the OSCE begins to emerge from the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is tackling other critical challenges, including Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine, protracted conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, and the pursuit of a lasting and sustainable peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through the framework of the Minsk Group. Meanwhile, several countries are deliberately spurning their OSCE commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Participating States including Russia, Belarus, and Turkey not only stifle dissent in their own countries but also seek to undermine the OSCE’s work defending fundamental freedoms and curtail civil society’s participation in OSCE activities. Other shared challenges include combating human trafficking, countering terrorism and corruption, and protecting vulnerable communities, including migrants, from discrimination and violence. At this virtual hearing, Swedish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Ann Linde discussed Sweden’s priorities for 2021 and addressed current developments in the OSCE region. Related Information Witness Biography

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Joins Inter-Parliamentary Discussion on Human Rights

    On May 25, 2021, the U.S. Helsinki Commission joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee and European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights at the launch event for the EU - US Strategic Inter-Parliamentary Consultation on Human Rights. The inter-parliamentary discussion focused on global human rights sanctions regimes, values-based foreign policy, and opportunities for transatlantic cooperation. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) emphasized the impact of the Global Magnitsky Act in facilitating accountability by sanctioning the world’s worst human rights abusers, preventing them from entering the United States, and freezing their U.S. assets. Sen. Cardin congratulated the European Union for passing a global human rights sanctions regime and suggested two modifications: first, that sanctions target corruption, which tends to fuel human rights abuses; and second, that the European Union pursues individuals that materially assist human rights abusers, including lawyers, accountants, money launderers, and reputation launderers. Sen. Cardin also identified the need to consider diplomatic measures outside of sanctions, such as a mechanism to evaluate countries’ progress in combatting corruption, similar to the U.S. Trafficking in Persons regime. U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09)—who also serves as chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties—advised that U.S.-EU cooperation will further strengthen the Magnitsky Act and the effectiveness of human rights sanction regimes. Cohen also emphasized the bipartisan support for human rights in the United States. Members of the European Parliament expressed optimism that increasing U.S.-EU coordination on human rights protections will strengthen overall impact. Rep. Bill Keating (MA-09) recognized that the democratic values shared between the United States and European Union can help fight rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding. Greens Member of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs and of the EP Subcommittee on Human Rights Jordi Solé (Spain) emphasized the importance of consistency in the U.S. and EU approach to promoting human rights in order to ensure the sanctions mechanism is credible and useful. He also raised the importance of examining the role of the private sector in supporting human rights. U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) affirmed the importance of supporting emerging democracies and addressing corruption in private industry. Moore acknowledged the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder and noted that the United States should not raise human rights concerns abroad in foreign policy without examining its own adherence to those principles. Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-11), President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, suggested that NATO should actively prioritize democracy promotion, democratic values, and human rights. To close the discussion, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights Maria Arena (Belgium) and Rep. Moore highlighted possible initiatives for future U.S.-EU cooperation: coordinated response to human rights abuses in Belarus; cooperation with private industry to protect human rights; cooperation with Afghan NGOs and women’s associations as the U.S. military withdraws from the country; determination of parliamentary diplomacy’s role in addressing human rights abuses; and implementation of measures within the participating States to mitigate democratic backsliding in the West, which would include addressing systemic racism.

  • Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde to Appear at Helsinki Commission Online Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following online hearing: SWEDEN’S LEADERSHIP OF THE OSCE Priorities for 2021 Friday, June 11, 2021 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Watch Live: https://www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission In 2021, Sweden chairs the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—which comprises 57 participating States stretching from North America, across Europe, and to Central Asia and Mongolia. Even as the OSCE begins to emerge from the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is tackling other critical challenges, including Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine, protracted conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, and the pursuit of a lasting and sustainable peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through the framework of the Minsk Group. Meanwhile, several countries are deliberately spurning their OSCE commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Participating States including Russia, Belarus, and Turkey not only stifle dissent in their own countries but also seek to undermine the OSCE’s work defending fundamental freedoms and curtail civil society’s participation in OSCE activities. Other shared challenges include combating human trafficking, countering terrorism and corruption, and protecting vulnerable communities, including migrants, from discrimination and violence. At this virtual hearing, Swedish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Ann Linde will discuss Sweden’s priorities for 2021 and address current developments in the OSCE region.

  • Helsinki Commission Commemorates 45 Years of Advancing Comprehensive Security in the OSCE Region

    WASHINGTON—To commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, on June 3, Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “The Helsinki Commission has played a vital role in elevating the moral dimension of U.S. foreign policy and prioritizing the protection of fundamental freedoms in our dealings with other nations,” said Chairman Cardin. “From fighting for fair treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union, to developing landmark legislation to address human trafficking, to demanding sanctions on human rights violators and kleptocrats, and so much more, the commission consistently has broken new ground.” “For 45 years, the commission has flourished as a bipartisan and bicameral platform for collaboration within the federal government. Its purpose is not to support a specific party or administration, but instead to advance transatlantic cooperation, promote regional security and stability, and hold OSCE participating States accountable to their promises,” said Sen. Wicker. “Our commissioners’ united front against threats to democracy and human rights worldwide has become a pillar of U.S. international engagement.” “I am grateful to have experienced the crucial role played by U.S. engagement in the Helsinki Process, both as an election observer in Bulgaria in 1990, and later as a lawmaker and commissioner,” said Rep. Wilson. “The Helsinki Commission is unique in its ability to adapt to evolving global challenges. The defense of human rights and democracy looks different now than it did during the Cold War, but we continue to unite over the same resilient principles and commitment to fundamental freedoms.” On June 3, 1976, U.S. President Gerald Ford signed the Helsinki Commission into existence through Public Law 94-304 to encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975—the founding document that lays out the ten principles guiding the inter-state relations among today’s OSCE participating States. The agreement created new opportunities to engage with European partners on human rights, cooperative security, economic opportunities, and territorial disputes, and the commission played an integral role in ensuring that human rights became a key component of U.S. foreign policy. Forty-five years after its founding, the Helsinki Commission continues to engage with participating States to confront severe and persistent violations of human rights and democratic norms. Since its establishment, the Helsinki Commission has convened more than 500 public hearings and briefings. It regularly works with U.S. officials in the executive branch and Congress to draw attention to human rights and security challenges in participating States, including racism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance; corruption; human trafficking; and Russia’s persistent violations of the Helsinki Final Act in its relations with Ukraine and other OSCE countries.

  • Helsinki Commission Condemns Lukashenko Regime for Forced Landing of Commercial Jetliner Leading to Arrest of Raman Pratasevich

    WASHINGTON—Following Alexander Lukashenko’s order to divert and forcibly land a commercial plane in Minsk in order to arrest Belarusian activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich and civil society activist Sofia Sapega, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Commissioner Richard Hudson (NC-08) issued the following statements: “Dictators like Alexander Lukashenko increasingly seek to use extraterritorial surveillance, intimidation, harassment and even assassination against their political opponents,” said Chairman Cardin. “The kidnappings of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega from a commercial aircraft illegally forced by military aircraft to land in Minsk creates a precedent of terror that, if unchecked, could limit dissidents’ ability to travel freely. An international crime of this magnitude, engineered by the self-styled leader of Belarus, requires a strong international response, starting with Magnitsky sanctions on those involved.” “Lukashenko has already rigged elections, restricted freedoms, and repressed thousands of Belarusians. He has stooped to a new and alarming low by using military aircraft to force down a civilian airliner,” said Sen. Wicker. “He will only continue escalating his attempts to retain power unless he faces real consequences for his actions. We should develop a full-spectrum strategy against transnational repression to deter such brazen actions by dictators.” “The shocking abduction of Raman Pratasevich demonstrates that Alexander Lukashenko will do almost anything to silence perceived opposition,” said Rep. Wilson. “We demand that Lukashenko release all political prisoners without exception, and end his attacks against journalists, civil society, and all Belarusians peacefully exercising their rights.” “Holding civilian passengers hostage by creating a false threat and forcing a plane to land is an act of state terrorism,” said Rep. Hudson. “Unfortunately, we now have proof that Lukashenko’s dictatorship is a grave threat not only to Belarusians, but to the rest of the world. His regime should be treated as the rogue state that it is.” On May 23, a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius carrying over 120 passengers was notified of a bomb threat, met by a Belarusian military jet, and forced to land in Minsk. The bomb threat was false, and upon landing, Belarusian authorities detained journalist Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen studying in law at the European Humanities University, which was forced out of Belarus in 2004 and has relocated to Vilnius. Each could face up to 15 years in prison. Pratasevich, who had been living abroad for his safety since 2019, is a co-founder of the NEXTA Live Telegram channel, which has extensively covered this past year’s protests in Belarus and serves as a coordination hub for opposition activity. Belarusian authorities declared NEXTA an “extremist” outlet in October 2020. On May 24, video footage of Pratasevich appeared on Telegram, in which he states that his health is fine, the authorities have treated him lawfully, and that he is cooperating with them in their investigation. The Belarusian KGB is known for producing such videos of forced confessions. Lukashenko has crushed independent media and jailed journalists, activists, and political opponents in unprecedented numbers since Belarus’ falsified presidential elections in August 2020.

  • Cardin, Hudson Pledge Support to Ukraine in Bilateral Call Between OSCE PA Delegations

    WASHINGTON—In response to increased Russian aggression against Ukraine, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) initiated an exceptional bilateral meeting with members of the Ukrainian Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) on April 30.  Chairman Cardin, who serves as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Assembly, and Rep. Hudson, who is a member of the delegation and chairs the OSCE PA’s General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, sought the meeting to express the support of the United States for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and to solicit the Ukrainian lawmakers’ perspectives on the ongoing crisis. Ukrainian participants included parliamentarians Mykyta Poturaiev (Head of Delegation) and Artur Gerasymov (Deputy Head of Delegation).  The exchange, which focused on the recent massing of Russian forces on Ukraine’s eastern border and in occupied Crimea, and the closure by Russia of parts of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, also covered topics including: The militarization of occupied Crimea and widespread violations of fundamental freedoms there, with particular persecution directed toward Crimean Tatars The Crimean Platform, a Ukrainian diplomatic initiative to mobilize world leaders to raise the cost of Russia’s occupation of the peninsula, with the ultimate goal of de-occupation The effects of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on Russian influence in Europe  The importance of continued reform processes in Ukraine, including in ensuring the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and of Ukraine’s anti-corruption bodies Chairman Cardin and Rep. Hudson reiterated Congress’ strong and bipartisan support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Chairman Cardin underscored that the United States stood with Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, which “violated every principle of the Helsinki Final Act,” he stated. He added that the Ukraine Security Partnership Act unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 21 codified the U.S. security commitment to Ukraine and support for the Crimean Platform initiative, among other measures designed to strengthen the bilateral relationship. The United States remained “strongly and firmly united in our support for Ukraine,” Rep. Hudson said, pledging continued resolve in ensuring this message was clear to Russian authorities. Hudson, recalling a statement issued in his capacity as OSCE PA committee chair on April 7, also expressed readiness to engage fully in the parliamentary dimension of the Crimean Platform. In addition, the U.S. and Ukrainian delegates discussed plans for the 2021 Annual Session to be held remotely in late June and early July. 

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Mark World Press Freedom Day

    WASHINGTON—On World Press Freedom Day, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “Press freedom is at the core of a healthy democracy,” said Chairman Cardin. “Over the last year, we have witnessed a sharp decline in access to information globally, and a rise in cases of violence against journalists. Some OSCE participating States have even used the COVID-19 pandemic as grounds to justify unnecessary restrictions on the press. Independent, professional journalism grounded in truth and transparency is the best antidote to the poison of disinformation and misinformation that plagues the OSCE region, during this global emergency and at all times.” “Strong democracies encourage a free press—one that informs the public, welcomes diverse voices, and holds leaders accountable,” said Sen. Wicker. “Unfortunately, in many nations autocrats abuse political, economic, and legal measures to intimidate, jail, and bankrupt members of the media who oppose them. On World Press Freedom Day, I commend the courageous journalists who work despite these threats.” “In the absence of press freedom, citizens are denied access to information and prevented from meaningful engagement in their communities,” said Rep. Wilson. “In some participating States, we continue to see violent attacks, arbitrary arrests, legal harassment, and other attacks against the legitimate work of journalists. These attempts to close off the information pipeline only highlight the weakness of such regimes, not their strength.” In its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders found that journalism is totally blocked, seriously impeded, or constrained in 73 percent of the countries evaluated. The data also reflect a dramatic deterioration in people's access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage. According to the study, Turkmenistan (at 178 of 180), Azerbaijan (at 167), Tajikistan (at 162), Belarus (at 158), Uzbekistan (at 157), Kazakhstan (at 155), Turkey (at 153), and Russia (at 150), rank the lowest in press freedom in the OSCE region. On April 30, Chairman Cardin and Helsinki Commissioner Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) reintroduced the World Press Freedom Protection and Reciprocity Act, which seeks to protect and promote worldwide press freedom and enhance reciprocity for U.S. news and media outlets. Earlier in April, Helsinki Commission leaders called on Belarusian authorities to release journalists and political prisoners. In 2020, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing to examine the troubling trend of violence against journalists, and review implementation of international press freedom commitments undertaken by the United States. In 2019, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media testified before the U.S. Helsinki Commission on the state of media freedom in the OSCE region.

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest: April 2021

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Call for Action to Support Navalny

    WASHINGTON—In response to the precarious health of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison, threats to the future operation of his organization, and recent detentions of protestors calling for his release, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “The world is watching in horror as Alexei Navalny wastes away in a Russian prison cell, while being inspired by the bravery of Russians who came out to the streets to support him,” said Chairman Cardin. “The Biden administration should  continue to raise the cost on Vladimir Putin and his remaining allies for this most recent attempt to intimidate those who would take up Navalny’s call to action by challenging the Kremlin’s corruption and standing up for their own freedom.” “Alexei Navalny was lucky to survive one assassination attempt, but he returned to his homeland in a powerful example of civic courage,” said Sen. Wicker. “Now as he suffers once again in a Russian prison, we should consider Mr. Navalny’s suggestion of sanctioning those closest to Vladimir Putin—including notorious oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov, Igor Shuvalov, and Nikolay Tokarev. We will be monitoring his condition carefully.” “By jailing Alexei Navalny, branding his anti-corruption organization as ‘extremist,’ and targeting supporters of a free Russia, the Kremlin reveals its contempt for the fundamental rights of the Russian people,” said Rep. Wilson. “This is simply the latest attempt by Vladimir Putin to cling to power and it will ultimately fail.” In August 2020, Alexei Navalny was the victim of an assassination attempt by FSB that used a Russia-developed chemical weapon in the Novichok family. He spent months recovering after being flown to Berlin for treatment. Navalny returned to Moscow on January 17, 2021, and immediately was arrested. Navalny is serving two years and eight months at one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies, about three hours east of Moscow. He is accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence related to a 2014 case that is widely considered to be politically motivated. He has severe back pain and numbness in his extremities. Prison authorities have prohibited him from seeing his own doctors, but recently allowed him to be examined outside the prison by independent physicians. Navalny spent three weeks on a hunger strike to protest his lack of access to an outside doctor and remains in critical condition. On April 16, the Moscow prosecutor’s office asked the Moscow City Court to label Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional headquarters, as well as his Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation, as “extremist” organizations. If approved as expected, it will essentially outlaw these groups and criminalize their activity. On April 21, thousands of protestors came out across Russia in support of Navalny. More than 1,000 people were detained, including members of the press.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Troubled by Kyrgyzstan’s New Constitution

    WASHINGTON—Following the adoption of a new constitution in Kyrgyzstan on April 11, U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We are concerned that this new constitution will move Kyrgyzstan—long considered among the most democratic countries in Central Asia—toward authoritarian rule by concentrating power in the hands of the president, reducing the role of parliament, and minimizing checks and balances. “Vague provisions prioritizing the ‘moral and ethical values and public conscience of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic’ could be used to restrict human rights, including freedom of expression. We urge the Government of Kyrgyzstan to ensure that the country’s independent media and civil society can exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without interference.” The new constitution was approved via referendum, although voter turnout was low at just over 30 percent. President Sadyr Japarov, who took office after being freed from prison during unrest that followed a popular revolt sparked by fraudulent parliamentary elections last October, promoted the constitution’s stronger presidential role. Prior to the referendum, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission jointly evaluated the draft constitution and concluded that the process adopting it did not follow the rule of law and took place with minimal public consultation or parliamentary debate, and that it raised “grave concerns over the lack of respect for the principles of the rule of law, separation of powers, and inherent lack of checks and balances.”

  • Cardin and Wicker on April 15 Sanctions Against Russia

    WASHINGTON—In response to President Biden’s Executive Order on harmful foreign activities of the Russian government and subsequent Treasury sanctions designations, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statements: “The Biden administration is holding Russia to account for its malign activities in a direct and transparent manner,” said Chairman Cardin. “I applaud the president for taking bold action in response to Russia’s cyberattacks, election interference, its occupation of Crimea, the war it started in eastern Ukraine, and overall human rights abuses and weaponization of corruption. The president should continue to be frank with Russia about the consequences for their actions. We will need to stay the course and continue to use the Magnitsky Act and executive authority to further contain this dangerous regime.” “I welcome all efforts to hold Vladimir Putin accountable for his violence at home and abroad, but this package leaves much to be desired,” said Sen. Wicker. “Instead of the bold action needed to change the Kremlin’s behavior, yesterday’s sanctions represent the latest in a series of incremental steps that exact minimal costs and will have minimal effect. The longer we wait to impose real consequences for Moscow’s bad acts, the longer the Russian people will continue to suffer under Putin’s brutal authoritarian regime.” On April 15, Treasury sanctioned 16 individuals and entities that attempted to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential elections on behalf of the Government of Russia. Along with the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, Treasury also designated five people and three entities in connection with Russia’s occupation of Crimea and human rights abuses there. Under the authority of a new Executive Order issued by President Biden, Treasury implemented new restrictions on the purchase of Russian sovereign debt as well as targeted sanctions on technology companies engaged in malicious cyber activities against the United States.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Call on Belarusian Authorities to Release Journalists, Political Prisoners

    WASHINGTON—In response to the ongoing crackdown on journalists and civil society in Belarus, including the detention of RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik for almost 300 days on spurious charges, U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “Despite Aleksandr Lukashenko’s attempt to intimidate Belarusians, the resounding call for freedom and democracy in Belarus has been heard around the world. Ihar Losik, Katsiaryna Barysevich, Dzianis Ivashyn, Katsiaryna Andreyeva, and Darya Chultsova are just a few of the brave Belarusian journalists who have been imprisoned for simply doing their jobs. “We stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus, and in admiration of the courageous journalists who provide critical information to their fellow citizens despite the serious risks they face. “We call on Mr. Lukashenko to release all political prisoners without exception, and to end the attacks against journalists, civil society, and all Belarusians peacefully exercising their rights.” Since the run-up to the fraudulent August 2020 election, and during the subsequent protests, Belarusian authorities have conducted a sweeping crackdown on journalists, civil society, and opposition politicians. Sen. Wicker immediately condemned the election results and violence against protestors in Belarus, and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, then chairman of the Helsinki Commission, asked the U.S. administration to revoke access to the U.S. financial system for the nine largest state-owned companies in Belarus following the government’s violent suppression of peaceful protests. According to Belarusian human rights groups, there are now more than 350 political prisoners in the country. On March 31, the State Department announced that unless Belarus releases all political prisoners, the general license issued by the Treasury Department authorizing transactions with nine state-owned enterprises in Belarus will lapse in late April.  

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Commemorate International Roma Day with Senate and House Resolutions

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of International Roma Day on April 8, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), commission leaders the late Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) and Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-04) introduced resolutions in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives celebrating Romani American heritage. Chairman Cardin, Sen. Wicker, and Rep. Meeks issued the following joint statement: “Romani people have been part of every wave of European migration to the United States from the colonial period to today.  They enrich the fabric of our nation and strengthen the transatlantic bond.  “Through this resolution, we celebrate Romani culture and pay tribute to our shared history. We applaud the efforts to promote transnational cooperation among Roma launched at the historic First World Romani Congress on April 8, 1971.” In addition to recognizing and celebrating Romani American heritage, these resolutions support International Roma Day, recognized around the world on April 8, and the robust engagement of U.S. diplomats in International Roma Day activities throughout Europe.  The resolutions also commemorate the destruction of the Romani camp at Auschwitz when, on August 2-3, 1944, Nazis murdered between 4,200 and 4,300 Romani men, women, and children in gas chambers in a single night, and commend the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for its critically important role in promoting remembrance of the Holocaust and educating audiences about the genocide of Roma. Chairman Cardin serves on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing board of trustees for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Former Helsinki Commission Chairman Hastings, who died on April 6, was a longtime champion of Roma rights. In addition to regularly meeting with Roma from across Europe, he supported efforts in Romania to address the legacy of Roma enslavement; criticized the mass expulsions of Roma from France, fingerprinting of Roma in Italy, and destruction of the historic Romani neighborhood Sulukule in Istanbul; and condemned proposals to restrict births of Roma in Bulgaria and racist violence against Roma wherever it occurred. Rep. Hastings supported the work of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in its scholarship and education about the genocide of Roma and the museum’s acquisition of the unique Lety concentration camp archives.  The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe works with national and local governments, civil society and international organizations to promote equal opportunities for and the protection of the human rights of Roma. 

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Mourn Death of Former Chairman Alcee L. Hastings

    WASHINGTON—Following the death of former Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) earlier today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Helsinki Commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “Alcee Hastings was a fighter and an incredible survivor. He never gave up—not when facing racism as a young man in the Jim Crow south, not when defending civil rights as a lawyer and jurist, not when championing human rights worldwide as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and not in his long battle with pancreatic cancer,” said Chairman Cardin. “Alcee was committed to ensuring that America’s foreign policy reflects our enduring commitment to democracy, that fundamental freedoms are protected at home and abroad, and that all people can live in a society that is safe, inclusive, and equitable. Even as we mourn his passing, we celebrate a life well lived and a world made better by his service. Alcee was not just a colleague; he was a dear friend. Myrna and I extend our sympathies to his family at this difficult time.” “As chairman of the Helsinki Commission, Alcee Hastings was a powerful partner in advocating for the United States, human rights, democracy, and international cooperation,” Sen. Wicker said. “He broke barriers on the international stage as the first American elected to lead the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly while championing the interests of his constituents in Washington. Even as he battled cancer, he was never distracted or deterred from his public service. Gayle and I extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and staff during this difficult time.” “Roxanne and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Congressman Hastings,” said Rep. Wilson. “I will always treasure our time working together on the Helsinki Commission and I am grateful for his friendship and service to his country.” Rep. Hastings, who most recently chaired the Helsinki Commission in the 116th Congress, joined the commission in 2001. In 2007, he became the first African American to lead the Helsinki Commission.  Rep. Hastings remains the only American to have ever served as President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), where he also was the former Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs. Rep. Hastings' Obituary at Legacy.com  

  • Senator Ben Cardin Returns to Lead Helsinki Commission

    WASHINGTON—The Presiding Officer, on behalf of the Vice President, yesterday announced the appointment of Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) as chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, throughout the 117th Congress. "For 45 years, the Helsinki Commission has tirelessly defended human rights and democratic institutions at home and abroad. It has promoted the enduring value of multilateralism and fought to ensure that the United States lives up to our core values, remaining a beacon of hope to those who are oppressed. However, the most trying time in our history may be ahead of us,” said Chairman Cardin. Over the past year, the world has suffered the crippling impact of COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected our most vulnerable citizens and allowed some governments to exploit the pandemic to limit fundamental freedoms. Racist violence has once again reared its ugly head in many OSCE participating States, including our own. Corruption threatens peace, prosperity, and human rights across the region, and the Kremlin remains intransigent in its overt violence against its neighbors as well as its covert attempts to undermine democratic institutions elsewhere. These challenges may seem daunting, but my fellow commissioners and I will always fight to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, encourage tolerance within societies, battle corruption, and defend the principles of liberty and sovereignty.” Chairman Cardin has been a Helsinki Commissioner since 1993 and previously chaired the commission in the 111th and 113th Congresses. He is an outspoken champion for human rights and throughout his career in public service has advocated for accountability and transparency measures to promote good governance and to combat corruption. Since 2015, Chairman Cardin has served as the Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Chairman Cardin is the lead author of the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a law that imposes sanctions on Russian individuals and entities responsible for the death of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, as well as individuals who commit gross violations of human rights against rights defenders in Russia. He also authored the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act, which gives the United States the power to deny travel and banking privileges to individuals worldwide who commit gross violations of human rights against rights defenders and dissidents, and leaders who commit acts of significant corruption. Most recently, Chairman Cardin and Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) introduced the Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act, which would establish an anti-corruption action fund to provide extra funding during historic windows of opportunity for reform in foreign countries and streamline work strengthening the rule of law abroad. Chairman Cardin also is one of the lead authors of Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act, also known as the Cardin-Lugar Energy Security Through Transparency Act. The provision requires extractive companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose, in their SEC filings, payments made to governments for oil, gas and mining. Revenue transparency increases energy security and creates U.S. jobs by reducing the operating risk U.S. companies face. It also provides information so that people in resource-rich countries can hold their leaders accountable for the money made from their oil, gas and minerals.

  • The Ongoing Importance of the Work of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

    Madam Speaker, I rise today to discuss the work of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission and its continued importance in addressing challenges in our country and abroad. For over four decades, the Helsinki Commission has championed human rights, democracy, and comprehensive security across the 57 North American, European, and Central Asian countries that make up the region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As Chair of the Helsinki Commission during the 116th Congress, I worked with my House and Senate colleagues to continue the Commission's longstanding efforts to monitor participating States compliance with the Helsinki Accords. The importance of election observation in our country and abroad, restorative justice, the safety of journalists, and the global impact of George Floyd's tragic death on racial justice efforts were just some of the issues the Commission addressed last Congress, in addition to our continued focus on Russia, Ukraine, the Balkans and continued democratic development in the region. As we continue our work of the 117th Congress, I invite you to review the report: "Retrospective On The 116th Congress'' at https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/retrospective-116th-congress and http://www.csce.gov/sites/helsinkicommission.house.gov/files/116th%20Congress%20Report%20Final.pdf. This report summarizes the Commission's activities, as well as recommendations critical for the continued promotion of democracy and U.S. national security. Madam Speaker, I look forward to continuing this critically important work during the 117th Congress.

  • U.S. Election Practices: An International Perspective

    Madam Speaker, this chamber recently passed H.R. I, the "For the People Act,'' significant legislation making it easier for American citizens to vote in U.S. elections and improve transparency and accountability in our election process. The White House also recently announced a new executive order to assist this effort. These are positive developments that I welcome and support, but, as we all know, not everything regarding the conduct of elections can be done at the federal level. Unfortunately, many state legislatures are now undertaking efforts that would make it more difficult for eligible Americans to participate in the electoral process and vote. As Chair and in the leadership of the Helsinki Commission, I have supported the positive steps we are trying to take on this issue, yet I remain deeply concerned about those who want to move our country backward. Perhaps it would help our debate to look at the conduct of the 2020 U.S. elections from an international perspective, including the conduct of elections in conformity with international commitments first proposed and advocated by the United States more than 30 years ago. The United States has been one of five countries thus far where the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has observed elections during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, and a German parliamentarian reported on its findings on February 26. He did not point fingers at us and accuse. He mentioned the positive as well as the negative. He is clearly a friend who cares, as most of the OSCE observers undoubtedly were. As a previous election observer in the OSCE region, I can also attest, that the code of conduct makes it is extremely unlikely that the OSCE election observation could be steered in support of any particular agenda other than better democracy. I therefore want to commend to my colleagues the full OSCE Final report "United States of America General Elections, 3 November 2020, ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission," which can be found at https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/7/7/477823_2.pdf. It offers an important perspective on our elections from persons who rightly care about the process, not the result. They have observed not only our elections since 2002 but elections in dozens of other countries on a regular basis. The issues raised in the report are the same issues we Americans debate here in Washington, in our state capitals and through the media. I take the conclusions and recommendations, including criticisms, in this election observation report seriously. It serves as a helpful guide on what next steps we should take to improve our electoral system. I believe our election officials and state legislators should read this report; indeed, I recommend it to any American who cares about his or her country. It is a broad snapshot of our entire, complex electoral system. Several of the priority recommendations in the report deal with voting rights and voter identification. Specifically, it says that "authorities should review existing measures to further reduce the number of unregistered voters, including addressing burdensome procedures and obstacles faced by disadvantaged groups.'' It also says that "states should make every effort to ensure that voter identification requirements are equally accessible to all voters.'' It also makes specific recommendations regarding specific groups of American citizens. We do not need to agree about every conclusion and recommendation in this report to take it seriously. It is a contribution to our debates from a unique perspective. Moreover, our acceptance of international observation serves a useful function in our foreign policy. OSCE election observation has encouraged practices giving voters a real choice in numerous other countries, many of which were once repressive, one-party communist states but are now our friends and even, in some cases, allies. The United States initiated this effort with the OSCE and contributes significantly to election observation missions elsewhere, providing the expertise that comes with our experience. If we are to encourage other governments to take this effort seriously and implement recommendations, we need to set the example ourselves. Unfortunately, several U.S. states greatly restrict or even prohibit international observation. This is something which must change as we prepare for mid-term elections in 2022 and general elections in 2024.

  • OSCE SHDM on Media Freedom and Gender Equality Features Expert Testimonies and First-Hand Accounts

    By Emma Derr & Michelle Ikelau Ngirbabul, Max Kampelman Fellows The OSCE’s first Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting of 2021, held virtually on March 8-9, focused on “Media Freedom and Gender Equality.” During the two-day meeting, OSCE participating States, OSCE institutions, international organizations, and members of civil society exchanged views and best practices on implementing commitments to media freedom and gender equality. OSCE Perspective In her opening remarks, OSCE Representative of Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro told participants, “Freedom cannot be a privilege of some, while excluding others. Freedom can only be inclusive. Democracy, security, and sustainable progress all build on human rights – universal human rights.” Freedom of the media, freedom of expression, and gender equality are inextricably linked, and participants asserted that an inclusive, democratic, and accountable society cannot be achieved if women do not have equal opportunities, access, and safety.  Journalists are frequent targets of violence and harassment, and women journalists bear the brunt of such attacks, which have increased in the last decade with the increased use of social media and other digital platforms. Online harassment and violence against women journalists were issues raised frequently during the two-day event as security concerns for the OSCE. In 2018, OSCE participating States committed to including a gendered perspective when considering the safety of journalists. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media released a Safety of Female Journalists Online resource guide that outlines proposed actions for ten key stakeholder groups to address gender-based online attacks of journalists. “In Milan 2018, we all reiterated that independent media is essential to a free and open society, and that accountable systems of government are of particular importance in safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Ann Linde. “This was also the first time when we explicitly expressed our concern about the distinct risks faced by women journalists in relation to their work. Our commitments are strong, and it is our duty to implement what we have jointly agreed on.” The Statistics During the first session, Committee to Protect Journalists Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch reported that more than 1,200 journalists have been killed since 1995—80 percent of them women and minorities. A 2020 global survey by UNESCO found that 73 percent of women journalists reported experiencing online violence during their work, and 25 percent and 18 percent reported receiving threats of physical or sexual violence, respectively. Guy Berger, the Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development of UNESCO, discussed this research and various case studies, which revealed that these attacks are a combination of abuse aimed at damaging journalists’ professional credibility. To demonstrate the rate at which the abuse can occur, Berger talked about the case of Maria Resa, a woman journalist in the Philippines, who at one point was receiving up to 90 harassing messages an hour on Facebook. According to Berger, the analysis of data collection and research shows that some of these attacks are highly orchestrated through coordinated behaviors, which larger internet and tech companies have the ability to stop. He commended the OSCE for its “SOFJO” (Safety of Female Journalists Online) report and encouraged representatives at the meeting “to make sure the report has legs and wings, because it is only as valuable as its distribution and discussion.” A Firsthand Account Jessikka Aro’s first-hand testimony was a centerpiece of the meeting, as it provided insight into the statistics. Aro, a journalist for Finland's public service broadcaster Yle, specializes in Russian information warfare and extremism, as well as documenting how online trolls influence opinions. After she investigated a troll factory in St. Petersburg, trolls began to aggressively target her online accounts. Her phone number and email address were published online, and she started to receive threatening messages—for example, voicemails of gunshots. Pro-Russia trolls called her a foreign agent and accused her of helping the United States and NATO. Much of the news about her originated on Russian fake news sites, but it also spread to Finnish news, with some articles receiving over 3 million views. Aro eventually was forced to flee Finland because a threat assessment by police determined that she likely would be physically assaulted based on online discussions about her. She said she has felt supported by Finnish government officials and the police; however, tech companies failed to respond to her complaints on their platforms. In her concluding remarks, Aro called for an end to impunity for these crimes and an increase in access to justice for journalists. She applauded conferences, such as the SHDM, that share awareness, encourage enforcement, and include voices of attacked journalists to increase understanding of what is at stake when the press goes unprotected.

Pages