Title

Title

The Ongoing Tragedy of International Parental Child Abduction
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Each year, between 600 and 800 American children are taken from the United States by one parent without the consent of the other. 

The parent left behind can only wonder if the children are safe, warm, well-fed, and loved, and what – if anything – their precious children are being told about them.  Many children are intentionally misled by the taking parent to hate and distrust the left-behind parent. 

Abducted children also suffer tremendously from the abduction and the subsequent loss of contact with the left-behind parent.  Research shows that abducted children who are recovered often experience a range of serious short- and long-term emotional and psychological problems, including anxiety, eating disorders, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt, and fearfulness.   

In 1988, the United States became a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which seeks to deter parents from putting their children through the trauma of an international abduction by—absent a grave threat to a child’s well-being—returning abducted children back to their home country and home courts to determine the best interests of the child. 

The Convention affirms that if a custody decision has already been made, it should not be re-litigated thousands of miles away in a foreign court. If a custody decision needs to be made, the courts in the home country are the courts with the best access to school records, police reports, neighbors, teachers, friends, and many other resources to help determine the child’s best interest.  The Convention also protects an abducted child’s relationship with the left-behind parent, requiring that a child should have access to the parent for the duration of court proceedings for return, and should have access to the parent even if the return is denied. Seven of eleven Partners for Cooperation, including Japan, are party to the Hague Convention, as are fifty-one of fifty-seven participating States, including Slovakia.  

However, as the Cook and Frisancho families know all too well, securing implementation of the Convention can be a financially and emotionally draining nightmare.

Japan

James Cook learned just weeks ago that Japan has again failed to return his four children to him.  He has been kept from contact with them for more than three years in a family vacation-turned-abduction case. 

More than two years ago, Japan’s high court ordered Cook’s ex-wife to return the children to their father in the U.S., per the Hague Convention. However, despite the court ruling, Japanese authorities failed to enforce the return decision for a year.  As a result, Mr. Cook spent thousands of dollars on legal fees and travel to Japan to fight for his children.  When the financial burden forced Mr. Cook to move to an apartment, Japanese courts revoked the return because they did not consider an apartment a “stable home”—a conclusion that would surprise the millions of families in Japan and the U.S. who live happily in apartments.  

That conclusion also would surprise the writers of the Convention, who provided as an exception to return “grave threats that would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation”—situations that would include war, famine, a disease epidemic, or very serious abuse or neglect of the child from which the home country could not protect the child.   

“Japan’s own Hague courts twice ordered return of my children, but Japan ignored the orders until they could find a way to revoke them,” said Mr. Cook. “I followed the rules, respected the process, and trusted in the Convention—but Japan remains the ‘black hole’ of child abduction.”

Slovakia

Dr. Augusto Frisancho knows all too well the heartache of winning in court, only to have enforcement of a judgment delayed until it is eventually reversed.  Dr. Frisancho, a medical doctor at the Johns Hopkins University, has not seen or even been allowed to speak to his three sons after their mother abducted them to Slovakia seven years ago.  

Like Mr. Cook, Dr. Frisancho opted to use the Hague Convention rather than seek the criminal prosecution of his estranged spouse in the United States or Slovakia for kidnapping.  The Slovak courts ordered that his children be returned to the United States to resolve any custody questions.  Although the court order returning custody to Dr. Frisancho was—according to standard procedural rules governing such legal actions—final, a year later the decision was reversed in a closed-door proceeding from which Dr. Frisancho was excluded.

Dr. Frisancho took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, which found unanimously that his rights had been violated by Slovakia.  Slovakia paid the court-imposed damage award and changed its laws on closed proceedings and appeals in abduction cases.  

However, seven years after the abduction, Dr. Frisancho still has no access to his children, much less custody.  He has not even been given a photo of his children and relies on age-enhanced images from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children to see a glimpse of what his children may look like today.

When Slovakia ordered Dr. Frisancho’s estranged wife to bring the children to court to verify their well-being with a psychologist, she refused.  When Slovakia ordered her not to remove the children from Slovakia, she moved the children across the border into Hungary.

Although the children regularly visit their grandparents in Slovakia and Dr. Frisancho’s estranged wife works in Slovakia, Slovakia has not enforced the court orders or ruled on Dr. Frisancho’s petition to finish the case. 

Were Slovakia to finish the case, Dr. Frisancho could enforce the ruling in Hungary using the Brussels II Regulation.  As it is, Dr. Frisancho is facing the fact that he may have to translate thousands of pages of Slovakian court proceedings into Hungarian and restart his case in Hungary—losing more precious time with his children.

“I want to see my children.  I want my children to know they have a father who loves them dearly and who prays every night that somehow this wrong to them will be righted,” said Dr. Frisancho.  “Despite every opportunity over 7 years, Slovakia has inexplicably failed to meet the two main goals of the Hague Convention—return and access.”

Relevant countries: 
  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • The OSCE 2011 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Overview From September 26 to October 7, 2011, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 56 participating States. The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights gathering and provides a venue for participating States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the implementation of the full range of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. In 2011, those subjects were: 1) “Democratic elections and electoral observation,” 2) “Freedom of movement,” and 3) “Enhancing implementation of OSCE commitments regarding Roma and Sinti.” U.S. Delegation The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador David Johnson. Other members of the delegation included Ambassador Ian Kelly, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Cynthia Efird, Senior State Department Advisor to the Helsinki Commission; Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia. Helsinki Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. Patrick Merloe, National Democratic Institute, Kathleen Newland, Migration Policy Institute, and Ethel Brooks, Rutgers University, served as Public Members of the delegation, addressing democratic elections, freedom of movement, and the situation of Romani people in the OSCE region respectively. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the U.S. delegations and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society. Highlights of This Year’s Meeting The severe crackdown in Belarus which followed elections last December was a focus of attention throughout the two-week meeting, both in formal sessions and special side events. During the final session, the United States delivered a statement focused on the use of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Belarus -- an OSCE tool used in exceptional circumstances to conduct fact-finding regarding extreme human rights concerns. The mechanism had been invoked in April by 14 participating States and a report was presented to the OSCE Permanent Council by the Mechanism Rapporteur, Professor Emmanuel Decaux, on May 28. NGOs also demonstrated throughout the meeting on behalf of Belarusian political prisoner Alex Bielatskiy. The United States also raised issues which remain unresolved following the 2003 invocation of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Turkmenistan. In particular, Ambassador Johnson drew attention to the continued disappearance of Ambassador Batyr Berdiev, the former representative of Turkmenistan to the OSCE. Although Turkmenistan officials did not to participate in the HDIM, human rights groups concerned with Turkmenistan were present and members of the opposition-in-exile made a statement expressing their willingness to return to Turkmenistan and participate in the February 2012 presidential elections. They also called for the OSCE to conduct a full election observation mission for those elections. In its opening statement, the United States observed that Kazakhstan had failed to fully implement the commitments on domestic reform it had made in 2007 in Madrid upon receiving the Chairmanship for 2010, that leading human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis remained in prison as a result of a trial that lacked due process, that Kazakhstan had adopted measures in a one-party parliament giving the current president continued power and immunity from prosecution for life and had held a poorly-conducted snap presidential election following an attempt to push through a referendum to obviate future elections for the incumbent. Although Kazakhstan protested the U. S. characterization of 2010 as “a year of missed opportunities for reform,” Kazakhstan’s adoption of a new restrictive religion law during the course of the human dimension meeting illustrated the very point the United States was making. In fact, of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of religious liberties was the most oversubscribed, with Kazakhstan’s new religion law generating particular criticism. As at previous meetings, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic, with speaking time at some of the sessions limited to only one or two minutes to accommodate dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused. Other real-time developments during the HDIM also found their way into discussions. Following the outbreak of fighting on September 27 at a Kosovo border crossing with Serbia, Serbian representatives at the meeting engaged in a sharply worded exchange with Albanian officials. (Serbia's engagement at the meeting was of particular note in light of Belgrade's bid to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2014.) The outbreak of anti-Roma rioting in every major Bulgarian town or city during the HDIM underscored the urgency of addressing the chronic human rights problems affecting Roma as well as the acute and escalating crises. Many participants also raised concern regarding continuing human rights abuses against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in the wake of widespread violence last year and in advance of Kyrgyzstani elections in October. During the formal sessions, NGOs demonstrated on behalf of Kyrgyzstani political prisoner Azhimzhon Askarov. The United States engaged fully in all aspects of the meeting, holding bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with NGOs. The United States also organized two side events. The first focused on on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Professor Louise Teitz from the Hague Permanent Bureau (an intergovernmental organization that administers this and other Hague Conventions), and Corrin Ferber from the Department of State, made presentations, with additional comments provided by Consul General Linda Hoover, U.S. Embassy Warsaw. The second event focused on fundamental freedoms in the digital age. DAS Thomas Melia moderated the discussion, which included comments by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic; Agata Waclik-Wejman, policy counsel for Google; and Nataliya Radzina, a Belarusian journalist who faces a lengthy prison sentence in Belarus. Conclusions The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting served as an important forum for the United States to raise issues of concern, both formally and informally, and to hold extensive consultations with governments, OSCE officials, and representatives of civil society. That said, this year's HDIM was somewhat diminished relative to past meetings. First, member states of the European Union appeared divided or preoccupied (or both). As a consequence, on a number of subjects – for example, the session that included migrant workers, refugees, and displaced persons -- there was neither a coordinated European Union statement nor statements by individual EU member states speaking in their national capacity. This voice was missed. Second, the level of participation on the part of governments as well as civil society was reduced. This may be in part due to economic factors. But it may also reflect other factors. Prior to the HDIM, for example, Belarus and Russia dragged out the adoption of an agenda until the last possible moment, making it especially hard for NGOs to plan their participation. In addition, OSCE has, in recent years, scheduled so many human dimension meetings throughout the year that it is difficult for government and non-governmental experts to cover them all. (In addition to the discussion of tolerance and non-discrimination at the HDIM, those issues have been or will be addressed at three different ad hoc meetings, as well as one of the Supplementary Human Dimension Implementation Meetings.) The Lithuanian Chairmanship also scheduled some meetings in Vienna during the HDIM, although the modalities call for all Vienna meetings to be suspended during the HDIM to facilitate participation by the representatives to the OSCE. Similarly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly fall meeting overlapped with the final sessions of the HDIM. In fact, the modalities for the OSCE's human dimension activities were a dominant theme during the HDIM's closing session -- presaging the opening of discussions in Vienna on that issue held immediately after the HDIM at the insistence of Belarus. While many governments, including the U.S., believe the way in which the OSCE organizes its human dimension activities could be improved, the discussions themselves risk being held hostage by those countries inimical to the OSCE's human rights work.

  • Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

    By most accounts, and thanks to the work of many courageous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the despicable evil of anti-Semitism has decreased in most parts of the OSCE region in recent years – but it still remains at higher levels than in 2000. This is simply unacceptable, and it was the topic discussed in this hearing. Concerns raised included political transitions in the Arab world and how they might affect Muslim-Jewish relations, including in Europe; the importance of engagement with Muslim communities in Europe; and growing nationalist and extremist movements that target religious and ethnic minorities.  Additionally the roles of the OSCE, U.S. government, and Congress in addressing continuing issues of anti-Semitism at home and abroad were discussed.

  • Belarus: The Ongoing Crackdown and Forces for Change

    Nearly one year after the brutal post-December 19, 2010, election crackdown, the human rights picture in Belarus remains bleak. Brave and committed individuals who attempt to promote a democratic future for Belarus continue to be crushed by the dictatorial Lukashenka regime. Civil society continues to be under assault, with NGOs facing ever greater constraints, and freedoms of assembly and expression are severely curtailed. Yet the ongoing economic turmoil has produced growing disaffection, as manifested in Lukashenka’s plummeting popular support, and a changing domestic and international environment. The hearing will focus on the extent and impact of the crackdown on the lives of its victims and on the larger society, and what more can be done by the U.S. and our European partners to promote democratic change in Belarus.

  • Good Governance

    Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting Session 3: Good Governance Before I begin, I’d like to thank the panelists today for their excellent and informative presentations. The United States has viewed with keen interest the evolving discussions in recent years on what the OSCE’s priorities should be in the Economic and Environmental Dimension. As our friend and colleague Mr. Svilanovic pointed out during last year’s Vienna Review Conference, we appear to have come to an appreciation that good governance is the key linking theme across the entire second dimension. The Maastricht Strategy is very clear on this point: “Good public and corporate governance and strong institutions are essential foundations for a sound economy, which can attract investments, and thereby enable States to reduce poverty and inequality, to increase social integration and opportunities for all, and to protect the environment. Good governance at all levels contributes to prosperity, stability and security.” As we consider the implementation of our second dimension commitments, however, we should keep in mind why it is important to implement those commitments. The global economic downturn continues to put extreme pressure on people and governments across the OSCE region. To be sure, some countries have weathered the storm better than others. Still, no country can be forever immune to market forces, and even within those that have done well, there are always citizens left behind. This is certainly the case in the United States, and for this reason President Obama is focused intently on how best to put those Americans without a job back to work. We all know that trade and investment are critical drivers of economic growth. Indeed, recognizing this important reality, the Obama Administration has launched the National Export Initiative, which seeks to deepen our strategic trade relationships around the world, recognizing that 85 percent of world GDP growth will occur outside the United States in the coming few years. As we encourage more American businesses – large and small – to embrace international trade, seek opportunities in new markets, and make strategic investments that will lead to increased global trade flows, we are keenly aware of the challenges and costs posed by official corruption, weak institutions, and lack of respect for property rights, including intellectual property. Weak governance and lack of transparency constitute non-tariff barriers to trade, which we have committed ourselves to eliminating. Furthermore, the same issues that deter trade and investment also work against comprehensive security: a lack of transparency in governance leads to diminished confidence that problems and disputes will be addressed in a fair and impartial manner. Without trust and confidence in public institutions, there is little incentive for investors and companies to pursue trade deals or direct investment in those economies. The effect is stagnating economic performance, which, as we have seen in the past several months and years, can lead to political upheaval. The United States Government is deeply committed to fostering good governance and transparency in its political and economic institutions. President Obama has made the global fight against corruption a top priority. As he has noted, “In too many places, the culture of the bribe is a brake on development and prosperity. It discourages entrepreneurship, destroys public trust, and undermines the rule of law while stifling economic growth.” The real world costs of corruption and weak institutions should not be underestimated. The World Bank estimates that more than one trillion dollars in bribes are paid each year out of a global economy of approximately 30 trillion dollars. That's an incredible three percent of the world’s economy. In 2009, companies lost nearly $25 billion to companies willing to pay bribes in deals for which the outcome is known. And bribery is especially costly for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs): a separate study has shown that up to 25 percent of SME operating capital in companies operating internationally is diverted to corruption. That is a staggering figure that illustrates how corruption diverts scarce resources to thoroughly unproductive ends. Corruption is a global problem that knows no borders. And that’s why corruption demands a truly global response – one that knows no limits on collaboration. The Obama Administration is doing its part to implement its obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention by enforcing the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) strictly and fairly. We are determined to ensure that U.S. businesses do not contribute to corruption in foreign markets. At the same time, we are determined to do what we can to assist them in the fight against foreign corruption, and against the high risk and significant costs of corruption in such markets. Regrettably, at this stage, the lack of enforcement of domestic bribery laws, and of foreign bribery laws by many nations that are Parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is extremely troubling and raises concerns about a lack of political will. Governments can and should prosecute both those who give bribes and those who receive them, both at home and abroad. And the OSCE should continue to encourage participating States to adopt and enforce rigorous anti-bribery regimes. Of course, the fight against corruption is not simply a law enforcement matter; rather it can also be a significant – if not the most significant – non-tariff barrier all companies face. Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Administration (or ITA) are committed to working with our trading partners to level the playing field and to promote transparent and corruption-free markets globally. Our work to promote clean and ethical business environments occurs at both the multilateral and bilateral level. At the multilateral level, the ITA is pressing its counterparts to lead by example and to implement comprehensive anti-corruption measures. In addition to our work through the OECD, the United States has been working diligently to persuade the G20 countries to adopt a comprehensive anti-corruption action plan, which includes a commitment focused on adoption and robust enforcement of anti-bribery laws, implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption, greater engagement with the private sector, and support for transparency mechanisms, to name a few. Many of these commitments require our G20 partners to enact and implement new laws and preventive measures. The United States, at ITA’s initiative, in particular, took the lead on proposals relating to the private sector and also on whistleblower protection, within the G20. In the United States, whistleblowers play a crucial role in helping to enforce anti-corruption law. This principle is also embodied in international conventions. Articles 12 and 13 of the UN Convention require States Parties to prevent corruption in the private sector and promote the fight against corruption with the business community and civil society. Unless governments can protect whistleblowers, it is unlikely that they can identify or address systemic causes of corruption. The United States believes robust whistleblower protection should be an essential part of any good governance initiative in the OSCE, and I was encouraged to hear Ambassador O’Leary indicate that this will be an area of focus under the Irish Chairmanship. The U.S. Department of Commerce has also been committed to fostering strong private sector integrity as an integral part of promoting good governance in markets worldwide. Companies are global corporate citizens, and as such, can work collectively and with governments to foster trust, and promote transparency. I hope that some our work may provide a useful model for the OSCE to consider as it looks to embrace good governance and anti-corruption as a priority for the second dimension, a goal we fully support, and which I am personally committed to supporting. For example, the ITA has championed business ethics and corporate governance reform since the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our Business Ethics Manual has been translated into Chinese, Spanish and Russian and is still one of the most widely used resources on this important topic. We have partnered with business associations and chambers of commerce to develop collective action and business ethics program in many markets. Our work on business ethics has grown. This past year, the ITA has focused on trying to heighten awareness of good governance, transparency and business ethics in sectors of vital importance to many economies – by taking a “sectoral” approach to combating corruption and promoting good business practice, the challenge of dealing with corruption becomes less daunting. The ethical issues specific to different industries vary greatly – and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the problem. Within the G20, for example, the United States, at the initiative of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has taken the lead in calling for the G20 to endorse additional sectoral approaches to fighting corruption, beyond the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). We have asked G20 governments, for example, to consider supporting the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (COST) – a new multistakeholder initiative, developed by the World Bank. COST uses similar approaches to EITI to promote greater transparency in public infrastructure projects and government procurement. I hope that the OSCE might similarly consider COST and other multistakeholder approaches to promoting transparency under the Irish chairmanship. Within APEC, the ITA has focused on developing new ethical principles for key sectors within the APEC region. I am pleased to report that under the APEC SME working group, we have coordinated a project with APEC countries and businesses to develop principles of business ethics in the construction, medical devices and biopharmaceutical sectors. These voluntary principles are meant to be used by businesses and trade associations – large andwithin the OSCE framework and the EEDIM, we might also consider focusing on business ethics in specific sectors of interest to all of our economies. I want to close by suggesting some activities to take the theme of good governance and transparency forward. In addition to encouraging the OSCE to formally endorse the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—a move that would send an important signal about this body’s commitment to the principles of good governance and transparency—the U.S. encourages us to explore whether there are additional sectoral initiatives that merit support from the OSCE, including the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative. The United States Government also strongly supports the Irish Chair’s goal to develop a Statement or Declaration of Transparency Principles to help guide our governments in their future activities. I want to encourage us to consider new models of bilateral cooperation to promote good governance such as the model Mr. Murray just discussed, leading to a public-private initiative in the Russian power generation sector. We at the U.S. Department of Commerce are working closely with the Center for Black Sea/Caspian Studies at American University to potentially convene a conference in May of next year that would seek to address the challenge of developing mechanisms to ensure good governance and transparency, while also balancing the goals of protecting national security and accelerating economic development faced by the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as they seek to assert their role as a gateway between Europe and Asia. In addition, the conference will also focus on specific market access challenges to regional integration and economic development in the Caucasus and Central Asia such as transparency in Government procurement and privatization, and trade facilitation challenges, including customs and lack of regional harmonization. It is our hope that the OSCE will join us for this event – focused on critical areas such as transport and infrastructure – to work on tangible ideas for projects and collaborations in the OSCE region. We look forward with great interest to the 20th Economic and Environmental Forum, where we will delve deeper into all the facets of good governance. We also thank the Lithuanian Chairman-in-Office for  ensuring that their draft Ministerial Council decision on Energy Security incorporates transparency in the energy sector – in our view, considering the vital role that energy plays in modern economic life, there can be no confidence, and thus no security, without energy transparency. In the year ahead, we envision an even broader focus on transparency principles across the entire spectrum of economic and environmental activities, and will work with all of our colleagues in the OSCE to make that vision a reality. Thank you, Mr. Moderator.  

  • Commissioner Camuñez's Remarks on Good Governance

    Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting Session 3: Good Governance Before I begin, I’d like to thank the panelists today for their excellent and informative presentations. The United States has viewed with keen interest the evolving discussions in recent years on what the OSCE’s priorities should be in the Economic and Environmental Dimension.  As our friend and colleague Mr. Svilanovic pointed out during last year’s Vienna Review Conference, we appear to have come to an appreciation that good governance is the key linking theme across the entire second dimension.  The Maastricht Strategy is very clear on this point: “Good public and corporate governance and strong institutions are essential foundations for a sound economy, which can attract investments, and thereby enable States to reduce poverty and inequality, to increase social integration and opportunities for all, and to protect the environment.  Good governance at all levels contributes to prosperity, stability and security.”  As we consider the implementation of our second dimension commitments, however, we should keep in mind why it is important to implement those commitments. The global economic downturn continues to put extreme pressure on people and governments across the OSCE region.  To be sure, some countries have weathered the storm better than others.  Still, no country can be forever immune to market forces, and even within those that have done well, there are always citizens left behind.  This is certainly the case in the United States, and for this reason President Obama is focused intently on how best to put those Americans without a job back to work.  We all know that trade and investment are critical drivers of economic growth.  Indeed, recognizing this important reality, the Obama Administration has launched the National Export Initiative, which seeks to deepen our strategic trade relationships around the world, recognizing that 85 percent of world GDP growth will occur outside the United States in the coming few years.  As we encourage more American businesses – large and small – to embrace international trade, seek opportunities in new markets, and make strategic investments that will lead to increased global trade flows, we are keenly aware of the challenges and costs posed by official corruption, weak institutions, and lack of respect for property rights, including intellectual property. Weak governance and lack of transparency constitute non-tariff barriers to trade, which we have committed ourselves to eliminating.  Furthermore, the same issues that deter trade and investment also work against comprehensive security: a lack of transparency in governance leads to diminished confidence that problems and disputes will be addressed in a fair and impartial manner.  Without trust and confidence in public institutions, there is little incentive for investors and companies to pursue trade deals or direct investment in those economies.  The effect is stagnating economic performance, which, as we have seen in the past several months and years, can lead to political upheaval.    The United States Government is deeply committed to fostering good governance and transparency in its political and economic institutions.  President Obama has made the global fight against corruption a top priority.  As he has noted, “In too many places, the culture of the bribe is a brake on development and prosperity.  It discourages entrepreneurship, destroys public trust, and undermines the rule of law while stifling economic growth.”    The real world costs of corruption and weak institutions should not be underestimated.  The World Bank estimates that more than one trillion dollars in bribes are paid each year out of a global economy of approximately 30 trillion dollars.  That's an incredible three percent of the world’s economy.   In 2009, companies lost nearly $25 billion to companies willing to pay bribes in deals for which the outcome is known.  And bribery is especially costly for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs): a separate study has shown that up to 25 percent of SME operating capital in companies operating internationally is diverted to corruption.  That is a staggering figure that illustrates how corruption diverts scarce resources to thoroughly unproductive ends. Corruption is a global problem that knows no borders.  And that’s why corruption demands a truly global response – one that knows no limits on collaboration.  The Obama Administration is doing its part to implement its obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention by enforcing the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) strictly and fairly.  We are determined to ensure that U.S. businesses do not contribute to corruption in foreign markets.  At the same time, we are determined to do what we can to assist them in the fight against foreign corruption, and against the high risk and significant costs of corruption in such markets.   Regrettably, at this stage, the lack of enforcement of domestic bribery laws, and of foreign bribery laws by many nations that are Parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is extremely troubling and raises concerns about a lack of political will.  Governments can and should prosecute both those who give bribes and those who receive them, both at home and abroad.  And the OSCE should continue to encourage participating States to adopt and enforce rigorous anti-bribery regimes. Of course, the fight against corruption is not simply a law enforcement matter; rather it can also be a significant – if not the most significant – non-tariff barrier all companies face.  Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Administration (or ITA) are committed to working with our trading partners to level the playing field and to promote transparent and corruption-free markets globally.  Our work to promote clean and ethical business environments occurs at both the multilateral and bilateral level.  At the multilateral level, the ITA is pressing its counterparts to lead by example and to implement comprehensive anti-corruption measures.   In addition to our work through the OECD, the United States has been working diligently to persuade the G20 countries to adopt a comprehensive anti-corruption action plan, which includes a commitment focused on adoption and robust enforcement of anti-bribery laws, implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption, greater engagement with the private sector, and support for transparency mechanisms, to name a few.  Many of these commitments require our G20 partners to enact and implement new laws and preventive measures.   The United States, at ITA’s initiative, in particular, took the lead on proposals relating to the private sector and also on whistleblower protection, within the G20.  In the United States, whistleblowers play a crucial role in helping to enforce anti-corruption law.  This principle is also embodied in international conventions.  Articles 12 and 13 of the UN Convention require States Parties to prevent corruption in the private sector and promote the fight against corruption with the business community and civil society.  Unless governments can protect whistleblowers, it is unlikely that they can identify or address systemic causes of corruption.  The United States believes robust whistleblower protection should be an essential part of any good governance initiative in the OSCE, and I was encouraged to hear Ambassador O’Leary indicate that this will be an area of focus under the Irish Chairmanship.   The U.S. Department of Commerce has also been committed to fostering strong private sector integrity as an integral part of promoting good governance in markets worldwide.  Companies are global corporate citizens, and as such, can work collectively and with governments to foster trust, and promote transparency.  I hope that some our work may provide a useful model for the OSCE to consider as it looks to embrace good governance and anti-corruption as a priority for the second dimension, a goal we fully support, and which I am personally committed to supporting. For example, the ITA has championed business ethics and corporate governance reform since the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Our Business Ethics Manual has been translated into Chinese, Spanish and Russian and is still one of the most widely used resources on this important topic.  We have partnered with business associations and chambers of commerce to develop collective action and business ethics program in many markets.   Our work on business ethics has grown.  This past year, the ITA has focused on trying to heighten awareness of good governance, transparency and business ethics in sectors of vital importance to many economies – by taking a “sectoral” approach to combating corruption and promoting good business practice, the challenge of dealing with corruption becomes less daunting.  The ethical issues specific to different industries vary greatly – and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the problem.  Within the G20, for example, the United States, at the initiative of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has taken the lead in calling for the G20 to endorse additional sectoral approaches to fighting corruption, beyond the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  We have asked G20 governments, for example, to consider supporting the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (COST) – a new multistakeholder initiative, developed by the World Bank.  COST uses similar approaches to EITI to promote greater transparency in public infrastructure projects and government procurement.  I hope that the OSCE might similarly consider COST and other multistakeholder approaches to promoting transparency under the Irish chairmanship.     Within APEC, the ITA has focused on developing new ethical principles for key sectors within the APEC region.  I am pleased to report that under the APEC SME working group, we have coordinated a project with APEC countries and businesses to develop principles of business ethics in the construction, medical devices and biopharmaceutical sectors.  These voluntary principles are meant to be used by businesses and trade associations – large and small – to guide their ethical interactions with public officials and institutions.   I hope that within the OSCE framework and the EEDIM, we might also consider focusing on business ethics in specific sectors of interest to all of our economies.  I want to close by suggesting some activities to take the theme of good governance and transparency forward.  In addition to encouraging the OSCE to formally endorse the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—a move that would send an important signal about this body’s commitment to the principles of good governance and transparency—the U.S. encourages us to explore whether there are additional sectoral initiatives that merit support from the OSCE, including the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative.  The United States Government also strongly supports the Irish Chair’s goal to develop a Statement or Declaration of Transparency Principles to help guide our governments in their future activities. I want to encourage us to consider new models of bilateral cooperation to promote good governance such as the model Mr. Murray just discussed, leading to a public-private initiative in the Russian power generation sector.   We at the U.S. Department of Commerce are working closely with the Center for Black Sea/Caspian Studies at American University to potentially convene a conference in May of next year that would seek to address the challenge of developing mechanisms to ensure good governance and transparency, while also balancing the goals of protecting national security and accelerating economic development faced by the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as they seek to assert their role as a gateway between Europe and Asia.  In addition, the conference will also focus on specific market access challenges to regional integration and economic development in the Caucasus and Central Asia such as transparency in Government procurement and privatization, and trade facilitation challenges, including customs and lack of regional harmonization.  It is our hope that the OSCE will join us for this event – focused on critical areas such as transport and infrastructure – to work on tangible ideas for projects and collaborations in the OSCE region. We look forward with great interest to the 20th Economic and Environmental Forum, where we will delve deeper into all the facets of good governance.  We also thank the Lithuanian Chairman-in-Office for ensuring that their draft Ministerial Council decision on Energy Security incorporates transparency in the energy sector – in our view, considering the vital role that energy plays in modern economic life, there can be no confidence, and thus no security, without energy transparency.  In the year ahead, we envision an even broader focus on transparency principles across the entire spectrum of economic and environmental activities, and will work with all of our colleagues in the OSCE to make that vision a reality. Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

  • Commissioner Camuñez's Opening Statement at the Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting Opening Remarks On behalf of the United States, I would like to thank the Lithuanian Chairman-in-Office, Secretary General Zannier, Coordinator for Economic and Environmental Activities Svilanović, and of course our Austrian hosts for convening this inaugural Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting and for providing a warm welcome to Vienna. It is an honor to be here today as head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE, representing the U.S. Government in my capacity as an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance (MAC) within the International Trade Administration, and as a Commissioner to the U.S. Helsinki Commission. As a Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Market Access and Compliance, I am responsible for helping lead the effort to open new markets for U.S. companies, identifying and eliminating market access challenges such as non-tariff barriers to trade, and helping to monitor and enforce U.S. trade agreements and commitments. The work of the Environmental and Economic Dimension, especially that which focuses on transparency of markets and good governance, is closely aligned with the work we undertake in the International Trade Administration. I am here today to deliver the message that the U.S. Government is highly committed to making the second dimension even more effective and dynamic, and that we will do our part in ensuring that our economic and environmental commitments receive the same level of attention and scrutiny that those in the political-military and human dimensions currently enjoy. I will try to keep my remarks brief, but I think it is critical that we take a close look at the economic and environmental commitments as they were spelled out in the 2003 Maastricht Strategy. We still see Maastricht as the key blueprint for moving forward on all the  commitments that have come before, and in particular, note a number of areas where we could pursue significant, substantive action over the next few years to achieve measurable progress. Our commitments on economic cooperation have at their core the idea of connectedness to regional and global markets, to trade and investment networks, and to energy and transportation infrastructure, as a way to address emerging economic challenges and threats. In light of the global economic downturn, it is vital that we recommit ourselves to increasing cooperation through a variety of measures, including improving corporate governance and public management, eliminating unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to trade, continuing  to harmonize our regulations and standards where appropriate, taking further steps to combat financial crimes like bribery and money laundering, and increasing confidence through the incorporation of transparency principles in all of our public and private ventures. At the same time, in view of our progress made this year worldwide on  empowering women in the economy, first at the Invest for the Future Conference in Istanbul in January and most recently at the APEC Summit in San Francisco, we believe it is important to recognize the critical connection between women and strong economies, and to remove all barriers that prevent women from full and equal participation in the economy. I would like to focus my comments this morning on the subject of good governance, however. We have committed ourselves time and again to “good governance,” and while progress has been made, much work remains to be done. As stated in the 2003 Maastricht Strategy, achieving good governance will require a comprehensive, long-term strategic approach. In the view of the U.S. Government, good governance is the core theme within the economic and environmental dimension, and we are pleased that next year’s Forum will address the topic in a broad and detailed way. When we speak of good governance, we speak about governments having both the propensity and the competence to manage complex political and economic systems in a fair, fully inclusive, and transparent way. Anti-corruption is part of it, but not the whole picture. It’s about having transparent, clear and predictable legislative and regulatory frameworks that foster efficient and low-cost business formation and development, and most importantly allow and even encourage robust participation in the political and economic spheres by civil society. Let me say a few words about my agency’s past and current work in this area, reserving greater details and the highlights of a new proposal for Session III tomorrow. From 1998-2008, the U.S. Department of Commerce launched a Good Governance Program, focused on partnering with the public and private sectors in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Central-Eastern Europe. This work, focused on promoting sound corporate governance and business ethics, culminated in the publication of a Business Ethics Manual, a Commercial Dispute Resolution Handbook, and a Corporate Governance Manual translated into several languages and disseminated widely throughout the OSCE region. Today, we continue to work on numerous initiatives around the world, within multilateral fora such as APEC and the G20, which involve OSCE members, promoting consensus based principles focused on anticorruption. We have taken our business ethics work and branched out into new regions including Asia and Latin America. Despite a clear understanding of its importance, the lack of good governance and systemic corruption remain some of the single most important market access challenges for companies engaged in trade around the world. This is especially true for small and medium sized enterprises, which are the engine of economic growth and innovation throughout the world. The United States believes that addressing these issues can only lead to greater investment, economic prosperity and security. Over the next three days, we will discuss OSCE support for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). I am pleased to report that the U.S. Department of Commerce played an important role in supporting the creation of the EITI in its initial phase. The OSCE now has a chance to follow in the steps of the G8 and G20, by endorsing the EITI, and I applaud the governments that have preceded the United States as implementers. The EITI is a great example of how shared commitments towards good governance and transparency in a vital sector to many countries can work and build sustained momentum and engagement between the private sector, governments and civil society. Tomorrow I will share more concrete information about the work that the U.S. Government and my Department have undertaken to promote good governance and to combat corruption. I am pleased to have an expert on business ethics and anti-corruption in the energy sector, as part of the U.S. delegation. Mr. Matthew Murray runs the Center for Business Ethics and Corporate Governance in St. Petersburg, Russia, and he’ll speak to you later about a good governance initiative involving public and private stakeholders in the power generation sector in Russia, which may serve as a model for similar programs in other OSCE countries. I am also pleased to have Kate Watters of Crude Accountability joining the U.S. delegation, who will provide some examples of how transparency is a critical component of enhancing security in the environmental sphere. A month ago, the Economic and Environmental Forum discussed the concept of sustainability and where efforts to promote sustainable practices stand in our region. Those discussions remind us that our commitments on sustainable development encompass a broad spectrum of activities related to efficiency, sound resource management, and the full involvement of all stakeholders in decision-making. Just to cite an example from the Prague Forum, we recognize that in order to further develop economies and markets in such varied areas as the Black Sea region and Central Asia we will need to address several problems: improving the efficiency of border crossings and building construction, tilting the energy mix towards cleaner fuels, harmonizing standards and practices across the region, and, just as critically, ensuring broad involvement of civil society in the decision-making on project proposal, design, and implementation. One thing that sets the OSCE apart from many other organizations addressing the environment is recognition of the clear connection between the environment and security. We recognize that many environmental disasters cannot be predicted or prevented. At the same time, greater transparency – through information sharing and civil society engagement – about possible security risks stemming from the environment will make it possible to prevent or mitigate more disasters, both natural and man-made. We also must recognize that failure to protect the environment is itself a security risk, putting increased pressure on populations facing dwindling resources of clean air and water, arable farmland, and adequate energy. Colleagues, The next three days provide a critical juncture and platform for finding consensus on measures that will improve our implementation of the OSCE commitments in the economic and environmental dimension. The Vilnius Ministerial is only a month and a half away; now is the time to summon the political will to find a way forward. We look forward to building consensus on decisions on energy security, to include good governance and transparency, and we welcome constructive dialogue on additional measures proposed on confidence-building initiatives and sustainable transport. We view these elements, along with sustainable development and protecting the environment, as the cornerstones of the Maastricht Strategy, and will be speaking about these over the next several days. Just a month ago, we found some convergence of opinion on discrete aspects of the second dimension. Let us expand that convergence to the entire dimension as we review our economic and environmental commitments over the next few days, with a view toward substantive deliverables for Vilnius. Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

  • 2050: Implications of Demographic Trends in the OSCE Region

    The hearing focused on the implications of current demographic trends in the expansive OSCE region through the prism of the security, economic and human dimensions.  Most of the OSCE’s 56 participating states are experiencing varying stages of demographic decline, marked by diminishing and rapidly aging populations. Such patterns were identifying as likely to have significant social, economic and security consequences for countries throughout the region, including the United States. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Jack A. Goldstone, Director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University; Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy of the American Enterprise Institute; Richard Jackson, Director and Senior Fellow of the Global Aging Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Steven W. Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute – addressed issues related to the demographic trends in the OSCE region, such as shrinking workforces in a growing number of participating States that are expected to become increasingly dependent upon foreign workers in the coming decades. A concern that these factors could contribute to mounting social tensions as demonstrated by clashes in some participating States in recent years was evident.

  • Copenhagen Anniversary Conference

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Policy Advisor Representatives from a majority of the 56 OSCE participating States and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Copenhagen on June 10-11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the 1990 Copenhagen Document and to assess implementation of key provisions of that landmark document. The anniversary conference, titled “20 years of the OSCE Copenhagen Document: Status and Future Perspectives,” was co-organized by the Kazakhstani OSCE Chairmanship and Denmark, and held at the Eigtveds Pakhus, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Haltzel led the U.S. delegation, which was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly and representatives from the OSCE Mission in Vienna, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission. Five substantive working sessions, reflecting some of the major themes of the groundbreaking Copenhagen Document, were held: Democratic processes – elections and human rights; Rule of Law; National Minorities; Freedom of Movement; and Measures to improve implementation of the human dimension commitments. Many speakers highlighted the historic importance of the Copenhagen Document, which offered a blueprint for pluralistic democratic development, rooted in the rule of law and protection of human rights, throughout the OSCE region – a revolutionary document at the time and one that remains highly relevant two decades later. The June 1990 Copenhagen Meeting came at a unique time in history when dramatic changes were taking place; the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of one-party regimes in Eastern Europe had taken place only months earlier. And the following year – 1991 -- witnessed the emergence of 15 independent states with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Truly, those were dynamic days during which sweeping new commitments -- which would have been impossible to garner consensus for years or even months prior -- received universal support. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether consensus to the Copenhagen agreement would be found today, given the democratic and human rights backsliding that has occurred in a number of participating States. The Copenhagen Document underlines the centrality of political pluralism, civil society and human rights as fundamental elements of functioning democracies. As Ambassador Max Kampelman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 conference summed it up, “In effect, the Copenhagen document represents the first formal proclamation, by the States themselves, of a Europe both whole and free.” It identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and acknowledged that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. Among the achievements of the Copenhagen Document were the far-reaching commitments on democratic elections which laid the groundwork for the OSCE’s future activities with respect to election observation. Copenhagen also represented a significant step forward with respect to the protection of minorities, and for the first time there was a direct reference to Roma and to anti-Semitism. While participants at the anniversary meeting underscored the significant progress over the last 20 years, many also called for fuller compliance with the Copenhagen commitments, noting, for instance, backsliding in holding democratic elections in some participating States; suppression of civil society, including independent media, NGOs and human rights defenders; the deficit of impartial and independent justice; and the lack of separation of powers – especially the concentration of power in the executive. The last session of the conference discussed measures to improve implementation of human dimension commitments, including the prevention of human rights violations through the use of reporting before the violations occur; enhancement of standards and commitments; strengthened monitoring mechanisms, including a U.S. proposal to dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations and make corrective recommendations before the violations become entrenched; and improved cooperation with, and involvement of, civil society actors in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, however, compliance with existing standards enshrined in the Copenhagen Document, the Helsinki Final Act and all other OSCE commitments remains the primary responsibility of the participating State.

  • A Decade of the Trafficking in Persons Report

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin convened a standing-room only hearing centered on the diplomatic impact of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  The hearing focused on the ten years that the annual TIP report has been prepared by the State Department. Improvements to TIP-related efforts were suggested, such as working more closely with the Tier 2 Watch List countries in the OSCE Region, – Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – helping them to implement the changes necessary to meet the minimum standards and to avoid statutory downgrades which will otherwise be required in next year’s TIP report. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador at Large of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Jolene Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Free the Slaves; and Holly J. Burkhalter, Vice President for Government Relations of the International Justice Mission – explored ways to potentially create extra-territorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases.  They also focused on ways to deter demand for trafficking victims in all countries, including Tier 1 countries.

  • Global Threats, European Security and Parliamentary Cooperation

    From nuclear security to climate change, global terrorism to anti-corruption efforts, this hearing examined what parliamentarians can do to work together on some of the most significant challenges facing the world. Members addressed European and Central Asian security concerns, including unresolved conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere, and considered how international parliaments can cooperate to address challenges related to trafficking, tolerance, and democratic development, including elections and media freedom.

  • Slovakia and Hungary Relations

    Mr. President, in 1991, then-Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel brought together his counterparts from Poland and Hungary. Taking inspiration from a 14th century meeting of Central European kings, these 20th century leaders returned to the same Danube town of Visegrad with a view to eliminating the remnants of the communist bloc in Central Europe; overcoming historic animosities between Central European countries; and promoting European integration. Today, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are together known as the Visegrad Group, and all four have successfully joined NATO and the European Union. They are anchors in the Trans-Atlantic alliance, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to travel to all four of these countries where I have met with public officials, non-governmental representatives and ethnic and religious community leaders. Unfortunately, it appears that some additional work is necessary to address one of the principal goals of the Visegrad Group; namely, overcoming historic animosities. In recent months, relations between Hungary and Slovakia have been strained. Having traveled in the region and having met with leaders from both countries during their recent visits to Washington, I would like to share a few observations. First, an amendment to the Slovak language law, which was adopted in June and will enter into force in January, has caused a great deal of concern that the use of the Hungarian language by the Hungarian minority in Slovakia will be unduly or unfairly restricted. Unfortunately, that anxiety has been whipped up, in part, by a number of inaccurate and exaggerated statements about the law. The amendment to the state language law only governs the use of the state language by official public bodies. These state entities may be fined if they fail to ensure that Slovak--the state language--is used in addition to the minority languages permitted by law. The amendment does not allow fines to be imposed on individuals, and certainly not for speaking Hungarian or any other minority language in private, contrary to what is sometimes implied. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has been meeting with officials from both countries and summarized the Slovak law in his most recent report to the OSCE Permanent Council: “The adopted amendments to the State Language Law pursue a legitimate aim, namely, to strengthen the position of the State language, and, overall, are in line with international standards. Some parts of the law, however, are ambiguous and may be misinterpreted, leading to a negative impact on the rights of persons belonging to national minorities.” Since the law has not yet come into effect, there is particular concern that even if the law itself is consistent with international norms, the implementation of the law may not be. I am heartened that Slovakia and Hungary have continued to engage with one of the OSCE's most respected institutions--the High Commissioner on National Minorities--on this sensitive issue, and I am confident that their continued discussions will be constructive. At the same time, I would flag a number of factors or developments that have created the impression that the Slovak Government has some hostility toward the Hungarian minority. Those factors include but are not limited to the participation of the extremist Slovak National Party, SNS, in the government itself; the SNS control of the Ministry of Education, one of the most sensitive ministries for ethnic minorities; the Ministry of Education's previous position that it would require Slovak-language place names in Hungarian language textbooks; the handling of the investigation into the 2006 Hedvig Malinova case in a manner that makes it impossible to have confidence in the results of the investigation, and subsequent threats to charge Ms. Malinova with perjury; and the adoption of a resolution by the parliament honoring Andrei Hlinka, notwithstanding his notorious and noxious anti-Hungarian, anti-Semitic, and anti-Roma positions. All that said, developments in Hungary have done little to calm the waters. Hungary itself has been gripped by a frightening rise in extremism, manifested by statements and actions of the Hungarian Guard, the ``64 Counties'' movement, and the extremist party Jobbik, all of which are known for their irredentist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Roma postures. Murders and other violent attacks against Roma, repeated attacks by vandals on the Slovak Institute in Budapest, attacks on property in Budapest's Jewish quarter in September, and demonstrations which have blocked the border with Slovakia and where the Slovak flag is burned illustrate the extent to which the Hungarian social fabric is being tested. Not coincidentally, both Hungary and Slovakia have parliamentary elections next year, in April and June respectively, and, under those circumstances, it may suit extremist elements in both countries just fine to have these sorts of developments: nationalists in Slovakia can pretend to be protecting Slovakia's language and culture--indeed, the very state--from the dangerous overreach of Hungarians. Hungarian nationalists--on both sides of the border--can pretend that Hungarian minorities require their singular protection--best achieved by remembering them come election day. Meanwhile, the vast majority of good-natured Slovaks and Hungarians, who have gotten along rather well for most of the last decade, may find their better natures overshadowed by the words and deeds of a vocal few. In meetings with Slovak and Hungarian officials alike, I have urged my colleagues to be particularly mindful of the need for restraint in this pre-election season, and I have welcomed the efforts of those individuals who have chosen thoughtful engagement over mindless provocation. I hope both countries will continue their engagement with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, whom I believe can play a constructive role in addressing minority and other bilateral concerns.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Condemn Violence Against Roma

    Bipartisan Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today voiced strong concerns for growing violence against the Roma – Europe’s largest ethnic minority group. At a briefing examining the growing prejudice against Roma in Europe and subsequent acts of violence against Roma across Europe, Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) expressed concern for the treatment of Roma, who have been victimized in their own homes – from the killing of elderly to young children burned by fire bombs. “Governments must act with a sense of urgency in combating the pernicious racism that has contributed to the social, economic, and political marginalization of Roma, resulting in the gruesome and deadly attacks on Roma in recent months,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “But beyond the violence, the continual dislocation of Roma most recently from their historic home in Sulukule, outside Istanbul, Turkey, shows a disregard for minorities and further sends a signal of exclusion. I call on all European countries to reverse this troubling trend.” Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) added: “In the wake of the recent European Parliamentary elections, we are seeing growth of political parties who espouse anti-immigration, anti-minority, and anti-Semitic policies. I urge governments across Europe to respect Roma human rights. They should fully integrate the continent’s largest ethnic minority group, do away with segregated schooling, and when crimes are committed, thoroughly investigate and hold criminals accountable for their acts of hate.” Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) added: “Some people have compared the firebombing and other attacks on Roma in the Czech Republic and Hungary to the sniper attacks that took place in the area a few years ago. For Roma, who are the singular targets in this case, we can only imagine the fear that grips those communities. I urge the Czech and Hungarian Governments to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators of those attacks to justice and to ensure that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

  • 2008 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    The OSCE’s 2008 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting offered an opportunity to review compliance on a full range of human rights and humanitarian commitments of the organization’s participating States. Tolerance issues featured prominently in the discussions, which included calls for sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. A U.S. proposal for a high-level conference on tolerance issues in 2009, however, met with only tepid support. Core human rights issues, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion, continued to draw large numbers of speakers. Throughout the discussions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about Kazakhstan’s failure to implement promised reforms and questioned its readiness to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2010. Greece, slated to assume the chairmanship in January, came under criticism for its treatment of ethnic minorities. As in the past, the United State faced criticism for retaining the death penalty and for its conduct in counter-terrorism operations. Belarusian elections, held on the eve of the HDIM, came in for a round of criticism, while Russia continued to advocate proposals on election observation that would significantly limit the OSCE’s independence in such activities. Finally, discussion of the Russia-Georgia conflict was conspicuous by its near absence, though related human rights and humanitarian concerns will likely receive more prominence in the lead up to and during the December OSCE Ministerial in Helsinki. Background From September 29 to October 10, 2008, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual(1) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The HDIM is Europe’s largest human rights gathering, convened to discuss compliance by the participating States with the full range of human dimension commitments they have all adopted by consensus. The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 56 participating States. The HDIM is the only multinational human rights meeting in Europe where representatives of NGOs and government representatives have equal access to the speakers list. Indeed, over half of the statements delivered at this year’s HDIM were made by NGO representatives. Such implementation review meetings are intended to serve as the participating States’ principal venue for public diplomacy and are important vehicles for identifying continued areas of poor human rights performance. Although the HDIM is not tasked with decision-making responsibilities, the meetings can provide impetus for further focus on particular human dimension concerns and help shape priorities for subsequent action. Coming in advance of ministerial meetings that are usually held in December, the HDIMs provide an additional opportunity for consultations among the participating States on human dimension issues that may be addressed by Ministers. (This year, for example, there were discussions on the margins regarding a possible Ministerial resolution on equal access to education for Roma and advancing work in the field of tolerance and non-discrimination, including the possibility of convening a related high-level meeting in 2009.) OSCE rules, adopted by consensus, allow NGOs to have access to human dimension meetings. However, this general rule does not apply to “persons and organizations which resort to the use of violence or publicly condone terrorism or the use of violence.”(2) There are no other grounds for exclusion. The decision as to whether or not a particular individual or NGO runs afoul of this rule is made by the Chairman-in-Office. In recent years, some governments have tried to limit or restrict NGO access at OSCE meetings in an effort to avoid scrutiny and criticism of their records. This year, in the run up to the HDIM, Turkmenistan held the draft agenda for the meeting hostage, refusing to give consensus as part of an effort to block the registration of Turkmenistan NGOs which have previously attended the implementation meetings and criticized Ashgabat. Turkmenistan officials finally relented and allowed the adoption of the HDIM agenda in late July, but did not participate in the Warsaw meeting. Along these lines, the Russian delegation walked out in protest when the NGO “Russian-Chechen Friendship Society” took the floor to speak during a session on freedom of the media. At the 2008 HDIM, senior Department of State participants included Ambassador W. Robert Pearson, Head of Delegation; Ambassador Julie Finley, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Karen Stewart, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and Mr. Bruce Turner, Acting Director, Office for European Security and Political Affairs. Mr. Will Inboden, advisor on religious freedom issues, and Mr. Nathan Mick, advisor on Roma issues, served as Public Members. Ms. Felice Gaer, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, and Mr. Michael Cromartie, Vice Chair, also served as members of the delegation. Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Fred L. Turner and Senior State Department Advisor Ambassador Clifford Bond also served as members of the U.S. Delegation, along with Helsinki Commission staff members Alex T. Johnson, Ronald J. McNamara, Winsome Packer, Erika B. Schlager, and Dr. Mischa E. Thompson. In comparison with previous HDIMs, the 2008 meeting was relatively subdued – perhaps surprisingly so given that, roughly eight weeks before its opening, Russian tanks had rolled onto Georgian territory. While the full scope of human rights abuses were not known by the time the meeting opened, human rights defenders had already documented serious rights violations, including the targeting of villages in South Ossetia inhabited by ethnic Georgians. Nevertheless, discussion of the Russian-Georgian conflict was largely conspicuous by its near absence. Highlights The annual HDIM agenda provides a soup-to-nuts review of the implementation of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. The United States continued its longstanding practice of naming specific countries and cases of concern. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. This year, those subjects were: 1) education and awareness-raising in the promotion of human rights; 2) freedom of religion or belief; and 3) focus on identification, assistance and access to justice for the victims of trafficking. Of the three, the sessions on religious liberty attracted the most speakers with over 50 statements. A large number of side events were also part of the HDIM, organized by non-governmental organizations, OSCE institutions or offices, other international organizations, or participating States. These side events augment implementation review sessions by providing an opportunity to examine specific subjects or countries in greater depth and often with a more lively exchange than in the formal sessions. Along with active participation at these side events, the United States held extensive bilateral meetings with government representatives, as well as with OSCE officials and NGO representatives. At the end of the second week of the HDIM, Human Rights Directors from capitals also held a working meeting to discuss issues of mutual concern, with a special focus on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security. This year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also hosted a reception to honor the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief, as well as the tenth anniversary of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act and the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Greece, scheduled to assume the chairmanship of the OSCE starting in January 2009, came under particular criticism for its treatment of minorities. Unlike the highly emotional reactions of senior Greek diplomats in Warsaw two years ago, the delegation this year responded to critics by circulating position papers elaborating the Greek government’s views. Greece also responded to U.S. criticism regarding the application of Sharia law to Muslim women in Thrace by stating that Greece is prepared to abolish the application of the Sharia law to members of the Muslim minority in Thrace when this is requested by the interested parties whom it affects directly. Issues relating to the treatment of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities in the OSCE region are likely to remain an important OSCE focus in the coming period, especially in light of developments in the Caucasus, and it remains to be seen how the Greek chairmanship will address these concerns in light of its own rigid approach to minorities in its domestic policies. Throughout the HDIM, many NGOs continued to express concern about the fitness of Kazakhstan to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2010 given serious short comings in that country’s human rights record. In particular, Kazakhstan was sharply criticized for a draft religion law (passed by parliament, but not yet adopted into law). One NGO argued that a Kazakhstan chairmanship, with this law in place, would undermine the integrity of the OSCE, and urged participating States to reconsider Kazakhstan for the 2010 leadership position if the law is enacted. Juxtaposing Kazakhstan’s future chairmanship with the possible final passage of a retrograde law on religion, the Almaty Helsinki Committee asked the assembled representatives, “Are human rights still a priority – or not?” (Meanwhile, on October 5, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Kazakhstan.) On the eve of the HDIM, Belarus held elections. Those elections received considerable critical attention during the HDIM’s focus on democratic elections, with the United States and numerous others expressing disappointment that the elections did not meet OSCE commitments, despite promises by senior Belarusian officials that improvements would be forthcoming. Norway and several other speakers voiced particular concern over pressures being placed on ODIHR to circumscribe its election observation activities. Illustrating those pressures, the Russian Federation reiterated elements of a proposal it drafted on election observation that would significantly limit the independence of ODIHR in its election observation work. The Head of the U.S. Delegation noted that an invitation for the OSCE to observe the November elections in the United States was issued early and without conditions as to the size or scope of the observation. (Russia and others have attempted to impose numerical and other limitations on election observation missions undertaken by the ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.) Tolerance issues featured prominently during discussions this year, as they have at other recent HDIMs. Forty-three interventions were made, forcing the moderator to close the speakers list and requiring presenters to truncate their remarks. Muslim, migrant, and other groups representing visible minorities focused on discrimination in immigration policies, employment, housing, and other sectors, including racial profiling and hate crimes, amidst calls for OSCE countries to improve implementation of existing anti-discrimination laws. Jewish and other NGOs called for sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Representatives of religious communities expressed concern about the confusion made by ODIHR in its Annual Hate Crimes Report between religious liberty issues and intolerance towards members of religious groups. This year, some governments and NGOs elevated their concerns relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, increasingly placing these concerns in the context of the OSCE’s focus on hate crimes. A civil society tolerance pre-HDIM meeting and numerous side events were held on a broad range of tolerance-related topics. The United States and several U.S.-based NGOS called for a high-level conference on tolerance issues to be held in 2009. Unlike in prior years, however, no other State echoed this proposal or stepped forward with an offer to host such a high-level conference. In many of the formal implementation review sessions this year, NGOs made reference to specific decisions of the European Court on Human Rights, urging governments to implement judgments handed down in recent cases. During the discussion of issues relating to Roma, NGOs continued to place a strong focus on the situation in Italy, where Roma (and immigrants) have been the target of hate crimes and mob violence. NGOs reminded Italy that, at the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting in July, they had urged Italy to come to the HDIM with concrete information regarding the prosecution of individuals for violent attacks against Roma. Regrettably, the Italian delegation was unable to provide any information on prosecutions, fostering the impression that a climate of impunity persists in Italy. As at other OSCE fora, the United States was criticized for retaining the death penalty, contrary to the abolitionist trend among the OSCE participating States. Of the 56 OSCE participating States, 54 have abolished, suspended or imposed a moratorium on the death penalty and only two – the United States and Belarus – continue to impose capital punishment as a criminal sanction. Two side events held during the HDIM also put a spotlight on the United States. The first event was organized by Freedom House and entitled, “Today’s American: How Free?” At this event, Freedom House released a book by the same title which examined “the state of freedom and justice in post-9/11 America.” The second event was a panel discussion on “War on Terror or War on Human Rights?” organized by the American Civil Liberties Union. Speakers from the ACLU, Amnesty International and the Polish Human Rights Foundation largely focused on issues relating to the United States, including the military commission trials at Guantanamo, and official Polish investigations into allegations that Poland (working with the United States) was involved in providing secret prisons for the detention and torture of “high-value” detainees.(3) In a somewhat novel development, Russian Government views were echoed by several like-minded NGOs which raised issues ranging from claims of “genocide” by Georgia in South Ossetia to grievances by ethnic Russians in Latvia and Estonia. Ironically, the Russian delegation, in its closing statement, asserted that this year’s HDIM had an “improved atmosphere” due (it was asserted) to the efforts by both governments and NGOs to find solutions to problems rather than casting blame. As at past HDIMs, some sessions generated such strong interest that the time allotted was insufficient to accommodate all those who wished to contribute to the discussion. For example, the session on freedom of the media was severely constrained, with more than 20 individuals unable to take the floor in the time allotted, and several countries unable to exercise rights of reply. Conversely, some sessions – for example, the session on equal opportunity for men and women, and the session on human dimension activities and projects – had, in terms of unused time available, an embarrassment of riches. Following a general pattern, Turkmenistan was again not present at the HDIM sessions this year.(4) In all, 53 participating States were represented at the meeting. At the closing session, the United States raised issues of particular concern relating to Turkmenistan under the “any other business” agenda item. (This is the sixth year in a row that the United States has made a special statement about the situation in Turkmenistan, a country that some view as having the worst human rights record in the OSCE.) For the past two years, there has been a new government in Turkmenistan. The U.S. statement this year noted some positive changes, but urged the new government to continue the momentum on reform by fully implementing steps it already has begun. In addition, the United States called for information on and access to Turkmenistan’s former representative to the OSCE, Batyr Berdiev. Berdiev, once Turkmenistan’s ambassador to the OSCE, was reportedly among the large number of people arrested following an attack on then-President Niyazov’s motorcade in 2002. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown. OSCE PA President João Soares addressed the closing plenary, the most senior Assembly official to participate in an HDIM meeting. The Russian-Georgian Conflict With the outbreak of armed violence between Russia and Georgia occurring only two months earlier, the war in South Ossetia would have seemed a natural subject for discussion during the HDIM. As a human rights forum, the meeting was unlikely to serve as a venue to debate the origins of the conflict, but there were expectations that participants would engage in a meaningful discussion of the human dimension of the tragedy and efforts to stem ongoing rights violations. As it turned out, this view was not widely shared by many of the governments and NGOs participating in the meeting. The opening plenary session foreshadowed the approach to this subject followed through most of the meeting. Among the senior OSCE officials, only High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek squarely addressed the situation in the south Caucasus. Vollebaek condemned the19th century-style politicization of national minority issues in the region and the violation of international borders. At the time of the crisis, he had cautioned against the practice of “conferring citizenship en masse to residents of other States” (a reference to Russian actions in South Ossetia) and warned that “the presence of one's citizens or ‘ethnic kin’ abroad must not be used as a justification for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other States.” Sadly, that sound advice went unobserved in Georgia, but it is still applicable elsewhere in the OSCE region.(5) The statement delivered by France on behalf of the countries of the European Union failed to address the conflict. During the plenary, only Norway and Switzerland joined the United States in raising humanitarian concerns stemming from the conflict. In reply, the head of the Russian delegation delivered a tough statement which sidestepped humanitarian concerns, declaring that discussion of Georgia’s territorial integrity was now “irrelevant.” He called on participating States to adopt a pragmatic approach and urged acknowledgment of the creation of the new sovereign states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, terming their independence “irreversible” and “irrevocable.” Perhaps more surprising than this Russian bluster was the failure of any major NGO, including those who had been active in the conflict zone collecting information and working on humanitarian relief, to take advantage of the opportunity to raise the issue of South Ossetia during the opening plenary. As the HDIM moved into its working sessions, which cover the principal OSCE human dimension commitments, coverage of the conflict fared better. The Representative on Freedom of the Media remarked, in opening the session on free speech and freedom of the media that, for the first time in some years, two OSCE participating States were at war. During that session, he and other speakers called on the Russian Federation to permit independent media access to occupied areas to investigate the charges and counter-charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The tolerance discussion included calls by several delegations for Russia to cooperate and respond favorably to the HCNM’s request for access to South Ossetia to investigate the human rights situation in that part of Georgia. Disappointingly, during the session devoted to humanitarian commitments, several statements, including those of the ODHIR moderator and EU spokesperson, focused narrowly on labor conditions and migration, and failed to raise concerns regarding refugees and displaced persons, normally a major focus of this agenda item and obviously relevant to the Georgia crisis. Nevertheless, the session developed into one of the more animated at the HDIM. The Georgian delegation, which had been silent up to that point, spoke out against Russian aggression and alleged numerous human rights abuses. It expressed gratitude to the European Union for sending monitors to the conflict zone and urged the EU to pressure Russia to fully implement the Six-Point Ceasefire agreement negotiated by French President Sarkozy. The United States joined several delegations and NGOs calling on all parties to the conflict to observe their international obligations to protect refugees and create conditions for their security and safe voluntary return. In a pattern observed throughout the meeting, the Russian delegation did not respond to Georgian charges. It left it to an NGO, “Ossetia Accuses,” to make Russia’s case that Georgia had committed genocide against the people of South Ossetia. A common theme among many interventions was a call for an independent investigation of the causes of the conflict and a better monitoring of the plight of refugees, but to date Russian and South Ossetian authorities have denied both peacekeeping monitors and international journalists access to the region from elsewhere in Georgia. A joint assessment mission of experts from ODIHR and the HCNM, undertaken in mid-October, were initially denied access to South Ossetia, with limited access to Abkhazia granted to some team members. Eventually, several experts did gain access to the conflict zone in South Ossetia, though to accomplish this they had to travel from the north via the Russian Federation. One can only speculate why Georgia received such limited treatment at this HDIM. The crisis in the south Caucasus had dominated OSCE discussions at the Permanent Council in Vienna for weeks preceding the HDIM. Some participants may have feared that addressing it in Warsaw might have crowded out the broader human rights agenda. Others may have felt that, in the absence of a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding the conflict and with so many unanswered questions, it was best not to be too critical or too accusatory of either party. The EU (and particularly the French) were, at the time of the HDIM, in the process of negotiating the deployment of European observers to the conflict zone, and may have feared that criticism of Russia at this forum would have only complicated the task. In fact, the EU’s only oblique reference to Georgia was made at HDIM’s penultimate working session (a discussion which focused on human dimension “project activity”) in connection with the work of High Commissioner for National Minorities. (One observer of this session remarked that there seemed to be a greater stomach for dinging the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for shortcomings in its work than for criticizing Russia for invading a neighboring OSCE participating State.) Finally, other participants, particularly NGOs, seemed more inclined to view human rights narrowly in terms of how governments treat their own citizens and not in terms of how the failure to respect key principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are invariably accompanied by gross violations of human rights and can produce humanitarian disasters. Amid simmering tensions between Russia and Georgia which could erupt into renewed fighting, and completion of a report requested by the Finnish Chairmanship in time for the OSCE’s Ministerial in Helsinki in early December, Ministers will have to grapple with the impact of the south Caucasus conflict and what role the OSCE will have. Beyond Warsaw The relative quiet of the HDIM notwithstanding, French President M. Nicolas Sarkozy put a spotlight on OSCE issues during the course of the meeting. Speaking at a conference in Evian, France, on October 8, he responded to a call by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, issued in June during meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for a new “European Security Treaty” to revise Europe’s security architecture – a move seen by many as an attempt to rein in existing regional security organizations, including NATO and the OSCE. President Sarkozy indicated a willingness to discuss Medvedev’s ideas, but argued they should be addressed in the context of a special OSCE summit, which Sarkozy suggested could be held in 2009. The escalating global economic crisis was also very much on the minds of participants at the HDIM as daily reports of faltering financial institutions, plummeting markets, and capital flight promoted concerns over implications for the human dimension. Several delegations voiced particular concern over the possible adverse impact on foreign workers and those depending on remittances to make ends meet. Looking Ahead The human rights and humanitarian concerns stemming from the war in South Ossetia will likely come into sharper focus in the lead up to the December OSCE Ministerial in Helsinki as talks on the conflict resume in Geneva, and OSCE and other experts attempt to document the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of fighting and current conditions. The coming weeks can also be expected to bring renewed calls for an overhaul of the human dimension and the ODIHR by those seeking to curb attention paid to human rights and subordinate election monitoring activities. It remains to be seen whether Kazakhstan will fulfill the commitments it made a year ago in Madrid to undertake meaningful reforms by the end of this year. There is also the risk that a deepening economic crisis will divert attention elsewhere, even as the resulting fallout in the human dimension begins to manifest itself. It is unclear what priorities the Greek chairmanship will be set for 2009, a year that portends peril and promise. Notes (1) OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings are held every year, unless there is a Summit. Summits of Heads of State or Government are preceded by Review Conferences, which are mandated to review implementation of all OSCE commitments in all areas (military-security, economic and environmental cooperation, and the human dimension). (2) Helsinki Document 1992, The Challenges of Change, IV (16). (3) Interestingly, at the session on human rights and counterterrorism, moderator Zbigniew Lasocik, member of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, noted that Poland’s Constitutional Court had, the previous day, struck down a 2004 law that purported to allow the military to shoot down hijacked commercial aircraft – even if they were being used as weapons like the planes that killed thousands of people on 9/11. The Court reportedly reasoned that shooting down an aircraft being used as bomb would infringe on the constitutional protection of human life and dignity of the passengers. (4) Turkmenistan sent a representative to the HDIM in 2005 for the first time in several years. While responding to criticism delivered in the sessions, the representative appeared to focus more on monitoring the activities of Turkmen NGOs participating in the meeting. Turkmenistan subsequently complained that certain individuals who had been charged with crimes against the State should not be allowed to participate in OSCE meetings. Turkmenistan officials did not participate in the 2006 or 2007 HDIMs. Participation in the 2008 meeting would have been a welcome signal regarding current political developments. (5) The HCNM had previously expressed concern regarding Hungary’s overreach vis-a-vis ethnic Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries. In 2004, Hungary held a referendum on extending Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians abroad – an idea that still holds political currency in some quarters of Hungary – but the referendum failed due to low voter turnout.

  • Iraqi Refugees: A Humanitarian Surge Is Needed for an ‘Invisible’ Humanitarian Crisis

    By Lale Mamaux, Communications Director and Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel In August, staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) traveled to Damascus, Syria and Beirut, Lebanon and met with government officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups regarding the Iraqi refugee crisis. While it is estimated that approximately 1 to 1.5 million Iraqis have fled to Syria and 50,000 have fled to Lebanon, they are not living in camps, but instead are a mobile population scattered throughout Damascus and Beirut as well as in other urban areas. That fact has made this humanitarian crisis virtually ‘invisible’ to the international community, but not for those Iraqi refugees who remain stranded, jobless, and deprived of essential services with conditions worsening by the day. This deepening crisis threatens to further destabilize the entire region. As the years in exile drag on, Iraqi refugees are becoming more and more desperate and depressed. Those who fled with some resources have by now seen those assets depleted and are reliant on services provided by international organizations and NGOs working in the region. Syria and Jordan host the largest population of Iraqis and do not permit them to work, although many find jobs in the “informal” sector making them targets for exploitation and abuse. As a result, fewer children are enrolling in school as their parents send them out, instead, to find whatever work they can on the street. More women are prostituting themselves, desperate to provide for their children, and domestic violence and alcoholism among this population are on the rise. Syria The bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samara in 2006 led to a mass influx of Iraqi refugees fleeing to Syria, where according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 30,000-60,000 Iraqis were crossing the border each month. In October 2007, the government closed its borders to virtually all Iraqis and imposed stringent visa restrictions – requiring Iraqis to apply for visas at the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad. Since February 2008, Syrian immigration sources indicate that the flow of Iraqis has stabilized once again. According to UNHCR, it has registered over 216,000 Iraqis as refugees. Since January 2007, UNHCR has identified over 7,800 at-risk refugee children or adolescents from Iraq, 95 unaccompanied or separated children, and over 5,900 women at risk. Additionally, in 2008 it identified at least 300 survivors of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Many Iraqis arriving in Syria are moving into areas such as Masaken Barzeh, Saida Zainab, Jaramana, and Qudssya as well as to other urban localities outside of Damascus (in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor, Lattakia, Tartous and Hassaka). Iraqis have placed enormous strains on Syria’s economy and infrastructure and caused an increase in the cost of living (i.e. rent, food, fuel, medical assistance). As Iraqis financial resources continue to diminish and desperation sets in, they face homelessness, child labor, early marriage, and survival sex. With many Iraqis too afraid to return to Iraq due primarily to the personal violence they have experienced, there is more pressure among aid organizations to cope with increasing needs. Education: The Syrian government under the direction of the Ministry of Education allows children from Arab countries living in Syria to attend school. Schools run by the government are free of charge. Currently, according to the government, there are approximately 55,000 Iraqi children enrolled in Syrian schools, a significantly smaller number than was expected. While the admission of Iraqi students is relatively low, it has nevertheless put a substantial strain on an already overburdened school system. The Ministry of Education estimates that there are now 60 students per class and they are working as quickly as possible to build larger schools in order to eliminate the need for children to attend classes in shifts. Basic education in Syria comprises grades 1-9 and school is mandatory until the age of 15. However, if a child has been absent from school for two years they are not permitted to enroll. Unfortunately, this is the case for many Iraqi children in Syria who have not attended school since they fled their homes. Other factors contributing to parents’ hesitancy to enroll their children in Syrian schools include fear of being located by authorities and deported, harassment of Iraqi children by other students, and the fact that many Iraqi families in Syria are quite mobile, moving frequently among neighborhoods. With so many Iraqi youth not in school, many NGOs have expressed grave concern about the future generation of Iraqis who will lack an education and who are hanging around on the streets with nothing to do. Clearly, these young people could be susceptible to influence by groups or individuals who may not have their best interests in mind. Responding to the influx of Iraqi children in school, UNHCR is working in coordination with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to encourage enrollment in school. In addition to providing school supplies and uniforms for Iraqi children, UNHCR and UNICEF are working with the Ministry of Education to train teachers and counselors to work with these traumatized children. For example, there are reports of some Iraqi students coming to school with knives and other weapons in their backpacks, and of their sometimes "acting out" in a violent manner -- symptoms of the trauma they experienced in Iraq and during their flight to safety. Unfortunately, these behaviors generate resentment and sometimes violent responses by other students. Currently, the Ministry of Education is only able to provide one counselor for every 250 students. Commission staff also attended a graduation ceremony at the Greek Orthodox Ministry in Damascus for 100 Iraqi children, grades 2-7 (ages 6-12). This was a graduation from a summer program where children participated in activities such as arts and crafts in an effort to express themselves and relieve some stress from the trauma they had faced in Iraq and the uncertainty of their situation in Syria. The graduation ceremony consisted of presentations from teachers and counselors as well as singing and skits performed by the students. Health Care: Commission staff met with the Syrian Assistant Minister of Health, who described the burdens on the health care system as a result of the influx of Iraqi refugees since 2003. The health care system is comprised of 1600 clinics and 70 hospitals, 5 of which offer services free of charge to Iraqi refugees. The Minister estimated that support for the health needs of the refugee community costs the Syrian government an estimated $150 million per year. The government is particularly concerned about communicable diseases and therefore has a mandatory vaccination program for all children. Despite substantial contributions from the European Union, UNHCR and UNICEF during the past two years to establish additional clinics and fund vaccinations, the minister estimated that only 5% of the health needs of Iraqi refugees are being met. Particularly critical are the strains put on services for kidney disease, including dialysis, and heart disease. The minister explained that these services were already quite limited for Syrian citizens. Since 2003, according to the minister, anyone needing heart surgery essentially has to “take a number and wait.” The minister indicated that with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) the government is also trying to address the increasing psycho-social needs of Iraqi refugees. Two hospitals, one in Damascus and one in Aleppo, are offering these services. Trafficking in Persons/Shelter: The Syrian government is undertaking initiatives to counter human trafficking and is in the process of establishing a shelter for victims of trafficking. Beginning in 2005, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began holding educational workshops and invited Syrian officials to attend. A governmental committee was formed in 2006 to address trafficking issues, however progress was slow. In 2007, private sector experts advised the committee on counter trafficking measures and, as a result of this public-private partnership, anti-trafficking legislation was drafted. The legislation was endorsed by the committee in late 2007 and was sent to Parliament in June of this year. In coordination with other partners, IOM began raising money for a trafficking shelter. The Netherlands contributed $30,000 Euros, and UNICEF gave $30,000 (USD). The Syrian government has allocated a space for the shelter, however it is in need of major renovations, which are currently under way. The shelter is expected to open in the next 3-4 months and will serve all populations, not just Iraqis. Iraqis, especially women who arrive in Syria as the head of household with no financial resources, are facing extreme circumstances. Since the Syrian government does not allow Iraqis to work, increasing numbers of refugees have resorted to child labor, survival sex, and offering their daughters for short-term or weekend marriages, commonly referred to as “pleasure marriages” to make ends meet. More women and children are facing Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGVB) by their husbands’ or the male head of household. UNHCR, in coordination with partners UNICEF, IOM, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), are working together to assist Iraqi women who have been physically or sexually abused and are in detention. UNHCR is also supporting several safe houses located in Damascus that help abused Iraqi women and children. The Good Shepherd Sisters: Commission staff also met with Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Damascus in order to learn first-hand of the critical work that she and her community have undertaken in support of Iraqi refugees. Sister Marie-Claude described the suffering of the Iraqi people that she sees every day, those who have fled under threat of violence and arrive in Syria in an already traumatized state. Because of the circumstances and the uncertainty of their situation in Syria most Iraqi refugees, including children, suffer from severe stress and depression. Focusing on the needs of children, the Good Shepherd Sisters, in concert with UNHCR and other organizations have provided summer camps outside of Damascus for refugee children to play and relax in a peaceful venue and escape the stresses of their daily lives. The sisters also provide extensive educational and recreational programs for adults and children throughout the year in a community center in Damascus, and have taken the lead in establishing a shelter for women and children and a hotline for abused women. Commission staff also visited the shelter and met with several of the women and children who reside there. Distribution of Food: Food distribution is conducted by the World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR. Refugees in Syria receive their food and financial distribution every two months from either the Douma or Saida Zeinab distribution centers. The distribution schedule is communicated to refugees through short cell-phone messages, information posted on boards in the Douma Distribution center, or by postings on the food distribution website: http://unhcr.un.org.sy/food.htm WFP provides the following basic commodities in their food baskets: 12.5 kilos of rice, l litre of oil, and 2.5 kilos of lentils. UNHCR provides the following complementary items that coincide with the basic commodities provided by WFP: 1 kilo of sugar, 200 grams of tea, 1 kilo of pasta, ½ kilo of tomato paste, 1 kilo of bulgur wheat, and one box each of soap and washing detergents. In addition to food distribution UNHCR also provides a seasonal distribution of mattresses and blankets. Those Iraqis living outside of Damascus who have registered with UNHCR are able to call a hotline to find out dates and locations of food distribution. Stories of Iraqis in Syria: Commission staff met with Iraqi refugees serving as outreach coordinators for UNHCR to gain a better understanding of their hands-on work in the community. The coordinators have a direct line of communication into the Iraqi community in Syria, including with those who have not registered with UNHCR, and they serve as a trusted go between for UNHCR and the community. During the meeting the coordinators spoke of the dire circumstances facing Iraqi refugees in Syria and also shared their personal stories. One coordinator explained that her husband was killed in Iraq and that one of her sons was picked up by U.S. military personnel and another son was kidnapped by a militia group – both were tortured. Fearing for her life, she fled to Syria. Another coordinator told staff that three of her cousins were killed by U.S military personnel because they were accused, wrongly according to the woman, of being terrorists. In addition, staff participated in a resettlement interview with an Iraqi family at UNHCRs Registration and Distribution Center in Douma. The family had owned a jewelry store in Baghdad and fled Iraq after one son was kidnapped and beaten by his captors. After this incident, the family first fled to another neighborhood in Baghdad where they thought they would be safe. However, shortly after the move their home was raided by militia who gave them three days to leave or be killed. The family then fled to Syria. The father made his way to Sweden, while the mother was left to care for her four children in Syria. During the interview it was revealed that the family has now been in Syria for two years, their savings are almost completely diminished and the mother is working as a seamstress to try to make ends meet. The youngest child suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a gun was pointed at him during the raid on their home in Baghdad. Only one of the four children has attended school in the past two years and only for several months because she was severely bullied and harassed by the other children. LEBANON Lebanon, a small country of 4 million people, has opened its doors to 50,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom came after the 2006 bombings in Samara. Roughly 51 percent of Iraqis in Lebanon are Shi’a Muslims, 19 percent are Chaldean Catholics, and 12 percent Sunni Muslims. UNHCR has registered over 10,400 Iraqis since June 2008. In 2007, UNHCR resettled 450 Iraqis to the United States, Sweden, Canada, Australia and other countries. They expect to resettle 1500 refugees in 2008. Iraqi refugees in Lebanon face many challenges, however it is a better economic environment than in other host countries. Unlike Jordan and Syria, Iraqis in Lebanon can work if they obtain a work permit. The educational needs among Iraqi children in Lebanon are quite dire as 42 percent have not completed elementary school, 40 percent of Iraqi children between the ages of 6 and 17 are not enrolled in school due to the high cost of tuition and the need to help provide for their families. It is estimated that, in 2007, only 1,200 Iraqi children were enrolled in school. Health care needs among Iraqis remain constant and medical care cannot be easily accessed in Lebanon due to its exorbitant cost. NGOs and other charitable organizations are able to provide coverage for only 24 percent of serious medical cases. As Commission staff found during a visit to Jordan and Turkey last March, many Iraqis in Lebanon are experiencing psycho-social issues due to the stress of their displacement and the unstable environment they encounter in their host countries. This stress has contributed to a rise in domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse among the refugee population. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are a vulnerable group as well with an estimated 200,000 in the country, approximately 100,000 who arrived illegally. These domestic workers are primarily women from Southeast Asia and Africa – Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Ethiopia, and Madagascar – and are brought to Lebanon by employment agencies working in those countries. These agencies frequently promise “fee paid” employment in a secretarial capacity or in sales. The agencies typically charge the employer $1,500 to bring the domestic worker to Lebanon. Upon arrival, many employers take the women’s passports; force them to work long hours, frequently without pay; and often abuse them. Unhappy about how their people are being treated, the Philippine and Ethiopian Embassies have placed restrictions on employment in Lebanon for their citizens. Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center: Established in 1994, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) has as its mission “to strengthen and protect the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Lebanon.” To date, the Center has assisted more than 100,000 individuals through services such as social and legal counselling and assistance; humanitarian, medical and emergency assistance; orientation seminars for migrants; temporary shelter and safe houses; summer camps and other recreational activities; vocational training and reintegration programs, as well as advocacy efforts with the public and relevant government agencies. In the early 1990s, CLMC worked exclusively with migrant populations, primarily Sudanese. Iraqis began to arrive in 1997, primarily from the Shiite and Christian communities, seeking work and resettlement in Europe or Australia. In 2003, the number of Iraqis entering Lebanon increased substantially and many sought assistance from CLMC. With funding from the U.S. government, CLMC began a program to provide medical support to the refugees, many of whom were suffering with cancer and chronic diseases and had no access to public medical facilities in Lebanon. CLMC negotiated with public hospitals and clinics to establish a treatment program for the refugees. They were also able to arrange reduced-cost treatment with some private hospitals, particularly for those afflicted with cancer and heart disease. CLMC also provides a wide array of educational programs for children and adults. Most Iraqi children are unable to attend school in Lebanon due to the language barrier. Many also frequently “act out” aggressively due to the psychological trauma caused by their circumstances. CLMC provides informal classes and vocational training for children, as well as summer camps where counsellors work with the kids in a relaxed atmosphere to address their unique psychological needs. CLMC undertakes assistance programs for women as well. To date, they have held 160 seminars to train outreach workers for the migrant worker and refugee communities and as a result now have 800 women working in locations nation-wide. The Center has established a shelter for abused women and one for victims of trafficking (described below). In coordination with UNHCR, CLMC provides legal assistance to the refugee and migrant worker community. They currently retain two full-time and ten part-time attorneys and have successfully prosecuted a substantial number of abuse cases on behalf of those who have sought shelter with CLMC. In addition, as described below, Caritas, working with UNHCR and other NGOs, successfully negotiated an amnesty for detained Iraqi refugees, giving them the opportunity to seek employment and regularize there status. Detention Facility Visit: Commission staff visited a detention facility operated by the General Directorate of General Security (General Security) – the governmental authority in Lebanon responsible for the legal status of foreigners in the country. The facility holds those Iraqi refugees and migrant workers who entered the country illegally and are without documentation. It is located under a freeway in downtown Beirut and was constructed from a parking garage. The conditions in the facility are deplorable, yet are much improved from several months earlier, due in large part to the work of NGOs, such as the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC), in coordination with General Security. The air-intake vents, only recently installed through the efforts of Caritas, circulate air into the underground facility. Unfortunately, due to the center’s location under the freeway, the air is filled with exhaust from automobiles traveling above. Inside, fans are placed throughout to further circulate the air into the cells where detainees are held. There is no sunlight, lighting is very dim and temperatures are extremely hot in the summer and cold during the winter. The facility contains 13 cells with roughly 40 individuals housed in each cell. Detainees sit on the floor of the cell on mattresses which also serve as their beds. They are allowed to leave their cells, but not the detention facility, on very rare occasions – such as laundry detail or to receive medical treatment – and never leave the facility until their release. There is a bathroom and a separate shower in each cell which are enclosed; however there is virtually no privacy. Women are housed together according to their nationality and men are housed alphabetically. The average length of stay can range from one month to over a year, depending on the length of time it takes to arrange deportation or voluntary departure. CLMC has played an instrumental role in helping to improve the dire conditions of the facility. Prior to their intervention, detainees had no bathrooms, showers or mattresses to sleep on. Furthermore, they were unable to have their clothes washed and were living in utter filth. Working closely with General Security, CLMC now has several full-time staff working 24-hours a day in the facility with detainees. Additionally, CLMC was able to put bathrooms and showers in each cell, provide mattresses for each detainee, purchase a washer and dryer to clean the detainees’ clothes and bedding , and provide 3 hot meals per week. Human Rights Watch released a report in November 2007 entitled, ‘Rot Here or Die There: Bleak Choices for Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon,’ showing the conditions that Iraqi refugees face in Lebanon if they are without documentation. In response to the report and pressure from other NGOs, General Security agreed in 2008 to release all Iraqis detained for illegal entry and allowed them to go through the existing regularization process once released. UNHCR, in coordination with its implementing partner Caritas Lebanon, supported this directive by assisting refugees with the initial regularization fee of $600, as well as providing legal advice and counseling. After being released, Iraqis have 3 months to regularize their status which requires them to find an employer who will sponsor them for a work permit. The government has recently extended this period to 6 months with the overall number of arrests declining. This decision benefits not only Iraqi refugees, but all foreigners including refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities who have entered Lebanon illegally. Visits with Iraqi families: Commission staff had the opportunity to visit Iraqi families in their homes in eastern Beirut. The families shared their tragic stories with staff and the circumstances in which they are living in Lebanon. While all expressed relief to be safe from the violence in Iraq, they are faced with a great deal of uncertainty about the future and a severe lack of resources. Their compelling stories follow: CASE A: Hana has 4 children. She is the head of her family since her husband was kidnapped in Iraq. The family came to Lebanon legally in December 2007. Hana’s eldest son was in his first year of medical school in Iraq when he received many threats. One day, while walking home from work, her son and his friends were attacked and her son was shot in the arm, his friend was shot in the face. Hana's son was able to make it to the family home; however, they had no medicine with which to treat his wounds. Hana's husband went to the pharmacy for medicine and was kidnapped, never to be heard from again. The family searched relentlessly for him in hospitals and police stations to no avail. With no news, a family member urged them to leave the country immediately for fear of another attempt on the life of the son. Hana's son is currently incapacitated because of his injured arm, however he was able to receive reconstructive surgery in February. Only one family member is currently able to work and the income is insufficient to meet their needs. However, during the visit Hana informed Commission staff that the family had just been notified by UNHCR that their case was approved for resettlement to the United States. CASE B: Rita, mother of 2 boys, is the head of the family since her husband was kidnapped in 2006 while she was pregnant. She came to Lebanon legally with her unmarried brother in June 2008. Her husband was a driver for the U.S. military. He received threatening letters, but never took them seriously. Rita’s mother had fled to Lebanon before her daughter after her own husband was murdered. Rita’s brother was traumatized by his father’s death and suffers from psychiatric complications. The family has no financial resources. Just two days prior to the meeting with Commission staff Rita had found a job in a textile factory working from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CASE C: Rana is a widow and the mother of 3 children. She came to Lebanon legally in May 2008. Her husband was a driver for the Christian Archbishopric in Iraq and was murdered in February 2008. Rana is severely traumatized. She is unable to care for herself and her children or to provide for them financially. Rana’s mother, who lives with her, suffers from cancer; she will be leaving soon for the United States. Rana hopes that she and her children can also be resettled to the U.S. with her mother. Caritas Shelter for Victims of Trafficking: In 2003, Caritas began implementing a program funded by the U.S. Department of State (G/TIP) for victims of trafficking. The program involves extensive cooperation with the General Security agency in Lebanon. According to Caritas, women migrant workers who are victims of trafficking have access to a safe house where they are able to escape their situation and consider future options, receive medical care, basic needs assistance, trauma counseling, legal aid, and counseling for future options in a supportive environment, and possible return to their country of origin or to a safe work situation in Lebanon. A 2005 survey conducted by Caritas/IPSOS found that 55 percent of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon face physical abuse, 39 percent are verbally abused and 17 percent are sexually abused. During the visit, staff met with a woman who had been brought to Lebanon to work for a wealthy family and faced unimaginable torture and abuse. As she recounted her story, she trembled with fear of the horror that she lived for five months before escaping. Upon arriving in Lebanon, her passport was taken, she was forced to work long hours without pay and was typically fed very little food. She was locked inside the house when the family for whom she was working was not at home. In addition to facing the aforementioned abuse, family members would take turns holding her down on the floor and burning her bare skin (body and face) with a hot iron. After enduring this severe trauma and torture for months, she escaped one day when the family was not home by jumping from a second story window. She has been living in the Caritas shelter since her escape. The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC): ICMC is the U.S. State Department's representative for processing refugees in Lebanon and works closely with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in the conduct of screening interviews for those Iraqi refugees and others who seek resettlement to the United States. Just prior to the Commission staff visit, a DHS “circuit ride” of interview staff had been in residence at the Embassy compound conducting security interviews under very difficult circumstances – for both DHS and embassy staff. Security concerns require that all interviews must take place on the Embassy compound. Due to substantial space limitations and to ensure privacy for those being interviewed, Embassy and DHS personnel are required to operate in shifts, some lasting late into the night, in order to accommodate all applicants who travell to the Embassy each day. Under these trying circumstances, DHS personnel were nevertheless able to interview 920 applicants in a four week period. ICMC staff expressed gratitude not only for the DHS staff's fortitude under this grueling schedule, but also for their professionalism and compassion in dealing with those being interviewed. In order to alleviate these conditions, State and DHS should explore the possibility of permanently assigning one or two DHS interviewers to Embassy Beirut and providing additional housing and work space to accommodate their activities. Cultural Orientation: ICMC and the United States Refugee Program (USRP) conduct an intensive two day cultural orientation for Iraqi refugees who will be resettled to the United States. The cultural orientation is designed to provide Iraqis with a better understanding of what to expect once they arrive in the U.S. The following topics are covered in the ICMC-USRP cultural orientation training program: Cultural differences. The departure process and airport regulations. The nature of the IOM travel loan and the obligation to pay it back after arrival to the U.S. The responsibilities of the Resettlement Agency and the refugee during the first ninety days after the refugee’s arrival in the United States. Information on a refugee’s legal status until the acquisition of citizenship, including rights and restrictions of each status. Information on housing and transportation in the United States. The importance of learning and obeying the laws of the United States at federal and state level and the consequences of violating U.S. law. Information on the child and adult education system in the United States and the importance of learning English. The importance of finding and holding a job and understanding work values in the United States. Information on the health care system in the United States. Information on money management. Commission staff participated in an afternoon session during the first day of orientation for a group of Iraqis who had been approved for resettlement to the U.S. During the session participants raised the following questions: I have an international driver’s license; will that work in the United States? If both parents must work, who will watch the kids? Can I work right away when I get to the United States? Staff asked the group how they felt about relocating to the United States, (e.g. nervous, happy or fearful). Those who replied generally expressed apprehension. One gentleman said he won’t know until he’s “on the plane.” CONGRESS In July, Helsinki Commission Chairman, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings introduced the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act (H.R. 6496), comprehensive legislation that addresses this worsening situation. H.R. 6496 has been endorsed by more than 25 NGOs and religious organizations and does the following: Authorizes $700 million for each fiscal year beginning in 2009 through 2011 for the relief of Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced Persons; Increases direct accountable bilateral assistance, as appropriate under U.S. law, and funding for international organizations and non-governmental organizations working in the region; Authorizes $500 million to increase humanitarian aid and infrastructure support for Jordan; and Urges increased cooperation between the United States Government and the international community to address this crisis. CONCLUSION Iraqi refugees in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region continue to suffer daily and are faced with unimaginable circumstances. While the American public does not see pictures of ‘refugee camps’ set up in host countries, there are millions of Iraqis struggling to survive each and every day. On the ground, desperation has set in and only worsened this humanitarian crisis. The politics of the war must be put aside by Congress and a ‘humanitarian surge’ must be implemented. This means the provision of substantially increased bi-lateral aid, as appropriate under U.S. law, to countries hosting Iraqi refugees and increased funding to international organizations and NGOs working in the region. A U.S. contribution of at least fifty percent of the amount requested for all UN appeals for funding to assist Iraqi refugees, and IDPs, would show U.S. leadership in addressing this crisis, and hopefully encourage increased contributions by other countries as well. The process for resettling Iraqi refugees to the United States must also be expedited. This is particularly critical for those Iraqis whose lives have been threatened because of their work for the United States. The United States should also show leadership in encouraging the international community to focus on this humanitarian crisis, recognize it for the potential security threat it poses, and take steps to alleviate the suffering Iraqi refugees. If a picture is really worth a thousand words, then all one must do is look into the face of an Iraqi refugee who has had a family member murdered, kidnapped, or tortured, and their own life threatened, to know that the United States must respond – security in the region and the future of the Middle East depend upon it.

  • Combating Sexual Exploitation of Children: Strengthening International Law Enforcement Cooperation

    The hearing examined current practices for sharing information among law enforcement authorities internationally and what concrete steps can be taken to strengthen that cooperation to more effectively investigate cases of sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography on the Internet. Despite current efforts, sexual exploitation of children is increasing globally. The use of the Internet has made it easier for pedophiles and sexual predators to have access to child pornography and potential victims. In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008 (S.1738), which will allocate over one billion dollars over the next eight years to provide Federal, state, and local law enforcement with the resources and structure to find, arrest, and prosecute those who prey on our children.

  • Hate in the Information Age

    The briefing provided an overview of hate crimes and hate propaganda in the OSCE region, focusing on the new challenges posed by the internet and other technology. Mischa Thompson led the panelists in a discussion of the nature and frequency of hate crimes in the OSCE region, including the role of the internet and other technologies in the training, recruiting, and funding of hate groups. Panelists - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Mark A. Potok, Christopher Wolf, Tad Stahnke – discussed how best to combat hate crimes and hate propaganda and highlighted internet governance issues in the United States and Europe and how the internet extensively contributes to hate propaganda. Issues such as free speech and content control were at the center of the discussion.

  • Clearing the Air, Feeding the Fuel Tank: Understanding the Link Between Energy and Environmental Security

    Congress has an obligation to work to ensure a healthy and safe environment for the benefit of current and future generations.  To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a healthier environment, we need a multi-faceted approach that addresses the tangled web of issues involved.  We need to foster both energy independence and clean energy. Given rising sea levels, the increasing severity of storm surges, and higher temperatures the world over, the impact of global climate change is undeniable.  Unless we act now, we will see greater and greater threats to our way of life on this planet.

  • Crossing Boarders, Keeping Connected: Women, Migration and Development in the OSCE Region

    The hearing will focus on the impact of migration on family and society, the special concerns of migrant women of color, and the economic contributions of women migrants to their home country through remittances. According to the United Nations, women are increasingly migrating on their own as main economic providers and heads of households. While the number of women migrants is on the rise, little is known about the economic and social impact of this migration on their home country.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Visits Prague and Bratislava

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Prior to participating in the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, led a Congressional delegation to Prague, the Czech Republic, from February 18-20. In Prague, he was joined by Chairman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY). Chairman Hastings also traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, for additional meetings on February 21, where he was joined by Commissioner Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). In the Czech Republic, the delegation met with representatives of the Jewish community and toured the historic Jewish quarter in Prague, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The delegation discussed recent anti-Semitic manifestations, most notably a large demonstration organized last November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and other planned demonstrations by extremists. Although Czech civil society has strongly countered these demonstrations, local officials have struggled to find the appropriate balance between respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and their desire to combat anti-Semitism and manifestations of other forms of intolerance. The delegation also held a round-table discussion with leading civil society and Romani activists. Their discussions touched on past instances of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent, and discrimination against Roma in education, housing and employment. It was noted that victims of wrongful sterilization practices have been advised by government officials to seek redress from the courts, even though most cases will be barred by statutes of limitations. The delegation held official meetings with the President of Senate, Premysl Sobotka, and other members of the Czech Senate; Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout; representatives of the Government Council for Human Rights; and Otakar Motejl, the Public Defender of Rights (also known as the Ombudsman). In these meetings, delegation members expressed concern about the unresolved property claims of Americans who were excluded by the legal framework for property restitution previously adopted by the Czech Republic. They urged Czech officials to protect freedom of speech and assembly, while demonstrating sensitivity for dates or sites of particular importance to the Jewish community. With respect to the situation of the Romani minority, the delegation expressed concern for the victims of past sterilization without informed consent. They urged the Czech Government to take concrete steps to improve the situation of Roma, including through the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Discussions with Czech officials also touched on bilateral or regional issues, including Kosovo’s declaration of independence and managing relations with Russia. While in Prague, the delegation also met with President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jeffrey Gedman, toured the broadcasting facility, and held a press conference at the RFE/RL headquarters. In Slovakia, Chairman Hastings and Commissioner Solis met with leading political analysts to hear a broad discussion of political developments and trends, including concerns regarding proposed legislation on non-governmental organizations and on the media. During a round-table discussion with Romani activists, participants discussed the need to translate the government’s program into concrete action, and the particular challenge of translating national policies into change at the local level. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, Deputy Prime Minister Dusan Caplovic (who has responsibility for, i.a., human rights issues), and a group of parliamentarians, including representatives of opposition parties. In their meeting with Minister Caplovic, Chairman Hastings urged the Slovak Government to acknowledge the past sterilization without informed consent of Romani women. In other meetings, the delegation also expressed concern about the adoption by the parliament of resolution honoring Andreij Hlinka, who died in 1938 but whose nationalist leadership set the stage for Slovakia’s WWII alliance with Nazi Germany and the deportation of its Jewish citizens.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 2

    Freedom of media is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and recognized as such under international human rights law and in numerous OSCE commitments.  Moreover, a free and independent media is not only an essential tool for holding governments accountable; the media can serve as an agent of change when it shines a light into the darkest crevices of the world (examining environmental degradation, corporate or government corruption, trafficking in children, and healthcare crises in the world's most vulnerable countries, etc.) Freedom of the media is closely connected to the broader right to freedom of speech and expression and other issues including public access to information and the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.  The hearing will attempt to illustrate the degree in which freedom of the media is obstructed in the greater OSCE region.

Pages