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The OSCE 2011 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
Monday, December 26, 2011

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.

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  • Helsinki Commission Urges Turkish President to Lift State of Emergency

    WASHINGTON—In a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday, the four senior members of the Helsinki Commission – Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Ranking Commissioner Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL-20) – urged him to lift the state of emergency that has been in place in Turkey since July 2016 and immediately restore Turkey’s commitment to international standards of due process and judicial independence. The bipartisan letter, which came just hours after President Erdoğan announced a fifth three-month extension of the country’s state of emergency, was also signed by Helsinki Commissioners Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Rep. Roger Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14), Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18). It reads in part: “We are concerned about your government’s continued actions to undermine human rights and democratic principles in Turkey. The prolonged state of emergency is gravely undermining Turkey’s democratic institutions and the durability of our countries’ longstanding strategic partnership, including more than half a century as NATO allies. Last year, the Turkish people defeated a violent and illegal challenge to their democratic institutions; today, the 15-month-old state of emergency poses a different threat to these same institutions, particularly the judiciary. By facilitating sweeping purges with no evidentiary standards, the state of emergency has upended countless innocent lives and undercuts domestic and international confidence in Turkey’s rule of law… “As a member of the Council of Europe and participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), your country officially recognizes the rule of law as a cornerstone of democratic governance. Restoring respect for fair judicial treatment would remove a persistent distraction in our bilateral relationship and help to rebuild a principles-based partnership rooted in shared commitments to collective security, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” The letter highlighted the cases of American citizens Andrew Brunson, a pastor, and Serkan Gölge, a NASA scientist, both of whom were arrested in Turkey following the coup attempt. As of mid-2017, at least seven additional American citizens were jailed in Turkey. The letter also noted the cases of two detained Turkish employees of the U.S. consulates in Turkey as well as a group of Turkish and international activists—known as the Istanbul 10—who were arrested this summer while holding a routine human rights defenders workshop in Istanbul. 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In February, many of us joined over 70 of our colleagues from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to appeal to you for the immediate release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held without trial for a year on baseless terrorism charges. We continue to be dismayed by your government’s unwillingness to heed our calls for his release and the recent imposition of four additional charges on Mr. Brunson for allegedly conspiring to overthrow your government. These allegations are preposterous. We urge you to recognize them as such, drop all charges against Mr. Brunson, and release him. Since the failed coup attempt, Turkish authorities have arrested a number of American dual citizens and two long-time Turkish employees at U.S. consulates on terrorism charges. Some of these individuals—including American citizen and NASA scientist Serkan Gölge—have been in jail for more than a year despite the prosecution’s ability to present only circumstantial evidence against them. Our citizens have also been denied the courtesy of U.S. consular assistance that would help them and their families cope with these difficult and confusing circumstances. It is clear that terrorism charges under the state of emergency are also being manipulated to suppress the activism of a group of human rights defenders arrested in early July. Authorities seized a group of ten Turkish and international activists holding a routine human rights defenders workshop in Istanbul. The group of activists, which has come to be known as the Istanbul 10 and includes Amnesty International’s Turkey Director, Ms. İdil Eser, is charged with “committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.” A month earlier, Amnesty International’s Turkey Board Chair, Mr. Taner Kılıç, was arrested on charges of being a member of an alleged terrorist organization. Ms. Eser, Mr. Kılıç, and many of their colleagues remain in pre-trial detention. We urge you to ensure the timely, transparent, and fair adjudication of the aforementioned cases, lift the state of emergency and immediately restore Turkey’s commitment to international standards of due process and judicial independence. As a member of the Council of Europe and participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), your country officially recognizes the rule of law as a cornerstone of democratic governance. Restoring respect for fair judicial treatment would remove a persistent distraction in our bilateral relationship and help to rebuild a principles-based partnership rooted in shared commitments to collective security, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Sincerely, 

  • The OSCE at a Crossroads

    Dr. Terry Hopmann is one of few American academics who has followed the Helsinki Process as it developed over four decades from a multilateral conference of 35 countries dealing with Cold War divisions – the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe – to a regional organization of 57 countries confronting a broad range of challenges across its security, economic and human dimensions – today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As well-acquainted with the intricacies of its institutional development as the diplomats who negotiated them, Hopmann also considers the Helsinki Process and its importance in the context of the broader development of European affairs and the U.S.-Russian relationship.  In his current capacity as Professor of International Relations and Conflict Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), based in Washington, DC, Hopmann not only introduces the OSCE to graduate students preparing for a career in international relations but also invites them to contribute to the intensive study of OSCE-related hot spots, including through field visits to areas such as Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh.  Focusing especially on security issues, Dr. Hopmann frequently interacts with the Helsinki Commission, both at OSCE-organized meetings in Europe and at Commission-organized briefings and hearings in Washington. In light of the numerous challenges the OSCE currently faces, including Russia’s markedly aggressive behavior and fears of an eroding U.S. commitment to European security and cooperation, Helsinki Commission staff recently sought Hopmann out to discuss the utility of the Helsinki Process in the past, and the interplay of U.S., Russian and European interests through the OSCE today and into the future. The OSCE’s Value Hopmann asserts in no uncertain terms that “OSCE membership is very beneficial for the United States.”  The organization has made major contributions to defusing conflicts and increasing military transparency, Hopmann believes; he also underlines the need to keep in mind the organization’s role in the defense of human rights. “The OSCE’s defense of national sovereignty, minority rights, and other important socio-political freedoms, together help prevent or at least de-escalate conflict, and make escalation harder. We see this precise action with regards to Ukraine right now. There’s a lot of value in that,” he notes. “The OSCE remains important for the U.S. in promoting its interests abroad, and at relatively low cost,” Hopmann adds.  “Still, the OSCE needs more support. The United States has struggled to engage with multilateral organizations and this represents a major issue. Without permanent and knowledgeable diplomatic representation and without the guarantee of adequate funding and resources, the OSCE’s capacity to act is severely hindered, and we play a role in that. Furthermore, the fact that we do not have a permanent representative there at the moment devalues the OSCE in ways that are dangerous.” Hopmann calls for the United States to continue to “support the OSCE institutions and missions, help its fellow member states in their work at the OSCE, and not forget its commitment to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, nor lose sight of their significance.” In the past, the Helsinki Process made important contributions to stability and peace in Europe, Hopmann believes. The confidence-building measures developed through the Helsinki Process of the mid-1970s, in particular, “initiated the practice of international observation and greater transparency. As a result, states could now better distinguish military maneuvers and exercises from preparations for a surprise attack. In many ways this was the most important breakthrough during the Cold War, greatly reducing the risk for surprise attack from the Soviet Union. This anxiety was a root cause of the Cold War and animated the conduct of both Western and Eastern powers. Of course, there were the ideological arguments that influenced the political landscape, but in Europe, the fear of Soviet aggression was immense.” At the time these confidence-building measures were negotiated, the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was still a vivid, recent memory. Hopmann also acknowledges the value of the other, non-military baskets of issues discussed in the Helsinki context. “The human rights basket was also important, though not as immediate,” he observes. “For the negotiators, this basket was less about human rights, but more about the promotion of human interaction. It was, effectively, an agreement to begin encouraging cultural and educational exchange.  In the shorter term, the first basket [on political-military issues] was critical, but in the longer term, the third basket [on human rights] became more important - particularly after the 1986 Stockholm agreement updated the CSBMs that were at the heart of Helsinki’s Basket 1. Then, following the Vienna Review Conference that concluded in early 1989, suddenly people were guaranteed the right to enter and leave their own country. Here, we see the first breach in the Iron Curtain when Hungary allowed people to cross freely into Austria – it didn’t all fall at once in 1989, rather it was a gradual process that started with a CSCE set of expanded principles. “ Hopmann considers the institutional development of the European security architecture in the post-Cold War period to have in many ways played out to the OSCE’s disadvantage.  Although initially successful in the 1990s with the deployment of field missions, successive U.S. administrations have missed an opportunity by viewing the OSCE as an organization principally relating to human rights concerns, rather than political-military security. “We missed the idea that NATO and the OSCE are not mutually exclusive,” he says “While we’ve contributed a lot to the OSCE, NATO remains the priority for policy makers in Washington. We have yet to realize how closely and effectively they can and should be working together. I believe this is our biggest foreign policy mistake since the end of the Cold War. It is the most effective way to bring Russia to the negotiating table and it is far easier to work with them in Vienna than the UN. The OSCE remains a security institution, like NATO, and as long as we value using all diplomatic measures to resolve conflict before using military force, we’re making a mistake by underutilizing the OSCE.” A growing European Union has not necessarily helped, Hopmann believes.  “The development of the E.U. has somewhat complicated the operation of the OSCE. Through the creation of its own common foreign and security policy and other initiatives, Brussels has duplicated OSCE institutions, but without the participation of the United States and Russia. Thus, the E.U. alone simply isn’t as effective,” he observes. “There is a lot of overlap between the two bodies and this begets structural and bureaucratic blockages that prevent action, especially when E.U. and OSCE representatives diverge or try to do the same thing independently. So, like OSCE-NATO relations, the E.U.’s relationship with the OSCE is occasionally marked by competition that hurts both parties’ effectiveness.” The View from Kremlin Walls Many of the earlier successes of the Helsinki Process were enabled by a very different leadership in Moscow than that we see today, Hopmann suggests. Under the late-Soviet leadership and Russian President Yeltsin, “there was a real interest to engage more with the West. They were, generally speaking, in support of Helsinki and didn’t view it as a threat to Russian interests,” he says. “That strongly contrasts with Putin. Putin has a totally different worldview and perceives the OSCE’s interests as inimical to Russian national priorities. We now find a much stronger, more belligerent Russia that no longer trusts the OSCE to help protect its interests, as it once did.”  This dynamic creates a real danger that Russia could turn away from the OSCE completely.  “The Kremlin could decide to leave as a result of domestic pressure or as a result of frustration with the West and its criticism. The Russians feel that they are attacked on all sides in the OSCE and obviously derive no joy from it,” Hopmann notes.    He therefore warns against outright rejection of all Russian concerns in the OSCE area, for instance as regards ensuring the protection of Russian-speaking populations in neighboring states.  “It is paramount that, in the spirit of Helsinki, we ensure Russian minorities are treated equally and fairly, to avoid perceived provocations by the West that might serve as a pretext for Russia to intervene. He suggests the closure of earlier OSCE missions in the Baltic states might have been perceived by Moscow, rightly or wrongly, as evidence that the OSCE was no longer responding to Russian concerns. Russia’s military occupation and subsequent illegal annexation of Crimea might have been averted, Hopmann asserts, had its view of the OSCE not evolved so dramatically from the first post-Cold War decade to the second.  While objecting to Kosovo’s bid for statehood based on core OSCE commitments regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, even a decade ago Moscow was willing to engage diplomatically to resolve the issue. In the case of Crimea in 2014, it was not. “They prioritized military force over diplomacy – the precise kind of behavior the OSCE was designed to discourage,” Hopmann states.  He predicts that “while this decision may have been tactically effective, it will hurt Russia in the long run. The OSCE is designed to deal with these situations and it has the institutional framework to do so effectively – Russia failed to take advantage of the OSCE and we’re all now paying the price.” Still, Moscow recognizes that the OSCE is still valuable to Russian interests, according to Hopmann: “Russia wields a lot of influence in the OSCE because of their effective veto power under the consensus rule – indeed, the Kremlin recognizes the sway it carries in it and recognizes the OSCE as the place where it can effectively and discreetly negotiate with both the U.S. and the E.U. Ultimately, the OSCE is designed precisely to facilitate this kind of diplomatic interaction, and it meshes more closely with Putin’s view of how diplomacy should be conducted than the U.N. I believe it is for this reason that the Russians have been willing to work with the OSCE on some issues, including the conflict in Ukraine.” Effectively engaging Russia at the OSCE will remain a challenge, Hopmann adds, suggesting that a multilateral format may be useful.  “The most important question we face is how to continue the discussion and being firm with Russia when it blatantly violates OSCE norms as it did in Ukraine, without going overboard with our criticisms,” he says. “There are some countries, like Austria, Finland and Switzerland that are simply better at dealing with Russia, due to their past or current neutrality. Russia prefers to deal through them and likely finds it easier to appear to cooperate with them than working directly with the U.S.” On the OSCE’s Role in Conflicts The OSCE is demonstrating clear added-value in conflict areas today, according to Hopmann, including in and around Ukraine, and as regards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Hopmann praised the OSCE as having “played a key role in ensuring the [Ukraine] conflict does not escalate and cause more destruction. Indeed, within the limits of its mandate and available resource, the OSCE has done admirable work; however, this scope is limited and much remains to be done. Thus, the best thing the U.S. can do is to continue to support the OSCE’s mission and the Minsk process. It’s not ideal, but there’s no better option.”  Frustration over the OSCE’s inability to overcome the absence of political will to prevent or stop the conflict altogether should not overshadow its success in ascertaining the facts on the ground and galvanizing a defense of key principles guiding international behavior, he believes.  Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, Hopmann suggests that the OSCE has moderated what could otherwise be a much more intense conflict.  “The presence of the OSCE has helped already,” he says. “Its presence helped diffuse the four day war last year and prevented it from becoming a more violent conflict. Still, there is significant risk that the conflict will escalate and this highlights the importance of OSCE and the role it may play in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh question.” Hopmann believes that an alignment of U.S.-Russian interests in Nagorno-Karabakh, even if partial, may be helpful here.  “The OSCE absolutely has the mandate and ability to negotiate such a deal and to organize peace-keeping initiatives to ensure the conflict does not start up again. That being said, this process will be long, complicated, and expensive,” he predicts. The Future Hopmann concedes that the OSCE will remain beset for the foreseeable future with challenges largely emanating from the consensus-based decision-making process, over which any one country (including Russia) effectively has a veto.  However, he remains convinced that “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue dialogue. In fact, we must continue dialogue. Many people remain committed to the OSCE and its values, including some Russian diplomats – though they’re keeping a low profile at the moment. This bodes well not only for change in the OSCE, but also for Russia. Change is not impossible, and keeping the dialogue channels open is of incredible importance. Without them, when the chance to encourage positive change does appear, we will not be able to capitalize on it. We worked together immediately after the Cold War to diffuse East-West tensions and ensure a peaceful Europe. There is no reason we cannot do that again.” Professor Hopmann was interviewed by Bob Hand and Alex Tiersky, Helsinki Commission Staff.

  • Helsinki Commission Advisor Discusses ZAPAD 2017

    On September 27, 2017, Helsinki Commission Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor Alex Tiersky joined Ambassador Kurt Volker, Dr. Stephen Blank, and Ambassador Eitvydas Bajarunas at a public seminar to discuss the execution, outcomes and aftermath of Russia’s large-scale ZAPAD 2017 military exercise. Hosted by the Central and East European Coalition, Russia on NATO’s Doorstep: The West's Response to the Kremlin's Wargames was moderated by Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli. During the discussion, Tiersky shared his experience as one of only two American officials who was invited by the Belarusian government (who partnered with Russia for the joint military exercise) to be present for the conclusion of ZAPAD 2017. Tiersky commended the Belarusian government for offering the Distinguished Visitors program that he participated in along with representatives of the OSCE, the Red Cross and NATO, as well as defense attachés from various countries. The program included an extensive briefing on the aims, parameters, and intent behind the exercise, as well as an opportunity to witness an impressive live-fire demonstration at the Borisov training ground.  Belarusian briefers underlined that the aim of the program was to offer as much transparency as possible; the exercise was purely defensive in nature and neighboring countries had nothing to fear, Tiersky was told.  However, Tiersky added, the program offered by Belarusian authorities – while commendable – fell short of fulfilling the spirit of commitments to military transparency under the Vienna Document, which would have provided a greater opportunity for evaluating the exercise's scale and scope through broader participation by OSCE participating states and more intrusive inspection measures.  While impressive and worthwhile, the distinguished visitors program was thus not in itself sufficient to draw broad conclusions about ZAPAD, according to Tiersky. Tiersky concluded by describing how ZAPAD did little to assuage broader concerns related to Russian unwillingness to fulfill its commitments to military transparency, including under the Vienna Document (through for example its increasing use of snap exercises), as well as Russian violations of various arms control measures that have been essential contributors to peace and security in Europe for decades.

  • Systematic Attacks on Journalists in Russia and Other Post-Soviet States

    Representative Steve Chabot, Co-Chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, opened the briefing with a statement highlighting the importance of a free and independent press in Russia and Eastern Europe, saying that it was more important now than ever to counter an increasingly bold Vladimir Putin and the spread of Kremlin-backed media. The Congressman affirmed support for the Broadcasting Board of Governors and how their work helps foster a greater independent press in the region. Jordan Warlick, U.S. Helsinki Commission staffer responsible for freedom of the media, introduced the panelists: Thomas Kent, President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Amanda Bennett, Director of Voice of America (VOA); Nina Ognianova, Coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Karina Orlova, Washington correspondent for Echo of Moscow. Thomas Kent summarized the work and reach of RFE/RL in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He outlined the pressures that RFE/RL journalists face in the region covering the issues that matter to local people. Kent described the plight of several RFE/RL journalists who have been either attacked or detained due to their work, including Mykola Semena in Russian-occupied Crimea and Mykhailo Tkach in Ukraine. He added that reporting on corruption is often the most likely cause for attacks on journalists and that social media has expanded the reach of journalists work in the region. Amanda Bennett discussed the work of Voice of America in the region and its efforts to expand freedom of speech in the region. She outlined the vast audience of VOA broadcasting and emphasized that the Russian government has directly attacked VOA reporters. Bennett stated that VOA’s mission in Russia and the former Soviet Union, as with other regions around the world, was not only to provide high quality content to the audience and journalists alike, but also help foster an independent media, free from harassment. Representative Adam Schiff, Co-Chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, gave remarks about the importance of an independent media in the former Soviet Union. He noted that journalists are often the first to suffer a backlash from authorities, as they investigate and report on issues that regimes do not want to draw attention to. Representative Schiff told the panel that he, along with then-Congressman Mike Pence, reestablished the House Freedom of the Press Caucus not long before the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. He thanked the panelists for the work to not only highlight attacks and harassment against journalists in the region, but also their efforts to protect and assist them and to further press freedom. Nina Ognianova highlighted numerous cases that the Committee to Protect Journalists had worked on in recent months with specific discussion of the situations in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan. Ognianova detailed the case of the harassment and temporary flight of Russian reporter Elena Milashina following her work on the torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya. Also listed were the cases of Belarus-born journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed in a car bombing in Kyiv in July 2016, the abduction and detention of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli for his investigation of President Ilham Aliyev’s assets in Georgia, and the concerning claims of slander against journalists by the Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Providing the audience with a firsthand perspective, Karina Orlova described her decision to flee Russia due to her work as a journalist. Karina spoke of how her Radio Echo of Moscow talk show garnered unfavorable attention from Chechens, following discussion of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7 January, 2015, and the magazine’s depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Ramzan Kadyrov directly threatened her station and her editor, Alexey Venediktov, right after the show. She detailed threatening phone calls from self-described Chechens her that labeled her as an enemy of the state. Karina raised other incidents of violence and intimidation against journalists, such as the attack on Oleg Kashin, which was directly ordered by the Governor of Pskov, and a lack of action to bring the perpetrators to justice. She also spoke of censorship by the Russian authorities, particularly towards any journalists that refer to the annexation of Crimea. Karina emphasized that sanctions against the Russian state and elite are working, despite claims to the contrary. Although some journalists are unfortunately forced to self-censor due to safety concerns, Karina refuses to do so herself.

  • Witness to ZAPAD

    For months, watchers of European security have focused unprecedented attention on one, singular scheduled event:  ZAPAD 2017, a Joint Strategic Military Exercise conducted by Russia and Belarus from September 14 to September 20, 2017. The author, the political-military affairs advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission staff, attended the final phase of the exercise as a Distinguished Visitor at the invitation of the Government of Belarus.    ZAPAD 2017, the most anticipated—and, in some quarters, feared—military exercise in recent memory concluded on September 20. The extensive maneuvers by Belarusian and Russian forces took place at a number of training ranges in Belarus and on nearby Russian territory and featured a broad range of military capabilities. The planned exercise was in some ways routine; it followed a well-known Russian schedule of readiness-enhancing exercises that rotates among Russia’s military districts on a quadrennial basis (“ZAPAD,” or “West,” takes place in the Western Military District). However, unlike previous exercises, ZAPAD 2017 took place in a strategic context now defined by Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia—incursions that were, according to western analysts, facilitated by Russian exercise activity.  The Russian leadership's track record of aggression, dismissiveness towards transparency, and geopolitical unpredictability understandably put its neighbors to the west on edge.  These countries have seen prior Russian exercises serve as cover for force build-ups that enabled, for instance, the illegal attempted annexation of Crimea. Leading officials ranging from Baltic defense ministers, to the Ukrainian President, to the Secretary General of NATO raised concerns about what ZAPAD 2017 might mean for the security of Belarus' neighbors, both before the exercise and during its execution. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Helsinki Commission Advisor Observes German Elections in Berlin

    By Scott Rauland, State Department Senior Advisor On September 24, 2017, over 50 parliamentarians and staff from 25 countries fanned out across Germany as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) team that was invited to observe German parliamentary elections.  This marked the first time that an OSCE PA Election Observation Mission (EOM) has deployed to Germany.  Although the OSCE PA does not have the resources to observe every election, the organization tries to be present in major elections that are politically important. I was pleased to represent the U.S. in that effort as the State Department’s Senior Advisor at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Members of the OSCE PA team were briefed by German government officials, representatives of the major political parties, political analysts, and other experts in the two days leading up to the election.  On election day, members of the OSCE PA observation mission visited over 300 polling stations in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and Duesseldorf, just a fraction of the more than 90,000 polling stations located in Germany in 299 constituencies.  In a press conference held on September 25, George Tsereteli, the Special Coordinator for the EOM, noted, “Germany has once again demonstrated that its commitment to democracy is undiminished. Highly competitive and well-run, these elections were an opportunity for voters to express their choice in a process that benefits from and is based on broad trust among society.”  One sign of that trust was the almost complete absence of election observers from any of the participating political parties at the 14 polling stations my team visited in Berlin – all six major parties seemed to be relatively confident that the elections were being administered fairly. While the OSCE PA team was in Germany at the invitation of the German government, and although the public has the right to observe the voting process in Germany, my observation team was denied access to one of the polling stations we had hoped to observe.  That incident was thankfully the exception amongst the 300 polling stations visited by the OSCE PA EOM, but was a reminder that efforts to promote transparency in the conduct of elections must be ongoing, even in countries where the commitment to democratic elections is high. With more than 4,800 candidates running, and numerous strong political parties, Germany’s 61 million voters had a wide range of options to choose from. Women represented slightly less than 30 per cent of candidates, but played a prominent role in leadership positions in parties’ campaigns. “This was the first time we’ve deployed a full observer team to Germany, and the welcome of our mission by all German officials and political parties that we met is a positive signal that the country is ready to pay continued attention to democratic processes,” said EOM Head of Mission Isabel Santos. “Changing political cultures in many countries and new challenges such as cyber attacks mean that we must all dedicate time and effort to preserving democratic systems.”

  • Building Cyber Confidence between Adversaries

    State-based cyber threats are an increasingly dominant part of the global security landscape.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has, in recent years, sought to play a leading role in the international system by developing confidence building measures between states to reduce the risks of cyber conflict. The cyber diplomacy at the OSCE features discussions and (voluntary) agreements among 57 participating States – including the United States and, crucially, Russia. Advocates of this approach suggest that, in the longer term, it could lead to the development of norms of state behavior in cyberspace – and thus contribute to greater stability and security in the international system. On September 28, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing on cyber diplomacy moderated by Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor Alex Tiersky. The panelists—Tim Maurer, co-director of the Cyber Policy Initiative and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Jaisha Wray, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Emerging Security Challenges in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance at the U.S. Department of State; and Alex Crowther, Senior Research Fellow and Director of Research at the National Defense University’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy—discussed how OSCE confidence-building measures (CBMs) might work to decrease the risk of cyber conflict. These CBMs are voluntary in nature and allow states to read one-another’s postures in cyberspace. Mr. Maurer provided the audience an overview of the state-based threats these measures seek to diminish and listed several historical examples, such as the 2007 Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on Estonia, the offensive cyber activity of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, and the Stuxnet operation. He noted that, in the last decade, there has been a significant uptick in these threats, as there are 30 states that either have or are developing offensive cyber capabilities. Additionally, he applauded the groundwork the United Nations has laid towards addressing this pressing concern. Ms. Wray communicated the U.S. priority of establishing norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. In her view, cyber activity has a unique potential to destabilize, because of its few outside observables and distributed vulnerability. She noted that participating States of the OSCE are currently in the process of implementing the CBMs agreed upon last year. Dr. Crowther offered a national security perspective on the topic, emphasizing the importance Russian participation in confidence-building. He attributed much of the progress on this issue to the 2015 decision of the Group of Governmental Experts that existing international law applies to cyberspace. In closing, he warned of the danger that cyber-enabled operations in a world saturated with smart devices.

  • Helsinki Commission, House Freedom of the Press Caucus to Hold Briefing on Attacks on Journalists in Russia, Post-Soviet States

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the House Freedom of the Press Caucus today announced the following joint briefing: “SYSTEMATIC ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS IN RUSSIA AND OTHER POST-SOVIET STATES” Wednesday, October 4, 2017 3:00 PM Senate Visitors Center SVC-208 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission A free press is an essential pillar of democracy, keeping governments accountable and citizens informed. Autocratic regimes seek to intimidate and silence the press by systematically targeting journalists. A muzzled independent media is powerless to prevent the domination of the state-driven news narrative and public misinformation. Today, journalists in Russia and post-Soviet states risk intimidation, harassment, arrest, and even murder for their work. Those who criticize the government or investigate sensitive issues like corruption do so at their own peril. More often than not, cases remain unresolved and victims and families do not see justice. This briefing will address key questions regarding journalists in Russia and other post-Soviet states: their important role and impact; concerns over their rights, safety, and protection; and future support and promotion of media freedom in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region. Opening remarks will be provided by the Co-Chairs of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Thomas Kent, President and CEO, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Amanda Bennett, Director, Voice of America Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists Karina Orlova, Washington DC Correspondent, Echo of Moscow

  • OSCE Debates Environmental Policy and Economic Development in Prague

    By Paul Massaro, Policy Advisor From September 6 to September 8, 2017, the OSCE convened the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. This annual conference brings together participating States for a wide-ranging discussion on policy as relates to the Second Dimension of the OSCE, or economic and environmental issues. The theme of the 2017 conference was “Greening the Economy and Building Partnerships for Security in the OSCE Region,” a topic selected by Austria, the current OSCE Chair-in-Office. At a time when natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are devastating U.S. communities, such a discussion could not be more relevant. Add to that the joblessness and low growth rates that continue to plague many parts of the region and you have a broad debate on the issues that most impact the everyday life of citizens of the OSCE region. The Forum took the form of a series of thematic panels featuring experts drawn from the UN, the NGO community, and academia, as well as from the relevant ministries of OSCE participating States. Forum participants were particularly concerned with the effect that climate change is having on the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters, as illustrated by the extreme weather in the Caribbean and the United States. Much of the conference was devoted to discussing energy efficiency measures and renewable energy as a means to counteract the effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment. Experts agreed that energy efficiency and renewable energy are not separable concepts: the latter must be pursued to achieve the former. Participants were also deeply concerned about youth unemployment, especially in relation to violent extremism. Many participating States struggle with unemployment or underemployment, which exacerbates the factors that lead youth to radicalize. Experts discussed countering violent extremism through more flexible labor market policies as well as addressing the exploitation of unemployment or underemployment by extremist recruiters. Connectivity—transport, trade facilitation, and economic cooperation—was also discussed extensively. (Connectivity is distinct from economic integration, which envisions a deeper level of policy harmonization.) Experts and representatives from participating States generally agreed that two regions in particular could profit mightily from expanded connectivity: Southeastern Europe, or the Balkans region, where important steps toward greater connectivity are being made, and Central Asia, which remains among the regions with the lowest interregional trade in the world. The economic and environmental situation in the Eastern Donbas was also an important part of the discussion. Experts expressed severe concern that the shelling in the industrial region could lead to ecological disaster should, for example, the chemical plants that dot the area be hit and their chemicals seep into drinking water. Participants also discussed how to reestablish connectivity in this region, which once was a cohesive economic sphere. However, representatives from participating States argued that any discussion of regional connectivity would be for naught until Russia ceases its backing of militants in the region and enables a ceasefire to take effect. Generally speaking, the mood of the conference was one of consensus. Despite disagreements on certain issues, participating States tend to be of one mind when it comes to the need to prevent and prepare for natural disasters, increase energy efficiency, and encourage job and business creation, all topics that made up the majority of the discussions at the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. Although minor disagreements cropped up in all of these topics, they were ephemeral and did not lead to prolonged debate. This general consensus may be a result of the fact that the arguably most controversial aspect of the OSCE’s Second Dimension, anti-corruption, was absent from all discussions. This is because this topic was addressed at the 2nd Preparatory Meeting of the 25th OSCE Economic & Environmental Forum in Astana and likely also because it was not a critical aspect of the theme of the Chair-in-Office. Nonetheless, at least a single panel on the topic would have been a welcome addition given its central importance to good governance. All in all, the Forum was a smooth and useful exercise that provided participating States with many worthwhile insights. Paul Massaro attended the conference as a representative of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

  • Kyrgyzstan: Prospects for Democratic Change and the Upcoming Presidential Election

    Two weeks before the upcoming presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan—potentially the first peaceful transfer of power under regular circumstances in the region—campaigning is in full swing. On October 15, Kyrgyz citizens will participate in democratic elections, though serious concerns remain.   This briefing was moderated by Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor Everett Price. In his remarks, he positively noted the current president’s decision to respect his constitutionally-determined term limit and hold regularly-scheduled elections for his successor. He cautioned, however, that the country’s weak political institutions and the ruling party’s abuse of administrative resources could undermine the fairness of the vote. He also observed that the disqualification of certain opposition candidates and restrictions on journalists have adversely affected the election climate. Dr. Erica Marat from the National Defense University discussed the political situation on the ground in Kyrgyzstan and reviewed the political background of the two main candidates, Atambayev loyalist Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Kyrgyz billionaire, Ömürbek Babanov. Anthony Bowyer, Senior Program Manager for Europe and Eurasia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), reviewed ongoing electoral monitoring efforts in Kyrgyzstan, underscoring the importance of these elections for the region and U.S. interests therein. Finally, Freedom House representative Marc Behrendt offered his insight on Kyrgyzstan’s enduring interethnic tensions and poor human rights record, offering a sobering reminder of the work that remains to be done in order for the Kyrgyz Republic to become a full-fledged democracy. During the briefing, questions pertaining to Russian influence over the country and its politics, as well as other regional, geo-political considerations were also highlighted as part of a general discussion of Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development and the trajectory of Central Asian politics.

  • The Parliamentary Dimension of the Human Dimension

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organizes the annual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), and is known for its standard-setting work in election observation as well as programs that help countries improve their implementation of OSCE commitments in the Human Dimension. Other OSCE institutions—including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly—also have a role to play in the Human Dimension and may participate in the HDIM debates.  Download the full report to learn more.

  • Batyr Berdiev: Poems from Prison

    And when we leave our house, where all is so familiar – The flower vase and the worn out carpet – The shadow of our quiet hope will stay at home, Reflected in the eyes of those who remember us. And life will continue, as our life was once lived, And, of course, other songs will be sung, But human hearts, like soldiers of hope Will again and again both suffer and dream.                                                             —Batyr Berdiev On September 15, the NGO campaign “Prove They Are Alive!” published a book of poems written by Turkmenistan’s former Foreign Minister and former Ambassador to the OSCE Batyr Berdiev, one of more than a hundred people who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons. The poems appear to have been written between December 2002 and March 2003 and were smuggled out of prison, most likely in 2003. Most are dedicated to Berdiev’s wife and son; they speak of his love for them, of freedom, and of their life while he was serving as Ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna. The book was unveiled at a side event at the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, Poland, with the participation of Helsinki Commission staff. Berdiev was arrested in December 2002 in connection with an alleged coup attempt against then-President Niyazov in November 2002. His “confession” was broadcast on Turkmen television later that month, and he was convicted in January 2003 in a closed trial and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. There are credible reports that he was tortured following his arrest. His relatives have had no information about his fate or whereabouts since, although there have been several conflicting reports of his death in Turkmenistan’s notoriously inhumane high-security Ovadan Depe prison.  The Helsinki Commission has continued to raise his case – along with others who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons – over the fifteen years since Berdiev’s arrest, in meetings with Turkmen officials, letters, and public briefings. The “Prove They Are Alive” campaign has also published an updated list of persons who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons, which has now grown to 112. Some of the new additions include persons who were arrested only this year. Following the arrests of Berdiev and hundreds of others in the wake of the alleged 2002 coup attempt, the United States and nine other countries invoked the OSCE Moscow Mechanism, which triggered an international investigation and report on the situation and treatment of those accused of being involved. Every year at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the United States makes a special statement urging the government of Turkmenistan to provide information on and access to those who have disappeared in the country’s prison. Read the book of poems by Batyr Berdiev.

  • Human Rights and Democracy in Russia

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. The Russian Federation has adopted, by consensus, OSCE commitments relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, free and fair elections, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary. However, in many areas the Russian government is failing to live up to its commitments. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Cyber Diplomacy

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “BUILDING CYBER CONFIDENCE BETWEEN ADVERSARIES: CAN THE OSCE HELP ESTABLISH RULES OF THE ROAD?” Thursday, September 28, 2017 2:00 PM Russell Senate Office Building Room 385 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission State-based cyber threats are an increasingly dominant part of the global security landscape.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has, in recent years, sought to play a leading role in the international system by developing confidence building measures between states to reduce the risks of cyber conflict. The cyber diplomacy at the OSCE features discussions and (voluntary) agreements among 57 participating States – including the United States and, crucially, Russia. Advocates of this approach suggest that, in the longer term, it could lead to the development of norms of state behavior in cyberspace – and thus contribute to greater stability and security in the international system. Speakers will describe the state-based cyber threats that the OSCE discussions seek to address; evaluate the development of these confidence building measures; and assess the present value and future potential of these diplomatic discussions. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Tim Maurer, Co-Director and Fellow, Cyber Policy Initiative, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Alex Crowther, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University Jaisha Wray, Acting Deputy Director, Emerging Security Challenges Office, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State

  • Democratic Change in Kyrgyzstan Topic of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: KYRGYZSTAN: PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRATIC CHANGE AND THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION Tuesday, September 26, 2017 10:30 AM Senate Visitors Center (SVC) Room 202 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission The Kyrgyz people will go to the polls in October in a pivotal election that will determine the country’s next president and the next chapter in its fragile democracy. In contrast to some other leaders in the region who have manipulated term limits to remain in power, current President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev is abiding by his constitutional term limit. However, the vote takes place amid mounting concerns of democratic backsliding, particularly regarding the government’s treatment of political opposition, civil society, and human rights defenders. Additionally, the election marks only the second peaceful transition of power through elections following two revolutions – in 2005 and in 2010. This turbulent history serves as a reminder of the importance of building the popular legitimacy of Kyrgyzstan’s political institutions. The briefing will examine the political dynamics surrounding the vote, the conduct of the election campaign thus far, and broader human rights issues in Kyrgyzstan. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia Programs, Freedom House Anthony Bowyer, Caucasus and Central Asia Senior Program Manager, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Dr. Erica Marat, Associate Professor, College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University

  • The Rule of Law: Justice for the Bytyqi Brothers

    By Robert Hand, Policy Advisor From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. OSCE commitments recognize that adherence to the rule of law is essential to democratic governance and to ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They also emphasize the importance of providing justice in cases of criminal acts which egregiously violate human rights and fundamental freedoms. Justice not only punishes the perpetrator of the crime; it also brings closure to the victim or surviving family and friends, and it allows the society in which it took place to move forward. The Murder of the Bytyqi Brothers Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi were all United States citizens, born near Chicago, Illinois, to ethnic Albanian parents from Kosovo.  (Previously an autonomous province of Serbia within the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo has been an independent state since 2008.) The three brothers, all in their 20s, responded to the brutality of the 1999 Kosovo conflict by joining the so-called “Atlantic Brigade” of the Kosovo Liberation Army.  Hostilities ceased in June of that year, following a NATO air campaign designed to stop Serbian forces from repressing the local population and committing atrocities.  About two weeks later, the Bytyqi brothers agreed to escort an ethnic Romani family, who had been neighbors of the Bytyqi family in Kosovo, to a place of greater safety.  Dressed in plain clothes and unarmed, the brothers accidently strayed across an unmarked administrative border and were arrested by the Serbian police.  They were jailed for two weeks for illegally entering the country.  Rather than being released, Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi were instead placed in the custody of a special operations unit of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs and taken to a training facility where all three were murdered.  Two years later, their bodies were found with hands bound and gunshot wounds to the back of their heads, buried atop an earlier mass grave of approximately 70 murdered Kosovo civilians. Justice Denied While an investigation reportedly continues, no individual has been found guilty – or even charged – for the murder of the Bytyqi brothers.  Senior U.S. officials and Members of Congress, including several serving on the Helsinki Commission, repeatedly have urged that action be taken by Serbian authorities, including war crimes prosecutors in regard to this case; a resolution to that effect is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.  While serving as Prime Minister from 2014 to 2017, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic promised quick action on several occasions, both in public gatherings and in private meetings with the Bytyqi family.  Recently, however, he has reportedly criticized those who remind him of his promises or who express concern about the close connections the leading suspect in the case, former Interior Ministry official Goran “Guri” Radosavljevic, has with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. The execution-style murder of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi was clearly an extrajudicial act committed by government forces, a horrific crime like so many committed by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic throughout the 1990s.  The surviving Bytyqi family, currently residing in New York state, has asked for nothing more than bringing those responsible to justice. U.S. Government officials have also called for justice in a case of the three murdered U.S. citizens, even as they otherwise express support for Serbia and its European aspirations. Human rights groups in Serbia have joined the call for justice, including as a way to distance their country from a period in its recent past marked by aggressive nationalism and egregious human rights violations on a massive scale. All that remains if for Serbian authorities to take the action promised by their political leaders.            

  • Profile: Dr. Petra Gelbart

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns.  In particular, OSCE agreements address issues relating to the human rights of Roma, Holocaust remembrance, and preserving sensitive sites of remembrance. During the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, an internment camp in the Czech village of Lety became a concentration camp for Roma. Around 1,300 people were imprisoned there, including many children.  Some died in Lety as a result of the horrible conditions in the camp.  Many more were deported and perished at Auschwitz. An estimated three hundred survived.  In some ways, Lety is as emblematic of the experiences of Roma both during the and after the Holocaust. During the communist period, a pig farm was established on the site of the former concentration camp.  After the fall of communism, the existence of the pork processing facility became an enduring controversy, generating progressively more frequent protests. In recent years, Czech officials moved closer to a decision to remove the pig farm.  In August, the Czech government announced agreement had been reached with the owners of the site on a purchase price, paving the way for the farm’s removal. The United States subsequently welcomed the progress made by the Czech Republic.  Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Roger Wicker observed, “[t]his achievement is the culmination of decades of work on the part of survivors, human rights groups, members of the Helsinki Commission, and others. It paves the way for a dignified and appropriate memorial for the thousands of men, women, and children who suffered and died there.” At the opening of this year’s OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the Czech Republic – the only European Union country to speak at the opening in its national capacity, in addition to supporting a joint EU statement – drew attention to this breakthrough: “Against the backdrop of the deteriorating situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the OSCE, heightened attacks leveled at civil society, media and persons belonging to minorities, it remains crucial to continue promoting and protection fundamental OSCE commitments and principles.  In this context, we would like to highlight the recent positive developments in the implementation of the Czech Republic’s Roma Integration Strategy 2015-2020.  I have in mind the issue of the former Gypsy Concentration Camp in Lety u Pisku.” In light of these developments, the Helsinki Commission had a conversation with Dr. Petra Gelbart.  Dr. Gelbart is a Romani ethnomusicologist who uses music and academic research to advocate for the remembrance of Romani victims of the Holocaust.[iv] She frequently speaks to a wide range of audiences about Romani music, culture, and their persecution during the Holocaust.  She has also served as a Public Member on a U.S. delegation to an OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. Born in Czechoslovakia and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Dr. Gelbart was introduced to Romani language, music, and culture at a young age. Her personal background drove her passion to study Romani culture further and to become an educator in Romani music, history, and other socio-political issues. “My family’s experience during the Holocaust was the primary motivator in my decision to become involved in commemoration efforts,” Dr. Gelbart says. “Increasingly, I am also coming to terms with how much this background has shaped my personal identity and psychological makeup, so continuing the work is important for my mental wellbeing.” She first studied musicology at UC Berkeley. Shortly after finishing her degree, she went on to pursue her postgraduate studies and earned a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Harvard University. Dr. Gelbart co-founded the Initiative for Romani music at New York University and is currently the music curator for RomArchive. She has also taught ethnomusicology, music psychology, as well as Romani music and language at the university level.  Her research has focused on interethnic communication, the Holocaust, music psychology, and institutional ethnography. “I try to take what people think they know about so-called ‘Gypsies,’ and replace it with something that's much more based in reality,” she explains. Dr. Gelbart passionately advocates for the use of music to not only educate about Romani culture, but also to reflect upon the difficult aspects of this community’s history. “Oral traditions and personal memoirs have kept the memory of the Holocaust alive among Roma and Sinti even in the absence of sympathetic institutions,” she observes. “The song Chajori Romani, for example, is considered an anthem of both Czech and Slovak Roma. It has a generic, happy text about a Romani girl, but also an alternate text that recounts the conditions of a concentration camp. Thus, even though the Holocaust-related text is sung less frequently, it looms in the background of this popular memory, which has come to be known as ‘the Romani lament’ regardless of which lyrics are being sung.” “When people pay close attention to Romani music, they can learn not only things they may not have expected to find out about Roma and Sinti, but also about themselves,” Dr. Gelbart notes. “For example, many people associate Manouche (French Romani) people with Gypsy Jazz, and Gypsy Jazz with emotive passion. On objective analysis, however, it turns out that strong sentiments tend to be projected onto Gypsy Jazz and its performers, based on stereotypes of ‘Gypsies,’ rather than being inherent in the music itself. Also, some of the composers and performers who may be perceived as wild musicians have in fact produced decidedly tame, deeply reflective musical pieces, including a few with Holocaust-related themes.” She continues, “Students and lecture audiences are surprised by the existence of Romani Holocaust songs, and as a consequence some of them ask why they were previously never exposed to the voices of Roma and Sinti in Holocaust education. At that point, it is useful to point out that just as Roma and Sinti expressed their grief and ongoing fears for their safety in songs during and after World War II, some of them also wrote memoirs or formed organized commemoration narratives. The image of Romanies as unschooled or illiterate is persistent, and yet Holocaust-related education shows Romani traditions in a rather different light.” Dr. Gelbart works to educate her students and colleagues about the discrimination Romani face in Europe and to correct the offensive misconceptions many hold about them. One challenge she faces in educating people about the Romani experience during the Holocaust is undoing the erasure of Romani victimhood from historical narratives. Throughout much of Europe, the Romani were formerly not a legally recognized ethnic group and thus were excluded from regional Holocaust memory and discouraged from speaking out about their experiences. “It is absolutely true that the continued, state-sponsored shaming of Romani cultures made surviving Romani families very unlikely to speak out about their wartime experiences,” Dr. Gelbart explains. “There is an enduring misconception that Romani Holocaust remembrance is typically private,” she continues. “In reality, Romani attempts to give public testimony about genocide have largely paralleled post-war developments in Jewish families, albeit at a slower pace.” In August, the Czech government agreed to remove the pig farm from the Lety concentration camp site. Dr. Gelbart believes that this decision is symbolic of the gradual inclusion of Romani Holocaust experiences in mainstream discourse. “The pig farm at Lety, along with the recreational complex on the site of the Hodonin camp (where my great-great-grandmother was murdered by a Czech guard), are symbolic of not only the imperative to include Roma and Sinti fully in mainstream discourse on the Holocaust, but also the need to examine why the Romani Holocaust tends to be relegated to footnotes,” she says. Though she sees improvement in the perspectives and treatment of Romani communities and history, Dr. Gelbart argues that the Romani experience during the Holocaust is understudied and that this trend reflects itself in lasting discrimination towards the community. “In my opinion, the most important part of remembrance is making connections to present-day perils,” she explains. “We can honor the work of the Roma and allies who have fought for the dignity of the Lety victims, but we must not stop publicly pointing out the larger context of this struggle.” Dr. Gelbart is committed to expanding the study and inclusion of Romani history and culture in the public sphere. She urges governments to take greater care in promoting Romani rights and society to learn more about the Romani, while elevating their memory above mere victimhood. “Every book, every college course, every school curriculum and every ceremony commemorating the Holocaust should strive to make its audience aware of the difference between how Romanies are assumed to be and how they actually live their lives. It can be as simple as saying that ‘Roma and Sinti are a highly diverse ethnic group, with many communities striving for social integration. The same ideologies that labeled Romanies as subhuman in times of genocide are hindering their education, employment, and even physical safety in the twenty-first century.’ If nothing else, we need to show Romani students in both Europe and the Americas that their existence and their heritage are worth as much as any other group’s,” she says. Dr. Gelbart’s activism within the Romani community extends beyond the classroom. She works with Czech families who foster or adopt Romani children. She is also interested in the role music plays in therapy, specifically in rehabilitative and developmental therapy. She is based in New York.

  • Preventing Modern Slavery through Education of Children

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. As traffickers seek to lure adolescents into exploitation, holistic anti-trafficking education of teachers and children directly in schools is emerging as a critical tool to fight modern day slavery across the OSCE region.  Education has long been used in the prevention of human trafficking, the first of “3 Ps”—prevention, prosecution, and protection—around which most of the OSCE participating States have structured their laws to combat trafficking in human beings.  For instance, embassies and consulates include trafficking warnings and trafficking hotlines in information to individuals seeking visas, especially those individuals coming to be domestic servants. Tourists are educated in airports about the legal penalties of sexually exploiting vulnerable children.  Flight attendants and hotel operators are trained in how to recognize and safely report potential trafficking victims. Members of the law enforcement community are educated in the procedures for identifying trafficking victims among migrant and refugee flows through programs like the OSCE Extra Budgetary Project, which successfully concluded its third training last week in Vicenza, Italy.  International organizations have targeted aid for trafficking awareness education in countries where severe lack of economic opportunity makes teens extremely vulnerable to sham offers of jobs abroad. However, traffickers are increasingly preying upon children’s social vulnerability, not just economic need.  Social vulnerability—such as feelings of alienation, unresolved emotional or physical abuse, learning disabilities, or unfamiliarity with a new culture and language—means that children of every socio-economic background across participating States are at risk of being taken advantage of by traffickers.  Children’s often unlimited and unmonitored access to the internet can also endanger them.  Traffickers scout social media with fake profiles, looking for children they can extort into trafficking.  A child sends a half-naked photo to their “new friend” on social media, who then threatens to send the photos to the child’s parents and friends—unless the child does as they say.  No child is immune, but some are now smarter than their would-be traffickers. Non-governmental organizations in the United States and United Kingdom have been taking prevention to new heights through programs to train children in schools how to avoid being ensnared by human traffickers.  The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives PROTECT project, and Just Enough UK, to name a few, have pioneered curricula that helps children—and their teachers—navigate the new faces and ploys of modern day slavery. Including age-appropriate, anti-trafficking education of teachers and school children in the standard curriculum for all children means that the suffering and harm caused by human trafficking can be halted early—or avoided altogether.  At a recent hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, Robert Benz, observed, “The cost benefits to taxpayers, for preventing or mitigating human trafficking at an early stage, are enormous. The human benefit for preventing someone from being victimized is incalculable.” Such educational initiatives may soon benefit from new federal government grants in the United States.  Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith, Special Representative for Human Trafficking Issues to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and author of the U.S. laws that establish and fund the “3Ps”, included in the new Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2200) authority for the training of teachers and students to recognize and avoid human trafficking.  H.R. 2200 passed the House of Representatives in July and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate.

  • Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Meets with New ODIHR Director Gísladóttir

    On September 13, Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Ambassador David T. Killion met with the new Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ingibjörg Gísladóttir, during the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, Poland. Ambassador Killion stressed the Commission’s commitment to the autonomy and work of ODIHR, and highlighted several Commission priorities including fighting anti-Semitism and racism; combating trafficking in persons; promoting religious freedom; and strengthening democratic institutions. He also noted the Commission’s support for the work of the ODIHR Contact Point on Roma and Sinti Issues. Ambassador Killion urged Director Gísladóttir to continue ODIHR’s positive collaboration with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, noting strong Commission support for OSCE election observation. Turning to the HDIM, he emphasized the importance of the continued open participation of civil society in the event, which is a singular feature of the annual meeting. He said the Commission will continue to fulfill its mandate to monitor the participating States’ compliance with their OSCE commitments, with particular regard to those relating to human rights.  

  • At Forum, Experts Slam Russian 'Disinformation' Campaigns Aimed at West

    WASHINGTON — The German Marshall Fund says it has documented Russian interference in the elections or political affairs of at least 27 countries since 2004, ranging from disinformation campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to cyber attacks. The Helsinki Commission held a hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill focusing on what it called the "scourge" of Russian disinformation conducted both at home and abroad. “Through its active measures campaign that includes aggressive interference in Western elections, Russia aims to sell fear, discord, and paralysis that undermines democratic institutions and weakens critical Western alliances such as NATO and the EU,” charged Republican Senator Corey Gardner. “Russia’s ultimate goal is to replace the Western-led world order of laws and institutions with an authoritarian-led order that recognizes only masters and vassals.” US election meddling Other experts agreed during a session in which few if any defenders of Russia were represented, reflecting the increasingly adversarial relationship between the two countries. Molly McKew of the communications consulting firm Fianna Strategies spoke with VOA about reports that Russia targeted U.S. voters on social media during last year's presidential election campaign. “I think even the Kremlin is surprised at how easy it is to use social media as an amplification tool for the kind of narrative that they do,” she said. McKew said opinion polls show most Americans do not believe disinformation could work on them. But she says the Russian government uses marketing and basic psychology to influence people to vote for a certain person or to stay at home on election day. In an era when many get their own personalized news feeds on Facebook or Twitter, she said, people can be targeted individually with what she calls ads, smears or lies. RT, Sputnik broadcasts U.S. complaints of Russian disinformation have focused frequently on the broadcasts of the Moscow-backed RT television network and Sputnik news agency, which have denied they are spreading propaganda. When it was reported this week that the FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin, the news agency said in a statement: "We are more than happy to answer any questions the [Department of Justice] or the FBI might have. Sputnik is a news organization dedicated to accurate news reporting. Our journalists have won multiple media awards throughout the world. Any assertion that Sputnik is anything but a credible news outlet is false." However Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John Lansing, who also spoke at the forum, agreed with others on the magnitude of the Russian threat and said the United States must counter Russian disinformation, but do so by with objective news and information. “The United States will not do propaganda,” said Lansing, whose agency oversees U.S.-funded broadcasting around the world. “And in fact we have a firewall protection, a legislative firewall that makes it impossible for the government to interfere with our independent editorial decision-making.” Lansing, who oversees the Voice of America and several other U.S. government-funded broadcasters, said he has seen a "global explosion of propaganda and lies," and that his agency is focused on getting accurate information to Russian speakers around the world. The forum was shown a promotional video for "Current Time," a Russian-language news network jointly operated by VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which Lansing said, "helps viewers tell fact from fiction." "The Russian strategy seeks to destroy the very idea of an objective, verifiable set of facts," Lansing said. "The BBG is adapting to meet this challenge head on by offering audiences and alternatives to Russian disinformation in the form of objective, independent and professional news and information." Germany, France elections Melissa Hopper of Human Rights First said Germany appears set to fend off attempts by Russia to interfere in its elections later this month. She said Berlin acted early, after the U.S. election last November, to establish a government-wide task force to counteract Russian manipulation of social media. Hopper also said France was successful in thwarting Russian interference during its elections in April and May, with the French media agreeing not to cover information that came from cyber attacks. But she warned that Russia has quite an “arsenal” at its disposal, including a worldwide media program with an annual budget of more than $300 million. She said Russian online media “weaponizes” false media narratives, especially about minority populations such as immigrants or LGBT communities, which can lead to physical threats in the real world.

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