Podcast: Massive, Systematic, Proven beyond Doubt
President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. In the run-up to elections in the summer of 2020, the Lukashenko regime sought to eliminate political competition to through disqualification, intimidation, and imprisonment. Election Day proper featured widespread allegations of fraud. Many countries, including the United States, rejected the election’s outcome as illegitimate and refused to recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus. The months since the election have seen an unrelenting crackdown by Belarusian authorities on peaceful protests, civil society, and the media. As a participating State in the OSCE, Belarus is party to a number of commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the right to free and fair elections and the right to peaceful assembly. In response to the apparent violation of these rights, 17 other OSCE states invoked one of the key human rights tools at their disposal: the Moscow Mechanism, a procedure that allows for the establishment of a short-term fact-finding mission tasked with producing a report on a specific human rights concern and recommendations on how to resolve it. In this episode, Professor Wolfgang Benedek, the rapporteur appointed to investigate the crisis in Belarus, discusses his findings that human rights abuses are "massive and systematic, and proven beyond doubt" and his recommendations to address the violations. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 14 | Massive, Systematic, Proven beyond Doubt: Human Rights Violations in Belarus Exposed by the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism
Podcast: Agents of the Future
The creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group was announced on May 12, 1976, a day that Helsinki Commission Chair Sen. Ben Cardin has called, “One of the major events in the struggle for human rights around the globe.” The 11 founding members, including legends of the human rights movement like Yuri Orlov and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, came together as what was formally named the Public Group to Assist in the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act in the USSR. Their mission was to monitor the Soviet government’s implementation of the human rights provisions of the historic 1975 Helsinki Accords. In this episode, Dmitri Makarov, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and historian Sarah B. Snyder discuss the history and impact of the Helsinki monitors, as well as the important work the Moscow Helsinki Group continues to do today. The Helsinki Commission is indebted to Cathy Cosman for her input and contributions to the development of this episode. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 16 | Agents of the Future: The 45th Anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Podcast: Toward a Sustainable, Enduring, Democratic Peace
The work of the Helsinki Commission aligns closely with that of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security organization. The United States supports the work of the OSCE through not only the Helsinki Commission, but also through funding—generally contribution between 11 and 14 percent of the OSCE’s operating costs—and through the deployment of individuals who carry out the activities of the OSCE across its vast geographic expanse, who do the day-to-day work of trying to make the principles on which the OSCE is based into a reality on the ground. In this episode, Kavya Rajan, Director of Human Rights and Communities at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, and Kelsey Harris-Smith, Political-Military Officer in the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Program at the OSCE Mission to Moldova, describe how the work they and other Americans—as well as staff from other OSCE participating States—do contributes to a sustainable, enduring, democratic peace in the OSCE region. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 17 | Toward a Stable, Enduring, Democratic Peace
Podcast: Russian Intention, Russian Aggression
From September 10 – 16, ZAPAD 2021—a major Russian military exercise that includes thousands of troops—will take place in and around Belarus. The exercise follows months of reports that the Russian military has been involved in actions that potentially could spark a major and violent confrontation between Russia and other countries, including a March deployment by Moscow of some 100,000 new troops in and around Ukraine and a June incident in the Black Sea in which Russian forces seemingly faced off against the British destroyer HMS Defender. In this episode, Lt. General Ben Hodges (Ret.) analyzes whether these developments represent a major escalation and imminent conflict with Russia; whether they are part of a deliberate, coordinated strategy by the Kremlin; and what, if any, guardrails could prevent Russian aggression against its neighbors or a direct conflict with NATO. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 18 | Russian Intention, Russian Aggression
Podcast: On the Precipice
The OSCE has been central to diplomatic efforts around Russia’s war against Ukraine. In this episode, Ambassador Michael Carpenter, U.S. Permanent Representative to the OSCE, discusses the ultimately unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to forestall Russia’s full-scale invasion; the role of the OSCE in ensuring accountability for war crimes and atrocities; and the need to ensure Ukraine’s victory and Russia’s defeat. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 24 | On the Precipice
OSCE Election Observation
In 1990, OSCE participating States pledged to hold free and fair elections and to invite foreign observers to observe its elections. Elections observation has since been recognized as one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage States’ commitment to democratic standards and has become a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. In 2020 alone, the OSCE has been invited to observe elections in nearly 20 OSCE participating States (Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, Iceland, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Monogolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and the United States).* History of OSCE Election Observation All OSCE participating States have committed to holding democratic elections that meet the same basic standards: universal access, equality, fairness, freedom, transparency, accountability, and privacy in voter submission. Because violations of these commitments can endanger stability in the OSCE region, as well as within an individual country, OSCE nations also agreed to open their elections to observers from other participating countries. To encourage compliance and confidence in the results of the observation missions, countries agreed to observe elections together under the OSCE umbrella. Since the 1990s, OSCE election observers have been present at more than 300 elections throughout the OSCE region. While some OSCE countries benefit from foreign observation more than others – especially those that formerly had one-party communist systems and little experience with democracy – the OSCE also observes elections in more established and stable democracies, such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Even these countries can benefit from consideration of the objective conclusions of those with an outside, comparative perspective. Perhaps more important, observation across the OSCE region removes any sense of stigmatization associated with the repeated hosting of election observation missions as well as any argument against hosting by those political leaders in some countries who continue to resist holding even reasonably free and fair elections. As one of the original 35 members of the OSCE, the United States has participated actively in OSCE election observation missions, both by providing observers for foreign elections as well as by inviting the OSCE to observe every general and midterm election since 2002. Election Observation Methodology ODIHR's election monitoring methodology takes account of the situation before, during, and after an election. All aspects of the electoral process are considered, to include a review of the legal framework; the performance of elections officials; the conduct of campaigns; the media environment and equitable media access; the complaints and appeals process; voting, counting, and tabulation; and the announcement of results. Recently, ODIHR has further expanded its methodology to explore the participation of women and national minorities. Election Observers OSCE election observation missions often are undertaken jointly by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). A typical election observation mission comprises around 12 core team members, as well as several dozen long-term observers and several hundred short-term observers. The missions, which combine strong technical expertise and sound political judgement, include ODIHR officials, professional analysts, parliamentarians, and others on loan from OSCE member countries. To ensure that no single country’s point of view is overrepresented, the OSCE limits the number of observers from any one country. No matter where they are from, observers commit to an election observation code of conduct, which limits their role to observing and reporting. Observers have no authority to instruct, assist, or interfere in the voting, counting, tabulation, or other aspects of the electoral process. Election Observation, Reporting, and Recommendations Ahead of the elections, observers receive briefings from the host government, political parties, civil society, and media representatives. Long-term observers also follow pre-election activities including candidate and voter registration, political campaigns, and media coverage. On Election Day, two-person teams of short-term observers fan out across the country to observe the conduct of the election, including opening of polling stations; checking whether ballot boxes are empty and properly sealed; the counting of ballots; the handling of spoiled or unused ballots; and the transmission of polling station results. Observers monitor how voters are processed, the accuracy of voter registries, and whether voters are able to vote in secret and in an environment that is free from intimidation. After the elections, long-term observers note how electoral complaints and appeals are handled. The OSCE election observation mission publishes preliminary findings immediately after the elections, with a final comprehensive report issued a few weeks later. The final report includes in-depth analysis of the election’s political context and legislative framework; election administration; voter and candidate registration; the election campaign; the media; participation of women and national minorities; and the voting, counting, and tabulation processes. Impact The OSCE methodology represents the global standard for quality election observation. By analyzing election-related laws and systems, as well as the effectiveness of their implementation, election observation missions help document whether elections in OSCE countries are free and fair for voters and candidates alike. Its expertise has been shared with other regional organizations, and the OSCE has contributed to observation efforts outside the OSCE region. The Helsinki Commission Contribution The U.S. Helsinki Commission was the first to propose concrete commitments regarding free and fair elections more than a year before they were adopted by the OSCE in June 1990. By that time, Commissioners and staff had already observed the conduct of the first multi-party elections in seven East and Central European countries transitioning from one-party communist states to functioning democracies. As the OSCE developed its institutional capacities in the mid-1990s, the Commission joined the efforts of an increasing number of observer teams from across the OSCE region, which evolved into the well-planned, professional election observation missions of today. Commissioners and staff have observed well over 100 elections since 1990. More broadly speaking, the United States support OSCE observation efforts, to include deployment of civilian, parliamentary, and diplomatic observers abroad, but also supporting OSCE’s observation of domestic elections, with a focus on countries where resistance to democratic change remains the strongest. Learn More Elections: OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly * Following Needs Assessment Missions designed to assess the situation and determine the scale of a potential observation activity in a particular country, election observation was deemed unnecessary in some cases.
Justice at Home
Promoting human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption abroad can only be possible if the United States lives up to its values at home. By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the United States committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, even under the most challenging circumstances. However, like other OSCE participating States, the United States sometimes struggles to foster racial and religious equity, counter hate and discrimination, defend fundamental freedoms, and hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. The Helsinki Commission works to ensure that U.S. practices align with the country’s international commitments and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, racial and religious profiling, and other criminal justice practices; the conduct of elections; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
Decoding the OSCE
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest regional security organization with 57 participating States representing more than a billion people. Its origins trace back to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which contains a broad range of measures focused on politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects designed to enhance comprehensive security and cooperation in the region, and the decades of multilateral diplomacy that followed. The OSCE operates coordinated efforts, adapted to the needs of each participating State, to protect democracy, promote peace, and manage conflict. The organization focuses on creating sustainable change through shared values, and decisions are taken by consensus. Learn more about the OSCE’s operations and institutions below. The Helsinki Process and the OSCE: On August 1, 1975, the leaders of the original 35 OSCE participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Helsinki Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. The Security Dimension The Economic Dimension The Human Dimension Four Decades of the Helsinki Process: The gatherings following the Final Act became known as the Helsinki Process. The process became a diplomatic front line in the Cold War and a cost-effective diplomatic tool to respond to the new challenges facing Europe during the post-Cold War era. Since its inception over forty years ago, the Helsinki Process and the OSCE continue to provide added value to multilateral efforts enhancing security and cooperation in Europe. OSCE Institutions, Structures, and Meetings: The OSCE sets standards in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. The OSCE also undertakes a variety of preventive diplomacy initiatives designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict within and among the participating States. The Consensus Rule: The OSCE operates using a consensus decision-making process. Consensus fosters ownership of decisions by all OSCE participating States, enables them to protect key national priorities, and creates an important incentive for countries to participate in the OSCE. It also strengthens the politically binding nature of OSCE commitments. The Moscow Mechanism: The OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism allows for the establishment of a short-term fact-finding mission to address a specific human rights concern in the OSCE region. OSCE Election Observation: Election observation is one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage States’ commitment to democratic standards and has become a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Parliamentary Diplomacy of the OSCE: The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) offers opportunities for engagement among parliamentarians from OSCE participating States. The OSCE PA debates current issues related to OSCE commitments; develops and promotes tools to prevent and resolve conflicts; supports democratic development in participating States; and encourages national governments to take full advantage of OSCE capabilities. Non-Governmental Participation in the OSCE: One of the advantages of the OSCE is that it is the only international organization in which NGOs are allowed to participate in human dimension meetings on an equal basis with participating States. NGOs—no matter how small—can raise their concerns directly with governments.
By Donald B. Kursch,
CSCE Senior Advisor
The United States Helsinki Commission hosted an inter-Parliamentary Forum December 10, 2002 on Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region. The meeting, held in conjunction with the observance of International Human Rights Day, strengthened the partnership between members of the U.S. and German delegations which began earlier this year in Berlin during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA).
This process was launched in response to shared U.S. and German concerns with the upsurge in anti-Semitism in many parts of the 55-nation OSCE region and is designed to encourage parliaments to take decisive actions to counter this disturbing trend. A letter of intent outlining concrete steps to be pursued was signed at the conclusion of the Forum.
Chairing the meeting jointly were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag Member Professor Gert Weisskirchen of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Group. Helsinki Commission Members Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated, with Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) in attendance. Other German Bundestag participants were Dietmar Nietan of the SPD and Markus Löning of the Liberal Party (FDP). Senator Jerahmiel Grafstein (Liberal Party) of the Senate of Canada also took part in the Forum.
In his opening statement, Rep. Smith, who led the U.S. Delegation to Berlin, reaffirmed the principles that were set out in a U.S.-sponsored resolution from the Berlin OSCE PA meeting that anti-Semitism must have no place in the 21st century and that parliaments should “take concrete steps to make this vision a reality.” He expressed the hope that representatives of other parliaments from the OSCE participating States would join this process.
Prof. Weisskirchen defined anti-Semitism as a unique kind of racism. He stressed that the threat of ethnic hatred is an affront to the principles of democracy. Weisskirchen suggested that programs with long-term goals would be most effective at combating anti-Semitism and that focusing “on the education, both formal and informal, and on the media and on religion” are vital parts of a preventive strategy.
Rep. Cardin spoke to two points raised in the letter of intent. The first was the importance of education as a tool of erasing ignorance and promoting tolerance. The second was the establishment of a “coalition of the willing” to address the rise of anti-Semitic propaganda in the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Egypt. He proposed a parliamentary dialogue with these countries to deal with this problem. Rep. Hastings noted that in his home state of Florida a 1400 percent increase in anti-Semitism occurred this past year and that much of this increase was attributed to people under 21 years of age.
Mr. Nietan spoke from the perspective of a member of the younger generation of parliamentarians in the German Bundestag. Like his colleagues, he emphasized youth education as a crucial step in fighting discrimination. Mr. Löning emphasized two points: the need for instilling respect for other peoples, especially minorities, and creating the ability to “deal with the identity of others on an open and fair basis.”
Senator Grafstein noted a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada pointing out that there had been four arson attacks on synagogues during the past year, a number greater than at any time in his country’s history. He underscored his strong support for complementary parliamentary initiatives process and his determination to have the Canadian Parliament adopt a resolution he has introduced condemning anti-Semitism.
Three European and three American expert witnesses shared their views and recommendations with the parliamentarians. The first witness was Juliane Danker-Wetzel from the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technical University in Berlin. She tied the rise of anti-Semitic acts in the European Union states to the recent conflict in the Middle East. Danker-Wetzel pointed to the Internet as an important conduit for disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. She then highlighted how the Arab-Israeli conflict and criticism of Israel is often linked to anti-Semitic attitudes.
Ken Jacobson, Associate National Director of the Anti Defamation League began by suggesting the OSCE as an “ideal forum for meaningful action.” He noted a rise in the incidences of hate propaganda, citing the “big lie” which holds that Jews were responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He concluded with ten recommendations for fighting the virus of anti-Semitism, including increased anti-Israel bias and Holocaust awareness education programs, improved monitoring instruments and training for law enforcement and military personnel. Jacobson also recommended that the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 2003 be utilized for a special meeting to stress Holocaust education.
Dr. Hanno Loewy, Founder of the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt, argued that the most serious threat of anti-Semitism in Europe derives from the conflicts and discontent that exist in a post-colonial world. He cited as evidence, the large immigrant populations in Europe, who brought with them anti-Semitic beliefs. Loewy recommended that European countries establish legal structures regarding education, tax collection and access to public funds for Europeans of Islamic faith comparable to those that Christians and Jews already have.
Ambassador Alfred Moses, former President of the American Jewish Committee, asserted that modern manifestations of hatred towards Jews are rooted in a tradition of anti-Semitism that has plagued Europe for centuries. He argued that anti-Semitism must be defined more broadly than a “purely political phenomenon.” As such, he recommended that the United States and Germany use their influence in organizations such as the OSCE, NATO and the EU to raise anti-Semitism as a top priority to be addressed at the highest levels.
Rabbi Israel Singer, President of the World Jewish Congress, highlighted the problem of cynicism and indifference on issues of anti-Semitism by legislators. He deplored how Holocaust restitution efforts were used by some Europeans to justify anti-Semitic attitudes, an increased tendency by European politicians to use anti-Semitic nuances to appeal to certain constituencies, and the lack of balance in the positions of certain international institutions, such as the World Council of Churches, to developments in the Middle East.
The final panelist, Dr. Arkadi Vaksberg, Deputy Head of the Moscow PEN Center, recommended that a uniform legal structure be established across Europe and Russia for dealing with issues of human rights. He supported a clear and concrete definition of anti-Semitic acts, as well as creating an international commission to monitor and fight global anti-Semitism on a global basis.
Rep. Smith and Prof. Weisskirchen, concluded the Forum by signing a “Letter of Intent” that affirms a commitment to work together closely to fight anti-Semitism and encourage their colleagues in the U.S. Congress, German Bundestag, and in the parliamentary legislative bodies of other OSCE participating States, to adopt an action plan of concrete measures to counter anti-Semitic actions and attitudes. Recommended measures include:
- the adoption of parliamentary resolutions condemning anti-Semitism; the swift, forceful and public denunciation by parliamentarians of anti-Semitic acts;
- the enactment and vigorous enforcement of appropriate criminal legislation to punish anti-Semitic actions;
- the promotion of educational efforts among younger persons to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes; and
- the creation of an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly-based “coalition of the willing” among OSCE parliamentarians to address anti-Semitic propaganda that appears to be increasing rapidly in a number of countries designated as OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation.
The signatories pledged to meet again in conjunction with the February 2003 Winter Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna to evaluate progress, seek active support from other parliamentarians and determine how the July 2003 Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to be held in Rotterdam can be best utilized to combat anti-Semitism.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.