Title

U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Azerbaijan

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing:

The Security, Economic and Human Rights Dimensions of US-Azerbaijan Relations

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
10:00 am
Russell Senate Office Building
Room 432

The Republic of Azerbaijan has been an ally of the United States since its independence in 1991. It is a supplier of energy to Europe and has played an important role in assisting the U.S. and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan through the contribution of troops and as a conduit for the Northern Distribution Network. Azerbaijan is a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and in May it assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe (COE). Despite membership in both of Europe’s leading human rights institutions, Azerbaijan has been consistently criticized for its undemocratic elections and its use of the judicial system to punish political opponents.

As the U.S. Helsinki Commission prepares to attend the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Baku at the end of June, this hearing will examine the U.S.-Azerbaijan relationship and the impact of regional and domestic issues in Azerbaijan on that relationship.

The following witnesses are scheduled to testify:

  • Tom Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State
  • Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Department of State
  • Miriam Lanskoy, Director for Russia and Eurasia, National Endowment for Democracy
  • Brenda Shaffer, Visiting Researcher, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University
Media contact: 
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
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Mr. Boutaib, Minister Delegate to the Minister of Interior, was among several officials who highlighted the focus in Moroccan religious institutions on promoting maqasid in scriptural explication, an approach that emphasizes the spiritual, moral, ethical, and social goals of religious belief and practice above literalist interpretation and formalistic piety. The delegation visited the Muhammad VI Institute for the Training of Imams where hundreds of imams and male and female religious guides—murshidin and murshidat—from across Morocco and Western and sub-Saharan Africa are brought on full-scholarship to deepen their understanding of this interpretation of the Islamic faith. Moroccan interlocutors also praised the King’s initiative to undertake significant democratic reforms during the Arab Spring as key to promoting social development and countering the attractiveness of extremist ideologies. “While other countries delayed reforms because of security concerns, Morocco persevered,” said House of Counselors President Benchamach. Among the most significant constitutional changes approved by referendum in 2011, the King is now required to name a prime minister from the largest party in parliament and the prime minister enjoys greater authority in running the government. The president of the lower house, Lahbib El-Malki told the OSCE PA delegation, “No security is possible without democracy and no cooperation is possible without security,” emphasizing the centrality of democracy to achieving these other strategic aims. As part of its effort to mitigate risk factors for radicalization, Morocco has focused on economic development domestically and in surrounding countries. These development efforts feature as part of the country’s self-described “comprehensive migration strategy” that directs development assistance to countries of origin, provides services and ensures the rights of migrants who take up residence in Morocco, and works to prevent irregular onward migration. Minister Delegate Boutaib and others touted Morocco’s “regularization” campaign in 2014 that allowed approximately 25,000 migrants to become legal residence of Morocco and to access services, education, housing, and the labor market. A second wave of this campaign began earlier this year and is ongoing. Despite overall confidence in the strength and sustainability of this multi-faceted approach to countering violent extremism, Moroccan officials expressed concern about continued challenges. In particular, several interlocutors described the danger posed by ungoverned expanses in the Sahel made worse by the ongoing conflict in Libya. They further cautioned that the territorial rout of ISIS in Syria and Iraq would likely only usher in new and more complex manifestations of the global jihadist threat. House of Representatives President El-Malki also warned of broader cultural and social trends that must be addressed in order to mitigate the attractiveness of extremist ideologies. He observed that modernity had succeeded in achieving great economic and technological advancements but left a more complicated legacy on the cultural and social level. El-Malki cited contemporary crises of identity and meaning that are playing out in many societies. Specifically, he counseled that the world cannot adopt a single culture; instead, he contended that “a plurality of cultures is a factor in stability.”  By hosting the OSCE PA delegation, the Kingdom of Morocco took an important step in advancing communication between the participating States of the OSCE and the six North African and Middle Eastern countries that comprise the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. While there are several opportunities every year for intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary exchanges with the Mediterranean Partners, this event provided a unique opportunity to examine at length the best practices and experience of one of the Partner States. In addition, the inter-parliamentary nature of the exchange suggests a promising avenue for further engagement. While many initiatives relating to the Mediterranean Partners have been stalled by a lack of consensus among OSCE participating States, the OSCE PA is not subject to the same consensus rule, placing it in a promising position to deepen communication and cooperation across the Mediterranean in the years to come.

  • Belarus: 25 Years after Signing the Helsinki Final Act

    In July 2017, Belarus hosted the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Annual Session.  However, two decades ago, the OSCE PA refused to even recognize the legitimacy of Belarus’ putative elected representatives.  What has changed? Download the full report to learn more. Contributors: Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law, Scott Rauland, Senior State Department Advisor, and Michael Newton, Intern

  • The Western Balkans: Perspectives from OSCE Field Missions

    Since the outbreak of the conflicts associated with Yugoslavia’s break-up in the early 1990s, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its field missions have been a central part of the international community’s response. Early OSCE efforts to counter the spillover effects of those conflicts were followed by ongoing assistance in post-conflict recovery and reconciliation. Today, OSCE field missions continue to exist in virtually every country of the region. They encourage the reform and cooperation essential to the long-term stability of the region through activities that broadly support democratic institutions and governance, particularly to strengthen rule of law; programs to promote integration of minority communities, especially Roma, and to counter violent extremism, and more; and regular reporting to the OSCE Secretariat and participating States. On November 1, 2017 the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) held a public briefing on OSCE field missions in the Western Balkans. Jeff Goldstein, the current Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, began by noting positive developments in Macedonia, including increased political participation in recent elections, and efforts by some parties to reach across ethnic lines. The increase in voter turnout, he said, “speaks to the fact that the citizens of the country both cared about politics and had faith that the democratic process could actually bring positive change to their lives.” He also highlighted the OSCE’s efforts to encourage the peaceful resolution of last winter’s political crisis, and discussed the Mission’s current focus on reforms in areas including the rule of law, freedom of the media, increasing the role of parliament, and further implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Ambassador Jonathan Moore, former Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, described the Mission’s in engagement with issues of education, rule of law, and countering violent extremism at a local level, and its policy of maintaining “credibility with everyone, presence everywhere, access to everyone, engagement with everyone.” To illustrate the success of the Mission’s local engagement, he discussed its work with a grassroots student movement to oppose the reintroduction of ethnically segregated schools in the town of Jajce. Amb. Moore was clear that the role of the Mission is to assist such organic developments and that, “the ultimate credit goes, of course, to the students themselves, who showed incredible tolerance, maturity, and commitment to a common future.” Michael Uyehara, former Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, highlighted the Mission’s “Follow Us” initiative, a program that brings together young women and female parliamentarians from Belgrade and Pristina in dialogue about their common issues. The initiative also commissioned a documentary about their conversation, which has been screened several times for audiences in Serbia and Kosovo. He also remarked on the enthusiasm of the local staff, who “believe in the OSCE Mission’s work and are deeply committed to the Mission’s objective of helping Serbia to advance politically and to overcome the legacy of the past.” Ambassador Marcel Peško, the current Director of the Conflict Prevention Centre in the OSCE Secretariat, discussed the OSCE’s capacity building efforts in the Balkans. Noting the difficult geopolitical environment in which OSCE activity takes place, he stressed the need to work with host governments to assist their reform agendas, and “to strengthen the resilience of government structures and the civil society to be able to address and cope with the challenges that are there in front of them.”

  • Organization Profile: Forum 18

    The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 recognizes religious freedom as a “human right and fundamental freedom.” Participating States of the OSCE “will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” The Helsinki Commission promotes and defends the religious freedom of people in the OSCE region, particularly prioritizing the cases of individuals and communities whose religious freedom has been violated and laws and policies that conflict with the Helsinki Final Act. Forum 18 is a news organization dedicated to reporting on violations of religious freedom in several OSCE participating States, including in Central Asia and the South Caucasus; Russia; Belarus; and Turkey. Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor Nathaniel Hurd interviewed the editors of Forum 18 by email to learn more about their work and views about religious freedom in the countries they cover. According to the editors, “The mission of Forum 18 is to provide original, reliable and detailed monitoring and analyses of threats and actions against the freedom of religion and belief of all people, whatever their religion or belief (including atheism and agnosticism), in an objective, truthful and timely manner.” Violations of Religious Freedom in the Former Soviet Union Forum 18 focuses its work on the states of the former Soviet Union, which the organization considers the worst violators of freedom of religion in the region. “The worst violators of freedom of religion and belief in the territories Forum 18 monitors – governments – target anyone and any religious community they see as actually or potentially outside their control,” the editors noted. “Azerbaijan, for example, claims to be ‘an example of tolerance’ yet has repeatedly closed Sunni Muslim mosques. A 2014 police list of banned books [in Azerbaijan] includes Islamic texts by theologian Said Nursi, Jehovah's Witness texts, and the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible used by Christians and Jews. Police have long confiscated these texts and others during raids on Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, and Baptist private homes and meetings of people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. There are many prisoners of conscience, especially human rights defenders and journalists. On July 3, 2017 Shia Imam Sardar Babayev was jailed for three years for leading mosque prayers because he was educated abroad.” “The reality of freedom of religion and belief violations by governments in these territories and the necessity of documenting them is why we were founded,” noting that they work to protect the freedom of everyone whatever their religion or belief (including atheism and agnosticism). “Our founders and staff were and are totally convinced as a matter of Christian conviction that everyone with no exceptions – including people who would completely disagree with the Christian faith – must…be able to freely exercise the freedom of religion and belief, and related rights such as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly…Our personal experience in the territories we monitor and other states (such as the former East Germany), as well as our own convictions, make us committed to Forum 18’s work of monitoring and analyzing governments’ violations of their international human rights law obligations.” In addition to its work on Azerbaijan, Forum 18 is also focusing on Uzbekistan’s raids, fines, jailing, and torture of Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as the increasing number of prisoners of conscience being jailed in Kazakhstan for exercising freedom of religion and belief, including alleged adherents of Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, Jehovah’s Witness Teymur Akhmedov, and Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov. Kazakhstan has also banned all mosques outside state control; expressions of non-Sunni Hanafi Islam; and discussion of faith by people without state permission, or not using state-approved texts, or outside state-approved locations. Kazakhstan’s persecution of atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov is also of concern. In Russia, Forum 18 actively monitors the government’s “anti-extremist” nationwide ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as “anti-extremist” prosecutions, fines and jailing of Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, including cases like that of Muslim Yevgeny Kim, who in in June 2017 was sentenced to three years in prison. Forum 18 is also concerned about nationwide religious literature bans, with the possessors of such texts being liable to criminal prosecution. Accuracy and Objectivity Are Key “Our overriding editorial objective is to as accurately as possible present the truth of a situation, both implicitly and explicitly,” note the editors of Forum 18. “It is vitally important that we cross-check information with local people, including religious communities and other human rights defender organizations where these exist. It is equally vital that in our published articles we carry the views of local people and human rights organizations – this enables local people to make their views on human rights violations known.” “Similarly, we always seek the comments of relevant officials, such as public prosecutors, police and secret police officials, within the country being written about,” they continued. “Every article we publish includes information on all the sources used, even if some have to be described as remaining anonymous for fear of state reprisals.” According to Forum 18, the organization’s efforts have resulted in “significant respect and usage among victims of human rights violations, human rights defenders (including journalists), diplomats, intergovernmental organizations, academics and others.” “Accuracy is in itself an effective advocacy for human rights by countering with accurate information the false information presented by repressive regimes, who often seek to conceal their human rights violations,” the editors said. The Worst of the Worst? When asked which of the countries Forum 18 monitors should be considered the “worst of the worst,” the editors noted that developing such a ranking is difficult. “Territories where serious…violations take place are places where people have a strong incentive to not discuss the state’s violations, for fear of state reprisals, making any reliable ranking of territories difficult,” they observed. “Because in all the territories Forum 18 monitors governments violate individuals’, informal groups’, and communities’ freedom of religion and belief apparently as part of a declared or undeclared policies of increasing state control of society – even in states such as Georgia in the south Caucasus – we think it is best for readers to judge for themselves which countries are the worst violators of freedom of religion or belief at any one time,” the editors added. Similarly, Forum 18 finds it difficult to rank the individual cases monitored by the organization. “In our view, each one of these cases where a government has violated an individual’s or group’s freedom of religion and belief can fairly be described as compelling. We think this view is reinforced by the individual cases being part of a much broader pattern of intentional, systemic government violations of the human rights of everyone they rule.” One case Forum 18 has followed close is that of Protestant Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov in Tajikistan, who was jailed for three years for allegedly “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred.’” The regime has threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they reveal any details of the case, trial, or jailing. Cooperation is Key Cooperation is vital to the Forum 18 approach. “Cooperation in defense of human rights for all is both right in principle and more effective than competition,” the Forum 18 editors argue. “It is important to cooperate with others – including in our case providing accurate information – to help responses to violations of freedom of religion and belief and interlinked other fundamental freedoms to be as effective as possible. Our work with victims of freedom of religion and belief violations and other human rights defenders convinces us that this approach is the right one to follow.” Twitter: @Forum_18 Facebook: @Forum18NewsService

  • Countering Radicalization

    On October 26, 2017 the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) hosted a briefing entitled Countering Radicalization; International Best Practices and the Role of the OSCE. The panel featured the Washington presentation of a groundbreaking OSCE report by Professor Peter Neumann, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Countering Radicalisation and Violent Extremism.  At the briefing, Neumann provided an overview of the findings and recommendations made in his report, titled “Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalisation that Leads to Terrorism: Ideas, Recommendation, and Good Practices from the OSCE Region.” Neumann offered two main recommendations: first, he proposed bolstering the OSCE’s role as a hub for best practices in counter-radicalization, and in particular the role of the Action Against Terrorism Unit in this area. Second, he called for a strengthening of the OSCE field operations, whose on-the-ground presence and continuity made them especially effective actors, in particular in the critical regions of the Balkans and Central Asia. He underlined that while the OSCE will never be the sole actor in counter-terrorism efforts, despite the different approaches of its participating States, it can make a valuable contribution as one of many tools towards addressing the problem of radicalization. Two leading practitioners and analysts of U.S. counter-radicalization efforts also offered their views on Neumann’s report.  First, Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director of Program on Extremism at George Washington University, commended the report’s methodology.  Hughes offered a number of points for consideration, including that in Europe, the great majority of attacks are committed by citizens, rather than migrants; that “securitizing” relationships with minority communities was counterproductive; and that countering violent extremism programs were broadly underfunded. Matthew Levitt, Director of the Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called for a public-health model for treating the radicalization challenge at a community level, further suggesting that the Trump administration may well be moving away from such an approach and towards a rubric of “terrorism prevention,” which runs the risk of putting the problem entirely in the hands of the law enforcement and intelligence communities and neglecting a whole-of-government preventive approach that would address challenges before they manifest as violent acts. The briefing was moderated by Alex Tiersky of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

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