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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.

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    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today condemned the shutdown of Novaya Gazeta in Russia, following the decision of a Moscow court to strip the outlet of its print media registration. They issued the following joint statement: “The Kremlin assault on the last vestiges of independent media in Russia confirms that Vladimir Putin is afraid of the truth. Novaya Gazeta has been a pillar of free Russian media since it was founded in 1993 by future Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, with the support of late Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. “Putin has spent years attacking truth-tellers in Russia’s information space in order to build a country where lies and distortion of reality serve his interests. Russia’s horrific war against Ukraine, the atrocities committed by the Russian army, and the state-sponsored justification and praise of this violence are the terrible consequences of this dark and cynical manipulation. Russia needs independent journalism now more than ever.” In March 2022, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on “Putin’s War on Truth,” which examined Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on independent media in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Helsinki Commission leadership lauded the award of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to Russia’s Dmitry Muratov, longtime editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta. Muratov dedicated his Nobel Prize award to his slain Novaya Gazeta colleagues Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasiya Baburova, and Natalya Estemirova. In a November 2009 Helsinki Commission briefing on violence against journalists and impunity in Russia, Muratov, who provided testimony, said, “I would like to ask you a huge favor. In every meeting, in any encounter with representatives of the Russian political establishment and government, please, bring up this meeting. Please ask these uncomfortable questions. Please try not to be too polite.”  

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Discusses Role as Special Representative for Political Prisoner

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep Steve Cohen (TN-09) today spoke at a virtual hearing of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA)about his new role as the assembly’s special representative for political prisoners. Co-Chairman Cohen thanked OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt of Sweden for naming him to the special representative role and expressed his disappointment at the increased need to call attention to attacks on human rights as conditions around the world continue to deteriorate. He spoke in particular on the cases of Russian politicians Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexei Navalny, and the former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, as well as politicians, journalists and dissidents in Belarus, Egypt, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Co-Chairman Cohen said of Kara-Murza, arrested after returning home to Moscow: “I will not let him be forgotten.” He also said in part: “I appreciate President Cederfelt’s appointment and her faith in me to execute this position as special representative on political prisoners. I take it very seriously and have been working on it regularly, notifying through posts on social media, press releases and calling on governments to release political prisoners. Unfortunately, this role is becoming more and more significant as we have more and more political prisoners… “I’ve contacted Secretary Blinken to work with him and the State Department. We’ve brought attention to political prisoners not only in Russia and Belarus but also in Myanmar and Egypt and, unfortunately, in several of the OSCE countries there are political prisoners as well…Conditions all around the world are getting worse…and Russia is the worst.” See his entire remarks here.

  • Helsinki Commission Alarmed By Reported Transport of S-300 Missile Systems by Russia into the Black Sea

    WASHINGTON—Following reports that the Sparta II, a Russian cargo ship, transported S-300 missile systems through the Turkish Straits, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We are alarmed by Russia’s reported transport of S-300 missile systems through the Turkish Straits into the Black Sea.  As Russia is waging a bloody, unprovoked war against Ukraine, it is critical that any supplies of arms to Moscow be cut off as quickly and efficiently as possible. Any additional weapon in the hands of the Kremlin would mean another Ukrainian who would lose his or her life to the aggressor. “As the gatekeeper to the Black Sea, Turkey must do everything in its power to stop the flow of arms to Russia. We are perplexed that while third parties were able to spot the ship as it was entering the straits, it appears the Turkish government failed to prevent it from delivering the missile systems to Russia. Such systems will inevitably be deployed to commit crimes against humanity. “We are sure that Turkey does not want to be complicit in this by failing to carry out its responsibilities. We urge Turkish authorities to clarify their role in allowing the Sparta II into the Black Sea.” 

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Deplores Arrest of Former Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeniy Roizman

    WASHINGTON—Following the arrest of the Kremlin critic and former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeniy Roizman, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “The arrest and prosecution of Yevgeniy Roizman is another milestone in the Kremlin’s descent into a full-blown dictatorship. “Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine is what dishonors the Russian military. Mr. Roizman simply has reminded his fellow citizens of that truth. “As Mr. Roizman noted in a recent interview covered by the New York Times, ‘the worst thing is when you suddenly see that there is a lot of evil, that evil is winning, that evil is being supported. Evil can only win when it joins together with a lie.’ “Mr. Roizman also served as the mayor of Yekaterinburg, the same city where Brittney Griner played since 2014. “The Russian government should drop all the charges against Mr. Roizman and not put any restrictions on his work and activism, and I continue to call for the immediate release of other political prisoners including Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexey Navalny, and Ilya Yashin, as well as Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, Marc Fogel, and other journalists, dissidents, and wrongfully detained individuals in Russia.”  

  • NATO Refocused, Europe Reinforced

    By Jessika Nebrat, Max Kampelman Fellow​ Following the escalation of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is playing a role it has not filled in years. Forced to reconcentrate its attention to Europe’s defense, NATO allies are demonstrating persistent resolve in countering Moscow’s expansionist tendencies. In doing so, NATO returns to a core facet of its founding mission: the defense against Moscow’s militarism. While NATO represents just one facet of the Euro-Atlantic security infrastructure, it is perhaps the most robust organization bound by formal agreements, dedicated to peacekeeping, and capable of enforcement. Its mission to “guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means” echoes the first dimension principles outlined by the Helsinki Final Act, and aligns NATO with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In supporting each other’s work, these institutions mutually reinforce their shared values and bolster European security. History of NATO In the aftermath of the second World War, the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations sought to boost European economic reconstruction and protect themselves from Soviet domination. The 1947 Treaty of Dunkirk predated NATO in promoting Atlantic alliance and mutual assistance between France and the United Kingdom. The agreement was expanded in March 1948 as the Treaty of Brussels to engage Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in military, economic, social, and cultural cooperation. In the same month, the United States hosted talks intended to unite both North American and Western European allies; as a result, NATO was officially signed into existence on April 4, 1949. The 12 founding member nations derived their legitimacy from United Nations (UN) Charter Article 51, which affirmed the right to collective defense. The foundational NATO Treaty mentioned collective defense only after declaring the parties’ commitments to finding peaceful resolutions of disputes, upholding UN principles, strengthening free institutions, and promoting economic collaboration. The Alliance formally defined its principal objectives to deter Soviet expansionism, oppose nationalist militarism on the continent, and bolster European political integration. Though it sought to deter military aggression, NATO’s original treaty did not provide any means of enforcing the agreed-upon principles. It was not until after the USSR’s 1949 detonation of an atomic bomb and the 1950 start of the Korean War that NATO approved a military command structure. In response, the Soviet Union established the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Though neither of the two ideologically opposed organizations used force during the Cold War, they engaged in an arms race that persisted until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. NATO after the Cold War Once NATO no longer had to defend against Soviet expansionism, the Alliance broadened the scope of its peacekeeping and security enforcement missions. In the 1990s, NATO forces were deployed: to Turkey during the Gulf Crisis; upon request to Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States nations as part of a humanitarian mission after the fall of the USSR; to enforce a UN arms embargo and no-fly zone over former Yugoslavia; and in the Central Mediterranean during a period of tension with Libya. In the 21st century, NATO forces were also deployed during: the Second Gulf War; to the US and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the only Article 5 invocation in NATO history; to mitigate rising ethnic tensions in North Macedonia; to counter terrorist activity in the Mediterranean; as counter-piracy escorts to UN World Food Programme ships transiting the Gulf of Aden; to train Iraqi security forces; to enforce a no-fly zone after the popular uprising in Libya; for peacekeeping in Sudan; and to provide disaster relief throughout Europe, the Middle East, and in the United States. NATO currently maintains active operations in Kosovo, the Mediterranean, Iraq, and throughout the African Union; it recently ramped up air policing as part of a peace-keeping response to the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the escalation against Ukraine this past February. Kremlin Narrative against NATO Over the years, Moscow has repeatedly resisted NATO enlargement – especially for countries it claims within its sphere of influence. Putin asserts that during a 1990 summit between President George H. W. Bush and President Gorbachev, the United States promised no further expansion of NATO; civil servants present at that meeting have refuted this claim, as has Mr. Gorbachev himself. In his conversation with Bush, Gorbachev repeatedly affirmed that nations have the right to make their own alliances. Though internal U.S. analyses of the 1990s suggested that expansion eastward may not be politically expedient, such positions never became official policy. The United States has remained resolute in its recognition of sovereign choice, and expansion has been driven by requests from former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states wary of Russian revanchism. The Kremlin has deployed an opposing narrative to justify Russian military engagements in Georgia in the early 2000s, and more recently in Ukraine. Putin sees the inclusion of either nation in NATO, and the political and economic liberalization that go with it, as threats to his regime’s stability. NATO membership would limit Russian interference in the internal affairs of either state. Additionally, if Russia’s neighbors and fellow post-Soviet states can become true democracies, provide higher quality of living, and ensure the rule of law, then why can’t Putin’s Russia? Any argument that NATO expansion threatens Russia misrepresents the organization, which is a diverse coalition dedicated to mutual defense and development. Moreover, such an assertion overlooks the efforts NATO has made to include and collaborate with Russia in the pursuit of cooperative security. NATO Back to its Roots By illegally and brutally invading Ukraine in February 2022 – a dramatic escalation of the grinding conflict started in 2014 – Putin has galvanized European and Western unity. Hearkening to its origins and returning attention to Eastern Europe, NATO is recommitting itself to “counter Russia’s attempts to destroy the foundations of international security and stability.” The international community is largely on board. In its collective attention beyond security, NATO – alongside other organizations – highlights not only the potential for, but the responsibility of the international community to condemn human rights violations, uphold the rule of law, and pursue economic health, all efforts that further challenge the Kremlin’s narrative that it can lead (or that there even needs to exist) an opposing bloc. Alarmed by Moscow’s renewed expansionism, Sweden and Finland have abandoned decades of neutrality in favor of NATO membership. They are on track towards the fastest accession process in history, and anticipate a smooth integration. Both already engage in the wider European community through membership in such organizations as the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Their force structures are robust, and well-versed in NATO procedures following decades of partnership; their accession will secure northeast Europe, expand NATO’s border with Russia, and reinforce NATO presence in the Arctic and Baltic Sea. Although the Kremlin initially vowed “military and political repercussions” were Finland and Sweden to join NATO, such threats have dulled to warnings about the installation of NATO military infrastructure nearer Russia’s borders; as Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership neared finalization, Putin even expressed “no problem” with these states joining the Alliance. It remains to be seen how this change will play out. After decades of orientation towards international stabilization, humanitarian, and counterinsurgency mission sets, NATO has been refocused on European deterrence and defense following the Kremlin’s violent assault on Ukraine. In addition to condemning Russia’s invasion and supporting Ukraine via such measures as the Comprehensive Assistance Package, NATO plays a critical role in championing European collective defense and discouraging any expansion of conflict.    

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Calls for the Release of Political Prisoners in Belarus

    Washington – On the second anniversary of the sham presidential election in Belarus, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Two years ago today, Belarus’s autocrat Aleksander Lukashenko put up a show of an election that he had hoped would legitimize his unconstitutional power grab. Despite the many and well-documented cases of election abuse, the people of Belarus did not fall for the tricks of the one-man ruler of Belarus. They voted Lukashenko out, but, predictably, he refused to leave. He ignored the will of the people and chose vicious violence to suppress the peaceful dissent. “In the year following the unprecedented in scale peaceful rallies against the 2020 election results, Lukashenko’s troops arrested, tortured and imprisoned a reported 35,000 Belarusians for the simple act of demanding the government respect their choice and rights. He personally presided over the largest ever domestic repression that saw thousands behind bars and tens of thousands flee the country, including the opposition leader and likely legitimate winner absent election fraud, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been welcomed by neighboring countries. “Since that time, Lukashenko has continued a crackdown on civic participation in Belarus with arrests of civilians protesting the Russian war in Ukraine, changes to Belarus’s non-nuclear status, and the ongoing Lukashenko regime during last year’s March 25th anniversary of Belarus’s ‘Freedom Day,’ adding to the already sizeable number of politically motivated detainments in the country. “There are now close to 1200 individuals languishing in Belarusian prisons for speaking out against authoritarianism, corruption and war. Included among the political prisoners are: Syarhey Tsikhanouski, husband of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and potential candidate against Lukashenko detained in May 2020; Roman Protasevich, journalist and opposition figure accused of inciting mass protests and detained after a false bomb threat forced the landing of Ryanair flight FR4978 destined for Lithuania in Belarus in May 2021; Sofia Sapega, Russian citizen and girlfriend of Protasevich who also was aboard Ryanair flight FR4978; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Belarus Service journalists Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk and Aleh Kruzdzilovic; and Ales Bialiatski, founder of Viasna Human Rights Centre, a human rights organization based in Minsk that provides financial and legal support to political prisoners. These are but a few names representing political candidates, oppositionists, activists, journalists and other Belarusian and non-Belarusian citizens detained by Lukashenko’s regime. “Lukashenko must immediately order the release of all political prisoners and wrongfully detained individuals and stop the systematic violations of human rights.  I call on the U.S. Department of State and our allies abroad to work together during this time of heightened tension with Belarus and Belarus’s benefactor, Russia, to ensure the unjustly imprisoned Belarusians are released at the earliest date possible.”

  • CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN CALLS FOR THE RELEASE OF ALAA ABD EL-FATTAH

    WASHINGTON— Concerning Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s imprisonment, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) released a letter calling for Secretary Blinken to prioritize “the swift release of Mr. Abd el-Fattah”. The letter read in part: “In 2011, the people of Egypt achieved something remarkable – they ousted a corrupt regime and brought about a change in government through largely peaceful protests. Alaa Abd el-Fattah was one of the leaders of the movement that advocated this change. Through his writings and public appearances, he provided an intellectual backbone for the disparate groups that shared in the vision for a more democratic Egypt. “Tragically for him, this very purpose led to his arrest and conviction. Mr. Abd el-Fattah was arrested, then released to only be arrested again. He has been in prison for eight years now. His family reports they have irregular contact with him, and his physical condition has reportedly deteriorated.” “Mr. Abd el-Fattah is one of the many political prisoners in Egypt; yet his release would bring hope to them all. As the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Representative for Political Prisoners – an organization to which Egypt is a Mediterranean Partner for Co-operation – I request that your department include among its immediate priorities in Egypt the swift release of Mr. Abd el-Fattah, and in the interim, urgently impress upon the Egyptian government the expectation of more humane conditions during his incarceration, including exercise time, freedom of movement outside of his cell, and reinstatement of half hour – if not longer – visits by his son and others.” “Alaa is not a danger to the Egyptian government and his only fault is being a true patriot of his country.”

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest July 2022

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Condemns Execution of Democracy Activists in Myanmar

    WASHINGTON—Following the execution of four democracy activists by Myanmar’s military junta, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “I strongly condemn the execution of these courageous activists by Myanmar’s unelected and illegitimate regime. These men—Kyaw Min Yu, Phyo Zeya Thaw, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw—were political prisoners who were deprived of their right to due process and a chance to defend themselves. The junta sentenced them to death in secret trials, once again demonstrating the complete lack of respect for human life and common decency as well as a total disregard for rules-based order by which countries should abide. “The regime has jailed thousands, including the Nobel Peace laureate and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, after seizing power in a coup in February 2021. Following a series of closed-door hearings and a string of trumped-up charges and convictions each carrying additional sentencing, she was sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison as of April 2022.  In an obvious attempt to ensure she is jailed for life, she still faces added bogus charges that could see her imprisoned for more than 190 years by some reports. This is appalling and concerning as the recent executions confirm that the junta will not hesitate to murder political prisoners to further strengthen their rule of terror. “The world should unite to pressure Myanmar to release all political prisoners. At least 117 activists have been sentenced to death since the coup. We must do everything in our power to ensure that they do not face the grim fate of their four compatriots.”

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Deplores Arrest of Ilya Yashin in Russia

    WASHINGTON—In response to the arrest of Ilya Yashin, a Russian politician critical of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Putin’s government has been engaged in a systematic assault on Russian citizens who dare speak the truth about Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine. Ilya Yashin, a Russian patriot and a fierce critic of the war in Ukraine, is one of the victims of this regime. “Ilya spoke out against the war despite the cynical law Russia has adopted that punishes people speaking the truth on this conflict with up to 15 years in prison. He was arrested on trumped-up charges and is facing a lengthy jail term for no crime other than publicly speaking out against Russia’s war in Ukraine. Ilya is a political prisoner and should be given all protections afforded by this status. The Russian government has a complete disregard for international law and customs but if they have an ounce of respect for their own laws, they will immediately release Ilya and other political prisoners.” Ilya Yashin, a co-founder of the Solidarity movement, is a member of a Moscow city district council. Throughout his career, he advocated for fair elections, rule of law, and democracy in Russia. Prior to his arrest, Mr. Yashin was one of the few Russian opposition activists who had not been killed, forced to flee, or imprisoned.

  • Wicker Stands in Solidarity With Russian Dissident

      WASHINGTON – Mr. President, I rise this afternoon to make sure that the plight of Russian leader Vladimir Kara-Murza is not forgotten. That the outrageous imprisonment of Vladimir Kara-Murza by the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is not forgotten. We remember three decades ago what hope we had for a new Russia. Russia entered a new age of possibility some three decades ago, after more than 70 years of communist repression, the Soviet order had collapsed, and with it the Iron Curtain that kept freedom away from millions was torn down. As the red flags came down in Moscow, the free world watched with anticipation, hoping that democracy and the rule of law might finally take root in a free Russia. Regrettably, that has not happened. Instead of democracy and freedom, the Russian people got Vladimir Putin, a man who has used his office to murder, imprison, and force into exile anyone who threatens his grip on power -- all the while, enriching himself beyond anyone's wildest imagination while ordinary Russians, especially out in the countryside of Russia, live in squalid conditions. One of his latest victims is Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian patriot and a friend I had the privilege of hosting in my office just four months ago. As a matter of fact, I have hosted him several times. Today, Vladimir Kara-Murza spends his days in a prison cell, where the only thing you can see through the window is a barbed wire fence. What was his crime? He simply spoke the truth about Putin's war on Ukraine. His trial, if it can even be called a trial, was held in secret. No journalists, no diplomats or spectators of any kind were allowed to be there. And for his offense of talking about the Russian war against Ukraine, he now faces up to 15 years in prison. This is not the first time the Russian dictator has tried to silence him. Mr. Kara-Murza has been poisoned twice, in 2015 and 2017, and almost died in both cases. Since then, his wife and three children have had to live abroad, though he himself has chosen to spend most of his time in Russia. In a recent interview with National Review, his wife, Evgenia explained why he insists on working in Russia: “He believes that he would not have the moral right to call on people to fight if he were not sharing the same risks.” Or as Mr. Kara-Murza put it in a recent CNN interview the day of his arrest. He said, “The biggest gift we could give the Kremlin would be to just give up and run. That's all they want from us.” What a contrast in character to the man currently running the Kremlin. The National Review's story goes on to describe Mr. Kara-Murza's courageous work for democracy through the eyes of his wife of Evgenia, as well as the costs that he and his family have endured along with so many other Russian dissidents. And, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent at this point to insert the National Review story that I referred to into the record. Mr. Kara-Murza’s imprisonment is part of Mr. Putin's larger assault on what remains of political freedom in Russia. In Mr. Kara-Murza’s words, Putin's regime has gone, “from highly authoritarian to near totalitarian almost overnight.” In March, Russian officials passed a new censorship law, forbidding all criticism of Mr. Putin's war in Ukraine. That law has been the basis for more than 16,000 arrests since the war began in February, including that of Mr. Kara-Murza. Another 2,400 Russians have been charged with administrative offenses for speaking out against the war. Meanwhile, Putin's propaganda machine is ramping up. Independent Russian media outlets have all but vanished, having been blocked, shut down, or forced out of the country by the Kremlin. The last embers of freedom in Russia are going cold. Putin's crackdown on domestic freedom began in 2003, when Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested on trumped up charges of tax fraud after he simply criticized the government. A former member of the elite, Mr. Khodorkovsky, had successfully led the Yukos Oil Company through privatization after the Iron Curtain fell. And contrary to the Kremlin's claims, the company consistently paid its taxes. But that didn't stop Vladimir Putin from plundering its assets, throwing Mr. Khodorkovsky in jail, where he stayed for ten years. I would note that just before his arrest, Mr. Khodorkovsky displayed the same courage and patriotism that we now see in Vladimir Kara-Murza. Like Mr. Kara-Murza, he knew very well he could go to jail for speaking out against the government. But Mr. Khodorkovsky did so anyway and refused to flee the country, saying, “I would prefer to be a political prisoner rather than a political immigrant.” Of course, by then, Mr. Putin had already shown himself willing to violate the international laws of war, having leveled the Chechen capital of Grozny in his own Republic of Russia in 1999. In 2008, he launched a new assault on international law with the invasion of Georgia. In 2014 he started a bloody war in eastern Ukraine, and in 2016, Soviet Russian dictator Putin and his forces attacked the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians and prolonging the rule of Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, Putin ramped up his attacks on domestic freedom as well. In 2015 Boris Nemtsov, leader of the democratic opposition, former deputy prime minister of Russia, was shot to death in broad daylight just yards away from the Kremlin. Three months later, Mr. Kara-Murza was poisoned for the first time. More recently, in 2020, Alexei Navalny, the current leader of the opposition, was himself poisoned and had to seek treatment in Berlin. This is Vladimir Putin's Russia today. When Navalny recovered, he chose to return to Moscow, knowing the risks, and immediately upon landing, he was arrested. This is the deplorable state of Russia and freedom under Vladimir Putin. Time and again, he has shown that he is bent on stamping out the aspirations of his people for freedom and the rule of law. As leader of the free world, America must continue to condemn Putin's lawless acts and stand in solidarity with our Russian friends, who are courageously fighting against all odds for a better future in Russia -- and are suffering as a result. These are modern day heroes: Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and we should not forget them. My friend, the distinguished senior senator from Maryland, Senator Cardin and I, along with Congressman Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, are the four House and Senate leaders of the Helsinki Commission, which monitors human rights and former Soviet countries. We recently sent a joint letter to President Biden calling on the administration to name and sanction all of those who have been involved in the arrest, detention and persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza. I issue that call again today, and I invite my colleagues from both parties to stand with Vladimir Kara-Murza and work for his release. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.  

  • Helsinki Commission Urges Administration to Work to Free Vladimir Kara-Murza

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today released a letter urging the Biden Administration to “use every instrument in our toolbox” to free Russian political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza. The letter read in part: “The United States has a proud history of standing up for political prisoners and working relentlessly to help them return to freedom. We stared down the Soviet Union, Communist China, military regimes in Latin America and South-East Asia, and succeeded in helping secure the release of those who deserved freedom the most – innocent and peaceful activists and freedom fighters representing a vision for better governments in those countries. Mr. Kara-Murza represents a hope for a democratic Russia at peace with its neighbors and own citizens, and now is someone who the U.S. should advocate for his release… “The Helsinki Commission continues to raise the issue of political prisoners in Russia, Belarus, and other countries across the OSCE region, and specifically Vladimir Kara-Murza’s case…Now, we call on your Administration to use every instrument in our toolbox to secure the release of Mr. Kara-Murza. This is in the interest of our national security, his well-being, and importantly, the well-being of his incredibly brave children and spouse. Mrs. Kara-Murza and their three children reside in the U.S and despite the distance, the Kremlin has been poisoning – literally and figuratively – their lives for decades now. We should do everything in our power to help free Vladimir Kara-Murza and reunite him with his family.” On April 12, Vladimir Kara-Murza was arrested in Russia on charges of disobeying police orders when he allegedly “changed the trajectory of his movement” upon seeing Russian police officers at his home. This carried a 15-day sentence in jail. With five days remaining in his sentence, new charges were levied against him for spreading “deliberately false information” about Russia’s war on Ukraine.  He now faces up to 15 years in prison. On March 29, he testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing examining Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war on truth, where witnesses discussed the Kremlin’s use of propaganda and censorship. “Those who speak out against this war are now liable for criminal prosecution,” he said. The Helsinki Commission has a long tradition of advocating on behalf of political prisoners worldwide. Earlier this month, Co-Chairman Cohen was appointed the first-ever OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Political Prisoners.

  • CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN APPOINTED AS OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ON POLITICAL PRISONERS

    WASHINGTON—Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), has appointed Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) as the first-ever OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners. “I welcome the chance to serve as the voice of political prisoners across the OSCE region,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Every day, we witness more political arrests of opposition politicians, journalists, activists and civilians in Russia, Belarus, and other participating States that are cracking down on free speech, freedom of the press, and free thought. Through this position, I am committed to working tirelessly to elevate the issue of political imprisonment as the egregious violation of human rights that it is.” In his new role, Co-Chairman Cohen will collect and share intelligence on political prisoners throughout the OSCE region; raise awareness of participating States with high rates of political prisoners; advocate for the release of political prisoners; and promote dialogue at the OSCE PA and OSCE executive structures about political imprisonment.  Commission Chairman Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Chris Smith were reappointed as Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance, and Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, respectively.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Convenes Historic Black Sea Security Summit, Demonstrates Bipartisan Support for European Security

    WASHINGTON—From June 29 – July 9, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) led a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation to Romania, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Sweden to consult with senior officials across Europe about Russia’s war on Ukraine, security in the Black Sea region, and Finland and Sweden’s plans to join NATO. On the shores of the Black Sea in Constanta, Romania, Sen. Wicker and Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu co-chaired the first-ever congressionally-organized Black Sea Security Summit to underscore the critical importance of the Black Sea region to European peace and security, and to establish a sustainable, collective approach to ending Russian aggression and enhancing mutual cooperation. “Given Russia’s monstrous war on Ukraine and its wider aggression in the region, it is not an exaggeration to say that the Black Sea is currently the epicenter of Euro-Atlantic security and global peace,” said Sen. Wicker. “Ukraine must be successful in this war…Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression against a neighbor cannot stand.” “Over the last 25 years, a key objective of our bilateral strategic partnership has been to act as partners in enhancing our joint security and promoting the democratic and economic development of the Black Sea region.  The continuation of common decisive action in this regard at the bilateral and multilateral level is more relevant than ever,” said Minister Aurescu. “All along the Black Sea coast lies the first line of defense for the Euro-Atlantic community and the first line of support for our partners in Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia.” Prior to the summit, members of the Congressional delegation visited Romania’s Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base, where they received briefings from U.S., Romanian, and other NATO personnel and met with American troops. Delegation members then traveled to Birmingham, UK, for the Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) was Head of the U.S. Delegation to the PA and spearheaded U.S. efforts to forge a strong, unified response from international legislators to Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine and its people. “All OSCE parliamentarians must stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian colleagues as they battle the Kremlin’s vicious, intolerable war on Ukraine,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “We must do all in our power—through this forum and all others—to ensure that Ukraine is victorious against Russian aggression.” During the Annual Session, parliamentarians overwhelmingly approved a resolution introduced jointly by Sen. Wicker and the heads of the Ukrainian and Lithuanian delegations, responding to Russia’s war on the Ukrainian people and the greater Russian threat to European security. The document “condemns resolutely and unequivocally the ongoing, intensified, clear, gross and still uncorrected violations of Helsinki Principles as well as of fundamental principles of international law by the Government of the Russian Federation in its war of aggression against Ukraine, as well as the complicity of Belarus in this war of aggression, and calls on the governments of OSCE participating States to do the same.” Several members of the U.S. Delegation successfully introduced more than two dozen amendments, designed to keep the focus on Russia’s current aggression, to an array of other resolutions. In Birmingham, the delegation also co-hosted an event highlighting the growing problem of political repression in Russia and Belarus, especially in the context of protesting the war on Ukraine; met with Mikhail Khodorkovsky to discuss his organization’s work to support political prisoners and democracy in Russia; and held bilateral meetings with the UK’s parliamentary leadership, OSCE officials, parliamentarians from other OSCE countries. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) was re-elected to his post as chair of the OSCE PA’s Committee on Political Affairs and Security. Following the Annual Session, the congressional delegation stopped in Finland and Sweden to welcome the historic decision of both countries to join the NATO Alliance. In Finland, members met with President Sauli Niinistö, and Finnish parliamentarians including First Deputy Speaker Antti Rinne and OSCE PA Vice President Pia Kauma. In Sweden, they met with Foreign Minister Ann Linde, Deputy Defense Minister Jan Olof-Lin, and a group of members of the Swedish parliament, led by Speaker Andreas Norlén and OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt. In addition to Co-Chairman Cohen, Sen. Wicker, and Rep. Hudson, the Congressional delegation included Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), as well as Sen. John Cornyn (TX), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Rep. John Garamendi (CA-03), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. August Pfluger (TX-11) and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04).

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION DIGITAL DIGEST JUNE 2022

  • The Helsinki Process: An Overview

    In August 1975, the heads of state or government of 35 countries – the Soviet Union and all of Europe except Albania, plus the United States and Canada – held a historic summit in Helsinki, Finland, where they signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This document is known as the Helsinki Final Act or the Helsinki Accords. The Conference, known as the CSCE, continued with follow-up meetings and is today institutionalized as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria. Learn more about the signature of the Helsinki Final Act; the role that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe played during the Cold War; how the Helsinki Process successfully adapted to the post-Cold War environment of the 1990s; and how today's OSCE can and does contribute to regional security, now and in the future.

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