Title

Remarks to the Mediterranean Forum

Chairman
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings
Marrakech,
Morocco
Friday, October 04, 2019

Autumn Meeting of the OSCE PA

*NOTE: As prepared for delivery*

Before arriving in Morocco, I led a bicameral and bipartisan Congressional delegation to Tunisia and Israel. While in these countries, my colleagues and I held high-level exchanges with national leadership, civil society, religious leaders, and others to assess the current state of regional security, human rights and democracy.

As a Member of Congress, I spent decades traveling to the Middle East and North Africa.  I was never more proud of that engagement, than when I served as President of the Parliamentary Assembly and its  Special Representative to the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. This trip was an occasion to revisit longstanding relationships and discuss some of the most consequential dynamics impacting the Mediterranean region today.

Our delegation arrived in Tunisia and Israel at sensitive political moments. Tunisia held its second democratic presidential election ever on September 15 and will follow in the coming weeks with its third-ever free legislative election and a presidential run-off.

In Israel, the country’s second national election this year on September 17 once again delivered an ambiguous result, touching off a flurry of government formation negotiations with no end in sight.

In Tunis, my colleagues and I met with Interim President Mohamed Ennaceur. I commended him for leading his country through a historic peaceful transition of power following the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi earlier this year. When I asked about the most serious existential threat facing Tunisia, he had a bracing assessment: that the gravest threat is the economic and social despair afflicting so many youth. We should heed President Ennaceur’s words and commit ourselves during this meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly to discussing ways to restore hope and opportunity for the youth in our societies.

Early next year, I intend to do my part to respond to the call of President Ennaceur and others by hosting young parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region and the Partners for Cooperation in Washington for a seminar that empowers our future leaders. I look forward to sharing details with your delegations in the near term.

While in Tunisia, our delegation also held roundtables with civil society groups and local and international election observers. I was encouraged by the bold commitment of these groups to preserving and advancing the gains Tunisia has made since 2011 in respect for the rule of law, democracy, and fundamental freedoms. I remain concerned, however, that the ongoing imprisonment of one of the leading presidential candidates could undermine confidence in the democratic process.

In Israel, our delegation met both with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh. Both leaders were candid in their assessments of the impasse in the peace process. While no clear opportunities emerged, I was affirmed in my belief that parliamentary diplomacy bridges divides. Prime Minister Netanyahu shared his sobering assessment of the global threat posed by Iran and the existential danger it poses to the people of Israel. I hope we will discuss ways of addressing this matter during our debates in the coming days.

During a roundtable with Israel-based civil society, we heard warnings about possible threats to the rule of law impacting both Israeli citizens and Palestinians. In a separate meeting with the leaders of major Christian denominations, including Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, we explored interreligious relations and the mediating role Christian churches play in the Holy Land.

In Luxembourg this summer, this assembly passed a resolution I authored on the importance of integrating and protecting civil society engagement in the work of the OSCE and this Assembly. Our meetings with such groups in Tunis and Jerusalem confirms the value of consulting local activists in our work as parliamentarians at home and abroad.

In the coming days, I urge you, my distinguished colleagues, to continue exploring ways to integrate civil society in our work and to deepen engagement with the Mediterranean Partners, particularly through support for- and observation of their electoral processes.

Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • International Roma Day Bracketed by Rising Extremism and Violence

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law On April 8, Romani communities throughout the OSCE region celebrated International Roma Day. Numerous recent events, however, underscored the profound prejudice Roma continue to face. Background On April 8, 1971, Roma from across Europe met in London for the first congress of the International Romani Union (IRU). At the 4thcongress of the IRU, convened in Warsaw in 1990, participants designated April 8 as “International Roma Day” and, in subsequent years, International Roma Day has been an occasion not only to celebrate Romani language, history and culture, but also to draw attention to the often deplorable conditions in which Roma live. In 2000, the day was marked by an appeal by Pope John Paul II for “full respect for the human dignity of these brothers and sisters.” His remarks – coming after the beatification of Spanish Romani martyr Ceferino Gimenez Malla – reflected a growing awareness of the plight of Roma and simultaneously contributed to better understanding of Romani experiences. This Year’s International Roma Day International Roma Day was marked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a video address posted on the Department of State website and broadcast at events at several U.S. Embassies in Europe. (Her remarks were also translated into Romani and circulated on the internet by Romani NGOs.) Many United States embassies in Europe hosted or participated in a diverse array of related events. In Vienna, the United States Mission to the OSCE used the occasion to raise Romani human rights issues at the weekly meeting of the Permanent Council (see statement below). In particular, the Mission urged the Italian and Hungarian delegations to provide information on efforts to prosecute violent attacks against Roma in those countries. In addition, many human rights organizations drew attention to continuing violations of the human rights of Roma and many Romani nongovernmental organizations hosted cultural or other activities. For example, the San Francisco-based NGO Voice of Roma organized a series of activities including music, traditional crafts, dance, film and discussion. At the international level, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Rights, the Council of Europe, and other human rights bodies also observed International Roma Day. Rising Extremism In recent months, however, there has been an alarming rise in manifestations of profound prejudice directed against Roma. Hungary Notoriously, there have been dozens of violent attacks against Roma in Hungary over the course of the past year, including six murders. The most shocking attack occurred in February, when 27-year-old Robert Csorba and his five-year-old son, Robert, were murdered. Their home was set on fire and then, apparently, father and child were riddled with bullets to prevent them from escaping the blaze. Several other attacks against Roma have also involved Molotov cocktails used to set houses on fire. Other children have been injured in various attacks. Thus far, there has not been a single successful prosecution for any of these attacks. Moreover, the Hungarian government has asserted that only a court can determine if an attack is ethnically motivated and therefore it is inappropriate to characterize this wave of violence as racist or ethnically motivated. (Incongruously, Hungarian government officials continue to raise concern about ethnically motivated acts against Hungarian minorities in neighboring states. In early April, for example, Hungarian officials called on Serbian authorities to address crimes that Budapest characterized as anti-Hungarian.) On April 7, the home of a local Romani official, Lidia Horvath, was set on fire. She subsequently asserted that the attack was directed at her as retaliation for her efforts to shed light on the murder of the Csorba family, which investigators initially dismissed as death by accidental fire. Separately, controversy erupted in April regarding an interview with Mate Szabo, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil Rights, who referred to “Tsigan [loosely translatable as “Gypsy”] crime.” His remarks come at a time when not only extremist organizations but often mainstream public figures and media outlets are fixated on the notion of alleged “Gypsy criminality.” Almost 60% of the respondents in a recent Hungarian opinion poll said they believed that “crime is in the blood of Roma.” Five leading human rights groups in Hungary denounced the ombudsman’s comments and Szabo subsequently retracted his remarks. (Specifically, they objected to the association – by the civil rights commissioner, no less – of a particular ethnic group with crime.) In contrast, National Police Chief Jozsef Bencze participated in an event celebrating International Roma Day at which he stated, “There is no collective guilt because crime cannot be associated with color.” The Czech Republic In November 2008, hundreds of extremists rioted in the Czech town of Litvinov, requiring a thousand Czech police officers marshaled from around the country to hold them at bay. Some human rights activists believe that, with the Litvinov experience in mind, extremists hoped to exploit the focus of security agencies on Prague during the April 5 summit meeting there, attended by President Obama. Accordingly, on April 4, an estimated 700 radicals descended on the town of Prerov, reportedly with the intent of intimidating and attacking Romani residents. As it happened, Czech authorities in Prerov were able to deploy enough law enforcement personnel, including riot police, to largely contain the extremists. “Extremism” in the Czech Republic may be spurred by the extent to which intolerance manifests itself in what passes for mainstream political discourse. Among some public officials, overtly anti-Roma statements continue to be uttered without any discernible political consequences. For example, in 2005 President Vaclav Klaus denied that the Lety concentration camp was actually a concentration camp. Instead, using a common Nazi description of Roma, Klaus asserted that Lety was a place for “people who refused to work”. (Lety was established during the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic as a concentration camp for Roma. Hundreds died at the camp and many more were deported to Auschwitz.) While still serving as a local mayor, Czech Senator Liana Janackova was recorded describing herself as a racist and saying she would like to get rid of local Roma with dynamite. Some local officials continue to describe Roma as “unadaptable” – another Nazi-era concept – and some Czech media outlets quote these officials, albeit, without an apparent understanding of the historical use of this term. Slovakia On April 7, the Slovak daily Sme broke the story of six Romani boys who had been detained on March 21 by police in Kosice, forced to strip naked and commit violent acts against each other – all captured on film by the arresting officials. The video, quickly posted on You Tube, records the laughter and jeers of the police as they abuse the children. Several news stories have compared the incident to the notorious Abu Ghraib photos, and some have recalled the 2001 incident in which a Slovak Romani man, Karol Sendrei, died after being chained to a radiator in a police station and beaten over the course of a night. The abuse has been widely condemned in Slovakia and led to the immediate suspension of nine police officers. Additional investigation into the incident is continuing. In a less widely reported incident on April 4, 10 Romani men traveling to a construction site were attacked on a bus in Bratislava. Three of them had to be hospitalized. Off the Front Pages and Under the Bridges While these incidents have all garnered headlines, a broad range of chronic problems continue to gnaw away at the fabric of Romani life, including endemic discrimination in education, employment, and social services. Discrimination in housing has a multiplier effect on the lives of Roma, and large-scale forced evictions of Roma are a regular occurrence in many parts of the OSCE region. As a consequence, some Romani families that have been settled for generations find themselves forced into a kind of 21st century involuntary “nomadism.” At the same time, deeply entrenched stereotypes about exotic Roma lifestyles have made it easier for majority societies to ignore the long-term implications of social policies that further marginalize Romani children. On March 13, Amnesty International expressed concern about imminent plans by authorities in Milan to evict a community of some 150 Roma living under an overpass. Amnesty noted that there appeared to be no provision of adequate alternative housing and, accordingly, the Roma were at risk of falling into a cycle of such evictions. Similarly, on International Roma Day, Human Rights Watch drew attention to the plight of 47 Roma families forcibly evicted in Belgrade on April 3, 2009. They were removed from housing that was deemed by authorities to be “substandard” – but the families were left without an adequate alternative. In Kosovo, several NGOs, as well as the Ombudsman Institution, noted that Roma continue to live in lead-contaminated areas of northern Mitrovica, and called for their immediate and sustainable relocation. In Romania, NGOs continue to monitor displacements of Roma in Miercurea Ciuc, Piatra Neamt, and elsewhere – displacements that are hard to reconcile with a stated government policy of integrating Roma and improving access to education for Romani children. Aberrations or Trends? As reflected in the joint statement issued on International Roma Day by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, many observers are concerned that Roma will be the scapegoats of the current economic crisis. Yet the ongoing wave of violence against Roma escalated in Hungary and Italy for many months before the onset of the current economic crisis, and is therefore most likely rooted in longstanding prejudices against Roma. Accordingly, it is necessary for governments to re-double their efforts to combat prejudice against Roma. Given that much of contemporary bigotry against Roma still exploits the racist ideology grounded in 20th century eugenics most notoriously embraced by the Nazis, raising awareness of the content of that ideology, as it applied to Roma, is critical. Some governments have, in fact, improved efforts to commemorate Romani Holocaust losses – including Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. More of this effort needs to be brought into the classroom and, of course, reflected in the discourse of public leaders. Statement on International Roma Day U.S. Committed to Protecting and Promoting the Human Rights of Roma United States Mission to the OSCE Statement on International Roma Day As prepared for delivery by Chargé d' Affaires Kyle Scott to the Permanent Council, Vienna April 2, 2009 Madam Chairwoman, On April 8, we will celebrate International Roma Day, an opportunity to call attention to the history, experiences, and human rights of Europe’s largest ethnic minority. The United States is committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma. Despite important progress that has been made in the last decade, too many Roma still live on the margins of society. Roma continue to experience racial profiling, violence, discrimination, and other human rights abuses. Too often, they lack identity documents or citizenship papers, which exclude them from voting, social services, education, and employment opportunities. During the last year, the participating States and the OSCE have given much-needed attention to the situation of Roma, including through the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting last July, the visits by the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the ODIHR to Italy, and in our Ministerial Decision 6/08 adopted in Helsinki. We look forward to the discussion of early education for Romani children during the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw later this year. The United States also welcomes efforts by governments and nongovernmental organizations to ensure that the genocide of European Roma is never forgotten. We encourage all participating States to consider ways to better incorporate the genocide of European Roma into educational curricula, including the publication this month of a book in Romania on the deportation of Roma to Transnistria. We note that a monument to Romani victims of the “Porajmos,” the term some Roma use to describe Nazi attempts to exterminate Romani people of Europe during the Holocaust, will be unveiled in Berlin later this year, and also welcome plans to establish an educational and documentation center on the site of a former Romani concentration camp in South Moravia. Unfortunately, as Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg observed at the 2007 HDIM, even after the genocide of Roma, “there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma.” Today, in some of OSCE participating States, local officials continue to describe Roma as “unadaptable,” routinely using a Nazi-era term. Governments have a special responsibility to ensure that minority communities have the tools of opportunity that they need to succeed as productive and responsible members of society. The United States is deeply concerned about the escalation of anti-Roma hate crimes in some OSCE participating States. In this regard, we would welcome information from the Italian delegation regarding efforts to prosecute individuals for participating in mob attacks on Romani camps in 2007 and 2008, when Italian police provided protection to camp residents. We also support efforts by the Hungarian government to prosecute those responsible for recent violent attacks against Roma, including the February murder of Robert Csorba and his five-year-old son. In closing, the United States urges OSCE participating States to honor their commitment—first made a decade ago at the 1999 Istanbul Summit—to ensure that national laws and policies fully respect the rights of Roma. Furthermore, governments must commit to effectively enforcing these laws. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

  • Co-Chairman Hastings Chairs Meeting in Israel on Countering Discrimination in the Mediterranean Region; Meets with Prime Minister Olmert

    By Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel During two days in December 2007 a unique meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) occurred in Tel Aviv, Israel. For only the second time in eleven years, Israel was chosen by the OSCE participating States to host the annual Mediterranean Seminar -- a meeting designed to encourage dialogue about, and strategies for, improved cooperation between the OSCE participating States and their Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation -- Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. As Special Representative for Mediterranean Affairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Co-Chairman Hastings had worked tirelessly to bring the Partners together in Israel for their annual seminar. Unfortunately, official participation by the Partner States was limited, with only Jordan and Egypt sending representatives to the plenary sessions. However, more than seventy delegates from thirty-five countries attended the seminar and robust participation by NGOs from both sides of the Mediterranean yielded spirited discussion and specific recommendations for future OSCE efforts to combat discrimination. Prior to joining the seminar, the Co-Chairman traveled to Jerusalem for a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The two discussed prospects for negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the Annapolis conference, as well as continued threats to Israel’s security including Iran’s ongoing nuclear program. Co-Chairman Hastings also met with Jordanian Ambassador to Israel, Ali Al-Ayed, to discuss his country’s views on the security situation in the region as well as the impact of the massive displacement of Iraqi citizens, including more than a half million who have sought refuge in Jordan. More than 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, including 2 million who have fled to Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region. This is the largest population displacement in the Middle East since 1948. Co-Chairman Hastings has introduced legislation to address this growing humanitarian crisis which provides aid for Jordan and other countries in the region that are hosting Iraqi refugees. The Co-Chairman’s visit also included a briefing by Israel’s Director for relations with the United Nations and International Organizations and a tour of a newly constructed desalination facility in Ashkalon, the largest in the region. Desalination is a critical part of the social and economic infrastructure of the Middle East as it is in the Co-Chairman’s congressional district and the entire State of Florida. Under the broad theme “Combating Intolerance and Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding,” seminar participants examined such topics as the implementation of OSCE tolerance-related commitments in the participating States and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation and lessons learned; promoting respect for cultural and religious diversity and facilitating dialogue; and countering discrimination in the OSCE and Partner states. In his opening remarks to the session on Countering Discrimination in the OSCE Participating States and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, Co-Chairman Hastings pointed out that combating discrimination against individuals because of their race, religion, national origin or gender is a core principle of the Helsinki Process and is essential to stable, productive, democratic societies. “The reality,” said Hastings, “is that none of our societies is immune from the ignorance, indifference or outright hatred that fosters discrimination, intolerance, and ultimately destruction of every sort.” Co-Chairman Hastings noted that hate crimes had increased 8% in the U.S. during 2007 amidst the resurgence of the noose and swastika, unfair equation of Muslims and migrants with terrorism, violent attacks on gays, and the derogatory parodying of minority groups in the media and elsewhere in society. “Elsewhere in the OSCE, the situation is not any better,” he said. “A number of European countries have voted extremist political parties into office that openly espouse xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic views in the name of preserving national identity and security.” These scene-setting remarks were followed by presentations from a distinguished panel including Slovenian Ambassador, Mr. Stanislav Rascan, European Commission Ambaassador Mr. Lars Erik Lundin, Israeli lawyer Ms. Gali Etzion and Professor Gert Weisskirchen, a Member of the German Bundestag and Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating anti-Semitism. Their remarks, and the discussion that followed, focused on combating discrimination through legal measures, including legislative initiatives, as well as implementation by courts; education, in particular for young people; special challenges regarding discrimination against women, including religious laws; and the necessity of continuing dialogue between governments, parliaments and NGOs on ways and means to empower individual citizens. In his closing remarks, Co-Chairman Hastings strongly urged the participants to focus on implementation of anti-discrimination laws and regulations and promotion of civic programs that encourage tolerance. He pointed out that all of us as individuals, and in particular government officials, have an obligation to combat intolerance and discrimination, as well as promote mutual respect and understanding. Hastings also stated his intention to visit all Mediterranean Partner countries within a year in his capacity as Special Representative for Mediterranean Affairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. On May 16, 2008, Co-Chairman Hastings again traveled to Israel, accompanying Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and other senior Members of Congress to mark Israel’s 60th Anniversary. Co-Chairman Hastings and the delegation met with President Peres, Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Livni, as well as with the leaders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in Jerusalem. The Co-Chairman also accompanied Speaker Pelosi on a side trip to Baghdad where they met with Prime Minister Maliki and the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, the Council. December 2008 offered the opportunity for Co-Chairman Hastings to fulfill his promise to the OSCE Mediterranean Partners Seminar and again visit all the Mediterranean Partner countries. The Co-Chairman traveled to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Israel where he met with parliamentarians and senior government officials. Co-Chairman Hastings also met with Jordanian officials in Egypt and expressed his intention to visit Jordan to complete his tour of the region in 2009. For details of the Co-Chairman’s December 2008 visit, see “U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings Visits OSCE Mediterranean Partners to Advance Regional Cooperation,” Helsinki Commission Digest, Volume 40, Number 34.

  • China, Europe and the United States: Implications for the World

    By Shelly Han, Policy Advisor On December 5 and 6, 2008, Commission staff participated in the Stockholm China Forum in Stockholm, Sweden. This biannual meeting aims to establish a systematic transatlantic dialogue about China and the impact of its rise on the transatlantic alliance. Attendees include government officials, policymakers, academics, journalists, and businesspeople from Europe, China and the United States. The Forum is organized by the German Marshall Fund, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education. Through a series of panel discussions the participants focused on the following issues: What a new U.S. Administration will mean for U.S.-China relations; The current state of EU-China relations; China’s role in the global financial crisis; and China’s relationship with Russia. The backdrop for the Forum was the severe financial crisis impacting all of the major economies. While significant focus is on actions taken by the United States to correct the market slide, it is clear that China is a lynchpin in any solution as well. China is facing significant job losses (some estimate 12-16 million potential unemployed workers over the next 12 months) as their export-led economy slows significantly. And even as China announces a $600 billion stimulus package, it is an open question whether other badly needed reforms will be made in the Chinese economy that will allow the economy to pull through. The Chinese Government’s worry extends beyond the economy. Labor protests appear to be at an all-time high and are expected to increase as more workers are laid-off. Added to that are the difficult social and political pressures that arise from the 226 million migrant laborers concentrated in the city and industrial centers of China. The Forum kicked-off with discussion of the big question on everyone’s mind: How might the incoming Obama Administration change current U.S. policy toward China? There was significant consensus that despite the policy failings of the Bush Administration in Europe and other regions, the one foreign policy bright spot has been the U.S.-China relationship. Given that, it was suggested that there would no sharp breaks in U.S. policy toward China under President Obama. However, three general areas were identified where the Obama Administration was expected to change U.S. behavior that would, in turn, continue to strengthen the overall U.S.-China relationship: (1) the United States will be more consultative and less unilateral; (2) the U.S. will be more engaged in regional concerns; and (3) Obama will terminate practices that have harmed U.S. soft power (Guantanamo detentions, renditions, obstruction of climate change negotiations, etc.). Participants discussed the reasons behind the poor EU-China relationship, which stands out in sharp contrast to the U.S.-China relationship. The EU-China relationship hit a new low just a few days before the Forum when China cancelled participation in the EU-China Summit in France because French President Nicolas Sarkozy planned to meet with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader. It was noted that bilateral relationships with the major EU Member States (excluding France) are generally better than interaction with the EU. This led one analyst to state that in its interactions with China, the EU was in danger of becoming “less than the sum of its parts” in almost every aspect of concern to the EU Member States. The question of whether Russia and China might band together to create a new axis of power was deemed unlikely. Despite China and Russia’s creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, analysts see too many points of competition and too few opportunities for cooperation in the relationship to create a true partnership. In fact, some analysts suggested that Russia may be reaching out to the European Union as an ally against what the Russian Government sees as a future world stage dominated by the U.S. and China. It is clear that despite its status as a major player in the world economy and the world’s largest carbon emitter, China is not ready to play a leadership role in climate change negotiations. This is partly because China feels it cannot afford to green their economy in the middle of a financial crisis, and also due to the lack of maturity in China’s political system. One analyst noted that China actually has an edge on the U.S. and other Western countries in some environmental technologies and therefore the West should not focus so much attention on tech transfer ideas when discussing climate change remediation, but instead help China find the economic means to implement these technologies. Despite China’s lack of leadership, many of the analysts concluded that China has matured on the world stage and become more sophisticated in its dealings with the West. While it still loudly espouses its key foreign policy tenet of non-interference in internal affairs of other countries, it has stopped using inflammatory terms such as “hegemony” to describe U.S. foreign policy and has sought to work closely with the United States to solve the financial crisis. This is only one step in the right direction, however, and it was noted that many extremely sensitive issues such as treatment of the Tibetans, the status of Taiwan and China’s own political and economic situation could overturn whatever progress has been made.

  • Georgia Rebuilds: After the August Conflict with Russia, Political and Economic Challenges Remain

    By Shelly Han, Winsome Packer, and Kyle Parker From October 14-18, Commission staff traveled to Georgia to assess recovery efforts following the conflict with Russia in early August. Through a series of meetings with Georgian officials, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, the U.S. embassy, as well as private companies, Georgian citizens, human rights groups, local and foreign analysts, and non-governmental organizations, the staff learned that tremendous progress has been made in restoring critical infrastructure and returning many internally displaced persons to their homes. However, the political and economic situation in Georgia remains fragile. While the origins of the conflict that began on August 7 are still being debated, what is clear is the tremendous cost politically, economically and socially to Georgia. Human Rights Watch, one of the few NGOs that gained access to South Ossetia immediately after the conflict, estimates that 95 percent of Georgian villages in South Ossetia were razed, and an untold number of houses have been looted and burned. South Ossetians told HRW that the burning of houses was deliberate in order to prevent the return of Georgians. HRW estimates that most of the damage was done by South Ossetian irregulars or foreign “volunteers” - not Russian troops. Russian troops had effective control of the territory but chose not to enforce law and order, making them complicit in these crimes. HRW was not able to corroborate any of the Russian allegations of Georgian atrocities inside South Ossetia, though it has accused Tbilisi of using cluster bombs. HRW has documented instances of excessive use of force by Georgian troops, but is still sorting out the facts surrounding these actions. International Monitoring Efforts Lack Access, Coordination Both the OSCE and the European Union have deployed monitors to Georgia, but have not been granted access to South Ossetia. Representatives of the EU Monitoring Mission to Georgia told Helsinki Commission staff that the monitors were unarmed and not there to provide security. Rather, their stated mission was to observe Georgian and Russian compliance with the August 12 and September 8 peace agreements between Russia and Georgia. There also seemed to be little effort to coordinate the two observation missions. Both the EU and OSCE representatives downplayed questions about a lack of coordination (as reported in Vienna by the OSCE Head of Mission in Georgia). They said that it was a matter of time and process dictating how they proceeded. Economic Cost of Conflict The economic consequences of the conflict for Georgia have been staggering. One of the keys to recovery will be boosting consumer confidence, and also reassuring investors that Georgia is a safe and stable market. Almost 24 percent of Georgia’s GDP comes from foreign direct investment (Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are significant investors) and there are signs that FDI may decrease following the conflict. Out of a pledged $1 billion in aid, the United States is providing $250 million in direct budget support to the Georgian government to help repair infrastructure and build houses for IDPs. Other donors have agreed to provide a further $3.5 billion in aid which, if distributed properly, will help Georgia weather the crisis. Commission staff visited the Black Sea port of Poti. Georgia’s main transit point for imports and exports, the port was bombed during the conflict, resulting in the death of 5 workers and an estimated US$10 million in damages. But by mid-October, commerce was almost back to normal. Georgia’s Coast Guard offices, which had been substantially damaged, were almost completely repaired. The Navy and the Coast Guard lost eight ships during the conflict, but their newer ships were evacuated to the southern port of Batumi and escaped with only minor damage. One of the hardest hit regions was the area surrounding the city of Gori, Georgia’s “breadbasket,” where up to 60 percent of the agriculture was destroyed. The U.S. Agency for International Development is spearheading a wheat seed program to help farmers plant the next crop. Irrigation is also a significant issue, since much of the water was coming from South Ossetia and irrigation canals were damaged. Alternative irrigation sources were being quickly developed to help farmers continue supplying the market. The OSCE, which was implementing extensive economic development projects in South Ossetia, has been forced to cease all programs in that region. Other micro-enterprise development programs, such as trout farms and beekeeping located in the buffer zones around South Ossetia, have been quickly re-started. Another issue that could become a flash-point in the future is the Inguri Dam, a hydroelectric facility that supplies half of Georgia’s electricity needs. The dam itself is on territory that the Georgian government controls, but the facility that provides the electricity is on territory controlled by Abkhaz separatists and their Russian allies. They could theoretically turn off the electricity for many Georgians, but Georgian authorities could counter by shutting down the dam, thus denying the Abkhaz the ability to generate electricity. Cost of Conflict is High for those Displaced from their Homes The situation for internally displaced persons in Georgia is critical. On October 9 Commission staff visited an IDP camp in Gori that was slated to be dismantled later that day. Most of the residents were being returned to their homes in the “buffer zone” adjacent to the South Ossetian border that up until the day prior had been controlled by Russian forces. As the Russians withdrew, the Georgian government was working quickly to return the IDPs to their homes. In fact, international aid agencies believed Tbilisi was moving a bit too quickly, as safety concerns remained – specifically, unexploded ordinance in the buffer zone and reports of possible sabotage. Nevertheless, the IDPs were packing up their meager belongings and preparing to leave. Those who couldn’t do so - those from South Ossetia and Akhalgori - were going to be sent to centers in the Tbilisi area. A number of aid agencies are providing assistance with food and other daily needs. One group, CHF International, provides assistance to IDPs that are living with relatives. These host families - many of whom were barely making ends meet - are stretched to the breaking point. CHF International provides fuel, extra bedding, food, or other aid that a household might need to support extra family members for an extended period of time. The Georgian government has also launched a massive construction effort to build thousands of houses for the “new” IDPs. While this effort was praised by many, it could become a source of discontent among those displaced in previous conflicts and still living in substandard conditions. Georgia Faces a Difficult Road Ahead The effectiveness of international monitoring as a deterrent to future military conflict in Georgia is uncertain. It is clear from discussions with analysts that disagreements on the delineation of the South Ossetian “border,” particularly around the city of Akhalgori, will continue to be a point of contention. As more information becomes available on what actually happened in the lead-up to the conflict in early August, it also raises questions about the effectiveness of these missions as a deterrent. Independent reports suggest that there were nearly 100,000 Russian troops in the vicinity of South Ossetia immediately preceding the fighting and it is now clear that there was a serious breakdown of early warning mechanisms that were designed to prevent this type of conflict scenario. The exact role of the monitors and their geographical range is in dispute. Russian officials continue to argue at the OSCE and other fora that the monitors are there to ensure stability and security. At the same time Russian officials are charging that the EU monitors are failing to maintain adequate security in the areas bordering South Ossetia and Abkhazia and that Georgian military and police forces are engaged in provocations and attacks against South Ossetians and Russian personnel inside South Ossetia. Ironically, the OSCE and EU Missions reported that their monitors still did not have access to South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and the Akhalgori district (now administered by Russian and South Ossetian forces). This raises concerns about Russia’s intent in denying monitors access to the regions now under their control, while demanding that the monitors ensure security in these areas. Russo-Georgian relations, which have been tense for years, have reached a nadir in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Georgia and subsequent recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made no attempt to conceal from U.S. Secretary of State Rice that getting rid of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was a key Moscow aim. As of this writing, however, he remains in office, despite Moscow’s efforts to unseat him and attempts by opposition forces to call him to account. He has so far weathered the political consequences of presiding over a stunning military defeat, the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and having to deal with thousands more displaced people. Responding to pressure from inside and outside the country, Saakashvili has pledged to introduce serious reforms, which would help promote stability within Georgia. How Tbilisi can reestablish normal relations with Moscow is harder to divine.

  • 2008 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

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

  • Symposium Focused on Future of the OSCE

    By Janice Helwig, Policy Advisor The Embassy of Finland and the Center for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University held a half-day symposium on October 15 to discuss the future of the OSCE. The symposium succeeded in laying out clearly the challenges currently facing the 56-state organization. There were, however, more questions than answers when it came to ideas on how to address those challenges. Participants in the symposium included the Secretary of State of Finland, prominent figures from OSCE’s past, academics, representatives of participating States, NGOs, and the Helsinki Commission. Finland currently holds the Chairmanship of the Vienna-based OSCE. At the outset of the meeting, there was an acknowledgement that Russia’s invasion of Georgia in early August altered the program originally envisioned by the Finnish chairmanship for the OSCE. Other issues raised included open challenges to core OSCE principles, values, and commitments; internal divisions and lack of consensus over what the organization should be doing; implications of a stronger and more active EU; and whether there is waning support for the OSCE in Washington. Rather than offering prescriptions for overcoming these challenges, many speakers instead underlined the challenges by reflecting their governments’ views of the OSCE. For example, the Russian speaker focused on President Medvedev’s June call for a new European security architecture and the need to reform the OSCE, a longstanding Moscow demand. U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer focused on the importance of implementing OSCE commitments on human rights, and the need for Kazakhstan to implement its Madrid reform promises in advance of its 2010 Chairmanship. The Kazakhstani speaker foreshadowed what could signal – for the U.S. at least – problematic views with serious implications for his country’s chairmanship, including questioning the validity and universal applicability of OSCE standards and commitments as well as raising doubt over the continued need for field missions. OSCE Secretariat representative Paul Fritch laid out frankly the challenges facing the OSCE today, and tried to start a discussion of how to address them. Early History of the Helsinki Process* The first panel focused on the history of the Helsinki Process, and featured U.S. Ambassador Max Kampelman (ret.), who had been active in the process in the 1980s, and Finnish Ambassador Markuu Reimaa, who recently published a book, Helsinki Catch, covering the negotiations leading up to the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act. Ambassador Kampelman focused on his personal experiences and on the Madrid Meeting of the CSCE (1980-1983). He stressed that the CSCE was at that time the main framework for U.S.-Soviet dialogue and for reinforcing relations with NATO allies. Kampelman acknowledged the key role played by Commission staff throughout the Madrid Meeting. He then claimed to reveal a long-held secret that he had leveraged the Soviet desire to end the Madrid Meeting by securing permission for some 250,000 individuals - mostly Jews - to emigrate from the U.S.S.R. to Israel. Ambassador Reimaa cited the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia as a crucial event that opened the eyes of many in both the West and East. He said that the negotiations leading up to the Helsinki Final Act were successful partly because none of the countries (numbering 35 at the time) expected much to come of the process. He suggested that, within two years, the Soviets were questioning the wisdom of their involvement, but that the Helsinki Process was like “a fish trap”: once in, you could not get out. He stressed the importance of dialogue, noting that CSCE offered the only venue where meaningful talks continued during the frosty first half of the 1980’s. Strengths and Weaknesses The second panel focused on the current Finnish Chairmanship of the OSCE, and featured Finnish State Secretary Pertti Torstila and Professor Terrence Hopmann of Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Secretary Torstila said that OSCE’s relevance was proven most recently in connection with the conflict in Georgia, but serious challenges to it exist in today’s world. A consensus-based organization cannot be greater than the sum of its parts, and many OSCE States are weak in their commitment to core principles. Secretary Torstila acknowledged that the state-building begun in the aftermath of the collapse of the U.S.S.R. remains incomplete, and urged that the OSCE be used as a venue for dialogue. In addition, the OSCE must avoid getting dragged down by internal wrangling, as some other International Organizations have done. He related that the CiO believes that the OSCE needs to be more involved in settling conflicts, not just managing them after the fact. Torstila provided a disappointing update on talks on Georgia that had opened and abruptly closed earlier that day in Geneva. Professor Hopmann said that the OSCE is in deep crisis at this point, arguing that the U.S. and Russia must decide if they believe the OSCE is worthwhile or not. Hopmann went on at length about the weakness of the organization’s conflict prevention capacity and the need to look at the relationship between core principles like self-determination and territorial integrity. He was highly critical of the lack of U.S. support for the organization, quipping that Washington spent more on Iraq in one hour than on the OSCE for an entire year. Beyond dwindling resources, he cited the failure of the U.S. Secretary of State to attend an OSCE Ministerial since Colin Powell in 2003. (Helsinki will serve as the venue for the 2008 OSCE Ministerial in early December.) Hopmann appealed for the next administration to play a more active role in the OSCE. The third panel focused on the future of the OSCE. It featured Mr. Aleksandr Lukashevich from the Russian Embassy, Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer, Kazakhstani Ambassador at Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev, and Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch. Mr. Lukashevich gave what appeared to be a scripted presentation of Russian views of the OSCE. He argued that the organization has failed to take the shape of an integrated security architecture that Russia had hoped it would. Instead, each OSCE country pursues its own agenda and geographic splits result. No country should predominate in the OSCE, and there should not be any “spheres of influence” in the organization. He repeated Russian assertions that the OSCE needs legal status, as well as a treaty-based Charter defining its goals adopted at the same time; he insisted that the U.S. fear that a Charter would undermine existing OSCE commitments is unfounded. Notwithstanding the restrictive proposals Moscow has circulated over the past couple of years that would undermine OSCE election observation activities and seriously weaken the role of NGOs in the organization, he rejected the notion that Russia is seeking to weaken existing OSCE institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). He insisted that Russia has a positive agenda in the OSCE and wants to give the organization a “second wind.” Moreover, Russian President Medvedev has proposed discussion of a treaty on European security that would be legally binding and that would lay out the role and obligations of States for the medium- to long-term. The new treaty should stress that all States are equal and that there should be uniform rules and legally binding security guarantees for all, as well as uniform interpretation and implementation of the treaty. Mr. Lukashevich floated a proposal for an international forum with the participation of all OSCE countries as well as leading International Organizations. He said Russia hopes that the proposal could be reflected in the upcoming Helsinki Ministerial. Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer stressed the importance of implementation of existing OSCE human rights commitments. He said that the U.S. would oppose any efforts to dilute OSCE standards or undermine the organization’s effectiveness, including its election observation activities undertaken by ODIHR and the Parliamentary Assembly. Kramer pointed out that most of the criticism of the OSCE seems to be coming from those States where fundamental freedoms are facing the most challenges. He then turned to Kazakhstan and the reform program it committed to late last year in Madrid concerning its 2010 Chairmanship. Kramer said that the U.S. is prepared to help Kazakhstan make progress on its Madrid commitments. However, currently, human rights defenders, NGOs, and independent media in Kazakhstan are threatened. Concerning Georgia, he stressed that the Russian Federation is responsible for protecting persons remaining in South Ossetia and for maintaining public order in all areas effectively under Russian control. Kramer insisted that OSCE monitors must have unimpeded access to all areas of Georgia, including South Ossetia. Kazakhstani Ambassador-at-Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev’s statement raised serious questions about how his country might run its 2010 Chairmanship. Tazhiev stressed that there should be no blind adherence to OSCE commitments; rather, cultural differences and national particularities must be taken into account. Echoing long-standing Russian claims, he said the three dimensions of the OSCE – political/military, economic and environmental, and human - are imbalanced. There is too much emphasis on the human dimension and that should be fixed. Tazhiev reiterated Kazakhstan’s promise made in Madrid not to support efforts to weaken ODIHR or election observation, but at the same time endorsed Russian proposals concerning “strengthening” OSCE election observation. (Note: Russian initiatives would eviscerate election observation, for example by giving any country a virtual veto over every aspect of the process, including the evaluation of the conduct of the election.) He said that the effectiveness of OSCE field missions is in doubt, and many host countries – particularly those in Central Asia – feel their views are not being taken into account and are therefore questioning the further need for those missions. Finally, he noted that Kazakhstan supports Russia’s view that the OSCE needs a convention giving it legal personality as well as a Charter, adopted simultaneously. The Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch, gave a thoughtful overview of where the OSCE currently stands, and asked a series of questions (though not providing answers). In the 1990s, there was a unique and historic consensus within the organization. While some States view that period as the Golden Age, others view it as a time of humiliation. Consensus is now wearing thin in all three dimensions, and it is not in style to be a “country in transition.” The situation has changed dramatically, particularly with developments in Kosovo and Georgia. There is now open military confrontation in the OSCE region, between Georgia and Russia. There are also diverging views on energy and water resources which could lead to future conflicts. It is the first time that participating States are openly challenging the validity of OSCE commitments, and universal interpretation of them is yielding to local variations. At the same time that cohesion within the OSCE is eroding, external challenges are growing in scope and complexity. Relations with other International Organizations are changing as NATO expands and the EU becomes active in more areas. Fritch then threw out several good questions. How can the OSCE promote implementation of its values when some States openly challenge them (despite the fact that they were adopted on the basis of consensus)? Do OSCE mechanisms to deal with political military challenges need to be updated? What role can the OSCE play outside its geographical area? Will the OSCE take up Medvedev and Sarkozy’s proposal for a new security architecture and an OSCE summit in 2009? Now that the EU makes up half of the OSCE participating States, how will the two organizations divide their activities? In the discussion that followed, U.S. Ambassador Julie Finley rejected Terry Hopmann’s characterization of waning U.S. interest in the OSCE. In response to Russia, she stressed that actions speak louder than words. While recent Russian words have been lovely, corresponding actions have not. Picking up on the issue of legal personality raised by several speakers, she said that as soon as the U.S. had compromised and agreed to a limited legal convention, Russia reneged on the deal and began demanding that a treaty-based Charter be adopted at the same time. She asserted that Russia constantly moves the goalposts, and that is not constructive. The OSCE should look to the future and expand its activities, perhaps by bringing Libya, Syria, and Lebanon in as Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Spencer Oliver, Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and former Commission Chief of Staff, drew on his extensive experience in the Helsinki Process dating back to the mid-1970s. He stressed the critical precedents set by the U.S. at the Belgrade Follow-up Meeting (1977-78) of naming names and being specific about human rights violations. Oliver credited Arthur J. Goldberg for his leadership of the U.S. delegation at Belgrade and commended the role played by Griffin Bell, appointed by President Carter to head the U.S. delegation at the opening of the Madrid Follow-up Meeting in 1980. Max Kampelman served under Bell until Ronald Reagan appointed him to lead the delegation through the end of the Madrid Meeting (1983). Oliver pointed out the irony that the OSCE, an organization promoting transparency, often operates behind closed doors. *encompassing the original Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and its successor since January 1, 1995, the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

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

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

  • U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Kazakhstan for OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session

    By Robert Hand, Policy Advisor Eleven Members of the U.S. Congress represented the United States at the Seventeenth Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), hosted by the Parliament of Kazakhstan from June 29 to July 3. This year’s Annual Session brought 227 parliamentarians from 50 of the 56 OSCE States together in Astana to discuss a variety of issues of importance. The designated theme for this year’s gathering was “Transparency in the OSCE.” The U.S. Delegation was led by Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Helsinki Commission Chairman. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, served as the deputy head of delegation. Other Helsinki Commissioners who also participated include Representatives Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). They were joined by Representatives Zach Wamp (R-TN), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Diane Watson (D-CA), Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU) and Gwen S. Moore (D-WI). OSCE PA Operations Reviewed Prior to the Annual Session, the Standing Committee, which is the leadership body of the Assembly composed of the Heads of Delegations representing the OSCE participating States and the elected officers, met to review OSCE PA work from the past year and to pass a budget for the next. Chaired by the OSCE PA President, Swedish parliamentarian Goran Lennmarker, the committee heard reports from the Assembly’s Treasurer, German parliamentarian Hans Raidel, and from the Secretary General, R. Spencer Oliver of the United States. The Assembly continues to operate well within its overall budget guidelines and to receive positive assessments from auditors on financial management. The Standing Committee unanimously approved the proposed budget for 2008/2009, which provides for increased expenditures of just under seven percent to cover inflation and a small increase in secretariat staff. The Standing Committee also heard reports from the Special Representatives of the OSCE PA on a variety of issues of concern. Chairman Hastings presented a summary of his activities as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, which included a recent Helsinki Commission hearing, a briefing on the plight of Iraqi refugees and a congressional visit to Israel in May, marking the country’s 60th anniversary. Similarly, Rep. Solis spoke in her capacity as the Special Representative on Migration, highlighting recent Commission hearings on women migrants and on regional impacts and opportunities for migrants. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, the Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, was unable to be present in Astana and asked that his written report be circulated to delegations. It highlights visits to Bosnia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine as well as a recent Commission hearing on combating the sexual exploitation of children. Senator Cardin attended the Standing Committee in his capacity as an OSCE PA Vice President. As Head of the U.S. Delegation at the Standing Committee, Chairman Hastings welcomed the decision of the Assembly to hold an event in Washington on the upcoming U.S. elections immediately following a September meeting of the OSCE PA in Toronto, Canada. U.S. Delegation Active on Issues With the Standing Committee’s business concluded, Assembly President Lennmarker opened the Inaugural Plenary Session, noting the importance of holding its first Annual Session in the Central Asian region. The delegates were, in turn, welcomed by Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who noted the importance of parliamentary diplomacy in democracy-building and further humanitarian and legal norms. The two Speakers of the Kazakhstan Parliament, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of the Senate and Aslan Mussin of the Mazhilis, also addressed the delegates. OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France reviewed the work of the OSCE and took questions from the parliamentarians. Members of the U.S. Delegation actively participated in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Each committee considered a draft resolution as well as 18 supplementary items circulated by delegates prior to the opening of the Astana meeting. One additional supplementary item was considered during the opening plenary. Five of the supplementary items were resolutions proposed by members of the U.S. Delegation: Encouraging Transparency in the Extractive Industries, by Co-Chairman Cardin; Recognizing the Economic, Civic and Social Contributions of Mirgrants, by Rep. Solis; Strengthening Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings and Addressing the Special Needs of Child Victims by Rep. Smith (and, in his absence, Rep. Wamp); Urging Adoption of the Paris Club Commitment Regarding Vulture Funds by Rep. Moore; and Expressing Concern Over the Security Environment in Georgia by Chairman Hastings. All were adopted with few if any amendments. The Georgia resolution, while timely, was also controversial. Parliamentarians from Russia strongly opposed the resolution on Georgia, as did some European parliamentarians, but Chairman Hastings remained firm. He pointed to the moderately worded text and noted past willingness of U.S. delegates to consider and support as warranted resolutions critical of U.S. policies. Recent Russian action in the Caucasus was of sufficient concern to a majority of the delegates present that the resolution was ultimately adopted. U.S. delegates were also instrumental in garnering support for Supplementary items by others, including a Canadian resolution on Afghanistan, a Ukrainian resolution on Holodomor (Ukrainian Famine-Genocide), and a Belgian resolution on Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children. In addition, the U.S. Delegation introduced 20 amendments to various resolutions, covering issues from pollinator decline to religious freedom. Virtually all of them were adopted, and by dividing its work almost every member of the U.S. Delegation managed at least one resolution or amendment in committee. Rep. Gwen Moore was especially active, with her own supplementary item and numerous amendments, including those calling for international action to reduce maternal mortality, which will serve as a basis for a resolution at next year’s Annual Session. Belgian Senator Anne-Marie Lizin presented a report in committee on her latest activity as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Guantanamo Bay. Rep. Butterfield responded for the U.S. Delegation, expressing appreciation for her work and describing the latest Supreme Court, congressional and non-governmental efforts dealing with this stain on the U.S. human rights record. Rep. Solis served as Acting Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions during the Annual Session, and she was subsequently elected to be the committee chair for the coming year. Rep. Solis is the first female Member of the U.S. Congress to hold a leadership position in the OSCE PA. The OSCE PA Special Representative on Gender Issues, Tone Tingsgaard (Sweden), hosted a working lunch to discuss gender issues during which she presented her thoughts for future action in the OSCE PA on these issues. The U.S. Delegation was well represented at this event. Declaration Adopted, Leadership Elected The final Astana Declaration was adopted by the participants at the Assembly’s closing plenary and reflects the initiatives and input of the U.S. Delegation. In line with the theme for the session, it calls for greater transparency in numerous fields, such as political or historical archives and the use of private military contractors, as well as within the OSCE itself. The declaration also calls for concrete steps to address global climate change, improve waste management and prepare for potential nuclear accidents and natural disasters. The full text of the Astana Declaration can be found here on the OSCE PA website. Mr. Joao Soares, a parliamentarian from Portugal, was elected to serve as OSCE PA President for the coming year. Soares brings to the office extensive experience, having been a member of the Portuguese parliament from 1987 to 1990 and again since 2002, formerly a member of the European Parliament and of the Bureau of the European Parliament, and the mayor of Lisbon from 1995 to 2002. The delegates at the Annual Session also re-elected Pia Christmas-Moeller of Denmark as a Vice president of the Assembly along with three new Vice Presidents: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan; Wolfgang Grossruck of Austria and Oleh Bilorus of Ukraine. The Eighteenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held in July 2009 in Vilnius, Lithuania Needed Focus on Kazakh Hosts While the Delegation’s work focused heavily on OSCE PA matters, the venue presented an opportunity to advance U.S. interests and express U.S. concerns with our Kazakhstani hosts. The U.S. Delegation had meetings with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Prime Minister Karim Masimov and Secretary of State Kanat Saudabayev as well as with prominent Kazakh human rights activists and opposition leaders. Members of the delegation also visited Beit Rachel, the largest synagogue in Central Asia, and met with the chief rabbi and the deputy imam from the Islamic community to discuss inter-faith tolerance and protection of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, especially for religious minorities. The U.S. delegation held a press conference in Astana, during which Members conveyed their willingness to work with Kazakhstan throughout its OSCE chairmanship in 2010. They strongly urged, however, greater progress regarding human rights and political reforms in keeping with the commitments Kazakhstan made at the Madrid OSCE Ministerial in November 2007, where the decision on the 2010 chairmanship was made. Ongoing OSCE PA Activity The Parliamentary Assembly does not surface once every July but remains continually active throughout the year. A Fall Meeting will be held in September in Toronto, Canada, which will include a special focus on Mediterranean issues and on trade, security and migration. President Emeritus Lennmarker, who has been selected by President Soares to serve as a OSCE PA Special Representative for Georgia, will address the delegates about his first-hand observations about the conflict in that country. In February 2009, the Assembly will have its annual Winter Meeting in Vienna, Austria, to review OSCE work and debate selected topics of common concern. The OSCE PA leadership also meets in the Spring in Copenhagen and in conjunction with the annual OSCE Ministerial, held in the country currently chairing the organization. In between, the OSCE PA continues to play a leading role in election observation in the OSCE region and participates in numerous OSCE meetings, especially through its representation in Vienna, as well as in inter-parliamentary seminars and conferences throughout the year.  

  • The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in Kazakhstan

    Madam Speaker, I hereby submit, for the record, the text of my report to you on the activities of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, held in early July in Astana, Kazakhstan. I want to thank you for allowing me to serve as the head of this delegation, and to express my gratitude to our colleague in the other chamber, Senator Ben Cardin, for serving as the deputy head of the delegation.  I will refrain from repeating here the details of our trip, which can be found in the report, but I would like to make three brief points.  First, I want to praise the work of my ten colleagues who participated on the delegation, namely Mr. Aderholt, Mr. McIntyre, Ms. Solis and Mr. Butterfield who serve with me on the Helsinki Commission, as well as Mr. Wamp, Ms. Loretta Sanchez, Ms. Watson, Ms. Bordallo and Ms. Moore. All were active at the meeting, either speaking or introducing resolutions on issues of concern or making amendments to the initiatives of other delegations. Our colleague Hilda Solis deserves special praise for seeking and being elected to chair a committee in the OSCE PA this coming year, as does Gwen Moore for her many initiatives that kept her busy.  Second, I want to stress to all my colleagues how useful engagement in world affairs is, and the degree to which it advances U.S. interests by being out there, ready to discuss, to debate and ultimately to cooperate in making this a better world. In the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe, or the OSCE as it is often known, there is a strong parliamentary dimension that allows us to engage our allies and friends in Europe and Canada, and including the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. We discuss everything from human rights and democracy, to energy and the environment, to regional security and terrorism. I invite my colleagues to consider joining me for next year’s session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania.  Third, I want to say a word about Kazakhstan, which served as this year’s host. Kazakhstan is a large, resource-rich and strategically located country, and a country that wishes to play a stronger role in the OSCE and in world affairs generally. The U.S. delegation used its presence in Astana to welcome that fact, and to express our willingness to work with Kazakhstan to that end. At the same time, the Assembly meeting provided an opportunity to stress the need for Kazakhstan to make greater progress regarding human rights and political reforms, in line with its OSCE commitments but also with specific promises its leaders made when the OSCE designated Kazakhstan to chair the organization in 2010.  The final declaration of the OSCE PA Annual Session can be found on the Assembly’s website or by contacting the Helsinki Commission, which I chair. Again, thank you Madam Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to lead this delegation, which accomplished a great deal.

  • Promises to Keep: Kazakhstan’s 2010 OSCE Chairmanship

    This hearing, presided over by Alcee Hastings, discussed Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE.   Kazakhstan, which started the bidding process in 2003, hoped to be the first Central Asian country to lead the OSCE.  The Commissioners and witnesses discussed the suitability of Kazakhstan to lead the OSCE, given its track record on democracy and human rights.

  • Georgians Return to Polls to Elect New Parliament as Political Polarization Persists

    By Ronald J. McNamara and Orest Deychakiwsky For the second time this year, Georgians went to the polls in national elections, casting ballots on May 21, 2008, for a new slimmed down 150–seat unicameral parliament, known as the Supreme Council, with half filled through proportional party lists and the other by single-mandate districts. Previous parliaments comprised 235 members. Timing of the parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for fall 2008, became a contentious issue late last year as violence erupted on the streets of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, leading to early presidential elections and a plebiscite on when to hold the parliamentary contest. Incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili was reelected president in the January 5 election, narrowly escaping a second round. According to final results reported by the Central Election Commission, Saakashvili won 53.47 percent of the vote, with 70 percent of those casting ballots supporting the holding of early parliamentary elections. On March 21, the president called for the elections to be held in two months time. Mr. João Soares of Portugal, a Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at the time, was appointed as Special Coordinator of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office to lead short-term observers of the OSCE’s International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). In all, the OSCE fielded over 550 observers from 48 countries, including a parliamentary component of over 100 drawn from the OSCE PA, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the NATO PA. International observers, including two members of the Helsinki Commission staff, participated in an extensive program of briefings in Tbilisi prior to election day, including presentations by the ODIHR Core Team and the Central Elections Commission as well as a wide range of international and domestic NGO experts. Observers also heard from representatives of most of the political parties and blocs fielding candidates: Georgian Politics, the Republic Party, the Rights Alliance, the Labor Party, the United National Movement – for Victorious Georgia, the Georgian Union of Sportsmen, the United Opposition bloc, the All Georgian National Party of Radical Democrats, the Christian-Democratic Movement, and Our Country. In all, nine political parties and three blocs were registered for the parliamentary contest, including the newly formed Christian-Democratic Movement. In all, IEOM observer teams visited nearly 1,500 of the country’s 3,641 polling stations on election day. Helsinki Commission staff observed in the Marneuli Rayon, south of Tbilisi, a predominately Azeri region bordering on neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia. According to the 2002 national census, the Azeri minority constituted 6.5 percent of Georgia’s population. This rural agricultural region comprises the District Election Commission 22, with 84 individual polling stations for slightly over 90,000 registered voters. Interest in observing in the Marneuli region was based in part on irregularities observed during the January 2008 presidential election. Several polling stations, at that time, registered voter turnouts in excess of 100 percent, with over 88 percent of the vote going to Saakashvili, exceptionally high when compared with other districts in that part of the country. Commission staff observed an opening and the voting in nearly a dozen individual polling stations throughout the rayon, or county. Among those sites visited was the area’s largest military installation, where soldiers lined up to cast their votes as senior officers chatted outside of the station. With a few exceptions, the balloting was conducted in an orderly manner and in line with CEC procedures. An exception was a polling station close to the Armenian border in which pandemonium prevailed and a number of serious irregularities were observed by the team. Conspicuously, ballots at the station and other voting materials lacked the required serial numbers. Domestic party observers were vocally protesting procedural problems at the station as one from their ranks was repeatedly rebuffed by the precinct chairman when the observer sought to lodge a formal written complaint in the official journal. Local police were called to the scene, though they stayed at a distance as long as the Helsinki Commission team was present. The closing and tabulation observed at another station proceeded smoothly, with good cooperation among the poll workers. The following day, on May 22, Soares held a press conference in Tbilisi to issue a statement of preliminary conclusions on behalf of the IEOM: “Overall, these elections clearly offered an opportunity for the Georgian people to choose their representatives from amongst a wide array of choices. The authorities and other political stakeholders made efforts to conduct these elections in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments. The International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) identified a number of problems which made this implementation uneven and incomplete.” Addressing a protest rally on May 26, Levan Gachechiladze, the leader of the United Opposition called for annulment of the election results. “We will not let a handful of criminals run the country,” he told supporters. Fellow opposition leader Davit Gamkrelidze told the crowd, “I have no right to enter a parliament that is the product of illegality, terror, and an illicit government. I cannot become a member of a parliament that is illegitimate, unlawful, and which is a product of Soviet-style elections.” On June 5, the Central Election Commission issued a release summarizing the elections results. According to the CEC, four political parties passed the 5 percent threshold based on the proportional system: United National Movement (59.18%), or 48 seats, the United Opposition (17.73%), 15 seats, Christian-Democrat (8.66%) and the Labor Party (7.44%), 6 seats each. The results of single-mandate contests were: 71 seats for the United National Movement, 2 seats for the United Opposition, and 2 for the Republican Party. In total, the United National Movement won 119 seats, a constitutional majority. The United Opposition leadership moved quickly to request the cancellation of the mandates for seats won by the party, precluding individuals lower on their list from occupying the seats. Four of those elected, however, broke ranks with their leaders, refusing to relinquish their seats. The Labor party chose to neither cancel nor occupy their seats in parliament. Meanwhile, the Christian-Democratic party positioned itself to foster unity among the small group of non-UNM members. Results for Marneuli showed overwhelming support for the ruling UNM, with 84.49%, far exceeding the level for the country as a whole. The only other party to pass the threshold in the region was the United Opposition, with 6.79%. Similar lopsided tallies favoring the UNM were recorded in six other regions, notably the predominately Armenian Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, where support for the ruling party surpassed 90 percent. Traditionally, areas of Georgia with high concentrations of ethnic minorities, such as these, have turned out in large numbers, voting overwhelmingly for whatever the ruling party was at the time. The newly-elected parliament held its inaugural session on June 7. In remarks before the new parliament, President Saakashvili acknowledged the challenges facing the country’s elected leadership, “The entire world is looking at Georgia today. The Georgian people have overcome the most difficult political crisis last autumn at the expense of democratic consolidation. We have managed to overcome the political crisis with the help of democratic institutions, to solve all problems through peaceful democratic methods.” He continued, “our obligation is to make our compatriots feel that they are represented in the country’s governance; even the smallest group should feel that it has the right to be represented in the country’s governance, in making decisions about the future of our country.” Saakashvili concluded by stressing the importance of undertaking further reforms and fostering unity. In testimony before Congress several weeks after the elections, Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, remarked, “Georgian democracy continues to lack a necessary element – a credible and viable opposition – and the United National Movement and the United Opposition share the blame for this shortcoming. Without a viable opposition, an empowered, independent parliament and strong, credible judiciary, and a reform process that respects dissenting voices, democracy will not be consolidated.” While political polarization persists in the country, it was less palpable at the time of the parliamentary elections than in January, when there were widespread concerns that the violent street clashes of November could be reignited. Heightened tensions over the breakaway region of Abkhazia and the possibility of war erupting with Russia following the April 20 shoot down of an unmanned aerial vehicle by a Russian fighter over Georgian airspace seemed to trump domestic political squabbling in the lead up to the parliamentary elections. Overcoming political turmoil and polarization in the country takes on even greater importance in the face of ever-growing Russian threats and provocative actions undermining Georgia’s territorial integrity. The Georgian authorities should build upon the reforms instituted in electoral laws and procedures prior to the parliamentary elections. A lingering concern that deserves attention is the low confidence among voters regarding the electoral process and skepticism regarding the role of the international community. Similarly, allegations of campaign irregularities from recent elections, including use of administrative resources by the ruling party; campaigning by state officials; intimidation of state workers, especially teachers; pressure on businesses to make campaign “donations”; unbalanced television coverage on private stations; ruling party dominance of elections commissions; and lingering errors on voters lists should be taken seriously and dealt with by the authorities. These and other concerns are discussed in greater detail in the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions issued by the IEOM on May 22, 2008. A final report on the May 21 parliamentary elections is expected to be released by the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights shortly.

  • Racism and Xenophobia: The Role of Governments in Addressing Continuing Challenges

    by Mischa Thompson, PhD and Alex Johnson, Staff Advisors On May 29-30, 2008, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) held the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM), titled “The Role of National Institutions against Discrimination in Combating Racism and Xenophobia with Special Focus on Persons belonging to National Minorities and Migrants” (http://www.osce.org/conferences/shdm1_2008.html). Prior to the meeting, a “roundtable for civil society" was organized by ODIHR to enable civil society representatives to prepare recommendations to be presented during the Opening Session of the SHDM. The purpose of the Supplementary Meeting was to focus on “National Institutions Against Discrimination” (NIADs) that OSCE countries have developed to combat racism and discrimination. The majority of OSCE countries have in place national human rights or ombudsman institutions to deal with human rights violations in general, however, their mandates and capacity to deal more specifically with manifestations of racism and xenophobia vary, with some having little to no focus on this area. The SHDM examined the role of national institutions in responding to and combating racism and xenophobia in particular, where such cases involve persons belonging to national minorities and migrants. Official delegations from the OSCE countries took part in the conference, including participation from the U.S. Congress. Representative Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), participated as head of the Official OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation in his role as President Emeritus of the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). The U.S. Delegation included U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley, as well as Naomi Churchill Earp, Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two-day Conference featured three panels focused on the role and mandate of NIADs in combating racism and xenophobia, overcoming challenges, and good practices. Additionally, there was a side event hosted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and ODIHR entitled, “Is the right to asylum undermined by racism and xenophobia?” The conference was held in Austria, where reports from the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (EUFRA) and European Network Against Racism (ENAR) had previously cited numerous cases of racism and discrimination impacting Roma, Black, Muslim, Jewish, and migrant communities in education, employment, housing, criminal justice, and other areas (see http://www.fra.europa.eu/factsheets/front/factSheetPage.php?category=1136&country=4&year=2008; http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/national/Austria_2006.pdf.) Chairman Hastings, representing the OSCE PA, delivered remarks at the Opening Session of the meeting following presentations from the outgoing Director of ODIHR, Ambassador Christian Strohal, and the incoming Director of EUFRA, Morten Kjaerum. Chairman Hastings’ remarks focused on the importance of the U.S. story in developing remedies to historic injustices, lessons learned, and remaining challenges, including those faced by migrant populations. He noted that, “given the multiple effects of racism and discrimination, there is no single government office that can fully address the problem [and that] the decades of U.S. government institutions fighting discrimination, recruiting from diverse communities, providing education and training opportunities for minorities coupled with efforts from the civil society and private sector were critical to [gains minorities have made in the U.S.].” In addition to noting the need for minority input in the creation and implementation of any strategies, he also stressed the need for action. “I’ve been meeting on efforts to stop racism for 30 years. It’s time for something to be done,” he said. The need for action also was underscored by a number of attendees of the meeting who cited numerous problems with the political independence of, funding, structure, knowledge of, and mandate of NIADs, which impacted their abilities to adequately address problems faced by the communities they were designed to assist. Calls for NIADs to be independent were raised by numerous civil society members, as they felt links to government prevented prompt and appropriate responses to acts of discrimination. Additionally, this was said to impact their structure, as members of the affected communities cited that they were not appointed to the boards, employed in the organizations, nor consulted in the plans and initiatives of the institutions. One civil society participant cited as evidence of this, that a number of the panelists at the SHDM were not “Muslim, Black, or some other visible minority,” despite playing leading roles in NIADs. Others noted cronyism in the appointments, leading to questions of whether the leaders of a number of the organizations possessed the ‘cultural competency’ needed to adequately address problems of racism and xenophobia. Concerns about the mandates were also raised, as they were often focused on legal remedies, data collection, and assisting victims, but may not have included or were unsuccessful with outreach, education, and/or empowerment tools, e.g., informing affected communities of anti-discrimination laws and initiatives, providing technical assistance to minority/migrant organizations to represent themselves. For many, these problems indicated a lack of actual political will to solve the problems, which was then also reflected in several NIADs reporting a lack of government funding. These concerns were noted as reasons civil society was in some countries assuming and/or being asked to assume government responsibilities for addressing racism and xenophobia. Addressing some of these concerns, and underscoring a number of Chairman Hastings’ observations, U.S. delegate Naomi Earp of the EEOC provided remarks on the U.S. approach to combating discrimination during the Opening Session and Session III of the Meeting (Document 1, Document 2). Noting that, “Sadly racism is alive and well,” she detailed the numerous federal, state, and local civil rights programs and institutions in the U.S. created to implement racial equality. She cited politics and funding as primary challenges and noted the need for “a viable consensus” among government actors, civil society, the private sector, and other affected parties to prioritize and formulate successful strategies. “Nations must understand that institutionalizing equal opportunity, while laudable, has financial consequences,” she said, including details of the importance of planned and adequate funding. Moving beyond a paradigm of addressing violent forms of discrimination, she also noted the need to combat systematic or institutionalized discrimination, as well as subtle and blatant forms of discrimination that impact hiring, promotions, and other aspects of the workplace (see E-Race initiative http://www.eeoc.gov/initiatives/e-race/index.html). A number of other participating States, such as France and Belgium noted how their NIADs were organized and what they did. Others reiterated the growing problems of racism and xenophobia in their societies and cited the need for solutions. Russian Ombudsman Vladmir Lukin remarked, “extremist ideas and xenophobic attitudes are nowadays commonly concealed as formally legitimate disagreement to a state’s migration policy,” and that solutions should also focus on tolerance education, as “responding to already committed crimes makes it impossible to start their effective prevention.” The Meeting ended with OSCE Chair-in-Office Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions, Anastasia Crickley calling for an increased focus on implementing solutions. She noted that the remarks of two Americans, Chairman Alcee L. Hastings and Naomi Earp, illuminated two key concepts participants should take away from the SHDM. First, she observed that Chairman Hastings demonstrated why, “national institutions and official agencies should reflect the diversity of the communities they represent,” and second that, Ms. Earp demonstrated that participants must “measure issues so that they can address them.” Ms. Crickley also observed that a number of forms of discrimination were inadequately engaged throughout the SHDM proceedings, particularly discrimination faced by Roma and Sinti communities. Expected outcomes of the meeting included the creation and/or strengthening of NIADs by OSCE participating States, increased cooperation and partnerships of NIADs with civil society, and assistance for burgeoning NIADs. Additionally, the development and implementation of national action plans with the consultation of civil society, improved data collection, research, and reporting, and maintaining a focus on combating racism and xenophobia in the face of attempts to refocus the conversation solely on integration and immigration were highlighted. Many questions of what the follow-up to this meeting could be remained, including possible trainings and technical assistance to strengthen NIADs, outreach and empowerment initiatives for affected communities, the role of the private sector, and as well as the need for participating States themselves to better understand racism, xenophobia, and discrimination and how best to adequately, design, fund, implement, and sustain successful strategies.

  • Italian Fingerprinting Targeting Romani Communities Triggers Protests; OSCE Pledges Fact-Finding

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law On July 10 and 11, the OSCE participating States held the 2nd of this year’s three Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDMs). This meeting, formally devoted to consideration of “Sustainable Policies for Roma and Sinti Integration,” also became a forum to protest Italy’s announced plans to fingerprint Roma and Sinti – and no one else. (“Sinti” is the term of self-ascription used by a Romani people primarily in historically German-speaking areas of Europe.) The OSCE’s newly appointed Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Janez Lenarcic, announced at the meeting’s opening that the OSCE and Council of Europe would undertake a fact-finding trip to Italy to examine the situation of the Roma there. Overview of Meeting The OSCE holds three Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings each year. These are two-day human rights meetings held in Vienna, Austria (where the OSCE is headquartered). As originally conceived, these meetings are intended to bring topical human rights issues closer to the Permanent Council of the 56 participating States, the key decision-making body of the OSCE. The topics for the SHDMs are chosen by the OSCE Chair-in-Office (a post currently held by Finland), in consultation with the participating States. The SHDMs augment the annual two-week human dimension implementation review, typically held in the fall in Warsaw. Participants at this meeting included representatives from the national delegations to the OSCE in Vienna; government representatives from capitals (including from offices or departments specializing in Romani concerns); local authorities with responsibility for implementing policies relating to Romani minorities; representatives of Romani and other non-governmental organizations (NGO); and international organizations (such as the Council of Europe and United Nations Development Program). The meeting was divided into successive sessions: 1) an opening session which included keynote remarks presented by Romanian Government State Secretary Gruia Bumba, head of Romania’s National Agency for Roma; 2) a session on the role and responsibility of regional and local authorities to assist in integrating Roma; 3) a session on good practices and major challenges in improving the situation of Roma at the local level; 4) a session on policies to facilitate equal access of Roma and Sinti to public services and education; and 5) closing remarks. These discussions were enriched by the insights of officials actually implementing policies or programs relating to Roma at the local or regional level, including the Head of the Unit of Attention for the Roma Community from the Catalan Government in Spain; the Director of Empowering Social Work and Basic Security from the City of Jyvaskyla, Finland; the Vice Mayor of the City of Bologna, Italy; and the Mayor of Trikala, Greece, among others. In addition to these formal sessions, a civil society round-table was held on the morning of the first day, enabling Romani civil society representatives to present shared concerns to the OSCE participating States during the opening session. Three additional side events were held on: the effective use of the European Court of Human Rights judgments; building partnerships between Romani communities and local authorities; and fundament rights and freedom of Roma in Italy. The Italian Job As a practical matter, the advanced planning time-line required for these meetings makes it difficult to select topics that are particularly time-sensitive or reflect breaking developments. The timing of this particular SHDM, however, more-or-less coincided with the announcement by the Italian Government that Roma and Sinti – including European Union citizens – would be singled out for fingerprinting by the country’s law enforcement authorities. As a consequence, the meeting was sharply punctuated by discussions of developments in Italy. The fingerprinting plan, reportedly to be administered with the collection of data on ethnicity and religion, is the latest culmination of a growing anti-migrant and anti-Roma sentiment in Italy. Intolerance in Italy escalated with the latest wave of EU expansion, after which an increased number of Romanian nationals went to Italy to work; a weakened Italian economy; and the election earlier this year of political leaders who campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform. Sharp criticism of the situation in Italy was therefore a reoccurring theme, beginning with a protest action at the opening session. At a pre-determined moment, several dozen non-governmental activists rose in unison, many wearing t-shirts bearing the image of an out-sized fingerprint and the words “no ethnic profiling” over it, or holding enlarged photos of Romani camps that had been torched by mobs in Italy. They demanded an end to the selective fingerprinting of Roma. Moreover, one Romani non-governmental representative observed that no perpetrators have been held accountable for torching Romani camps or other acts of violence and warned that, if unchecked, such violence would surely result in deaths. He called on Italy to report to the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting on actions taken to hold perpetrators accountable. On the second day of the meeting, a similar group gathered in front of the OSCE’s meeting site, and marched through Vienna to the offices of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. Then, at the side event focused on the situation in Italy, a coalition of NGOs (the European Roma Rights Center, the Open Society Institute, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Romani CRISS and the Roma Civic Alliance of Romania) launched a report on Italy outlining the “extreme degradation of Roma rights in Italy.” NGO representatives who had visited destroyed camps described finding toys and clothes left behind, as victims fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Italy was well represented at the meeting by representatives from their permanent delegation to the OSCE as well from the Ministry of Interior. They came to all events, including to the side event on the situation of Roma in Italy, and responded politely to the issues raised. In particular, Italian authorities claimed that manifestations of racism against Roma had been widely condemned in Italy. Notwithstanding their conciliatory demeanor, Italian officials stood by their plans to move ahead with the fingerprinting operation targeting Romani communities. In this context, it was particularly interesting to hear an alternative view from a local government official from Bologna. She clearly sought to distance herself from the national policies under fire, and described the challenges local officials had absorbing or responding to an increased number of Romani migrants, without assistance from or a strategic plan on the part of the national government. The Romanian Government was restrained, but circulated a formal document of protest, “request[ing] the European Union to recommend the Italian Government to give up the fingerprinting measures of Roma persons and to observe and enforce the aquis communitaire regarding the fundamental rights of European Union citizens, including of Romanian citizens of Roma origin.” Although the ECONOMIST recently described Europe’s diverse and dispersed Romani communities as “bound only by music,” one might have added, “and an extensive network of electronic devices.” Even as the OSCE held its human dimension meeting in Vienna, email messages arrived on participants’ cell phones and blackberries reporting that the European Union Parliament had adopted a resolution calling on Italy to stop the fingerprinting.

  • U.S. - Russian Relations: Looking Ahead to the Medvedev Administration

    This hearing examined the future of U.S-Russia bi-lateral relations with Medvedev’s administration. The hearing focused on the hopes of improved relations between the two countries in respect for the new Russian president’s attention for rule of law and human rights. However, witnesses discussed how President Medvedev may not be able to function independantly, given that the former President, Vladimir Putin, will be the Prime Minister. The witnesses and the Commissioners discussed the political situation in Moscow and how the U.S. should respond within the OSCE framework.

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

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

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

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

  • The Museum of the History of Polish Jews

    Witnesses in this hearing spoke about their vision for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, its mission, and what it means for Poland – a country that was once home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. The witnesses also highlighted the major significance the museum has for Poland and its post-war identity.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Visits Prague and Bratislava

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

  • NATO Enlargement and the Bucharest Summit

    This hearing was chaired by Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings and attended by commissioners Ben Cardin and Mike McIntyre. Witnesses included Dr. Michael Haltzel, senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University; Janusz Bugajski, director of the New European Democracies Project and senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Europe Program; and Steven Pifer, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and Senior Advisor at CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program Center. The hearing focused on the possible inclusion of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia in the upcoming NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania. It also discussed extending Membership Action Plans to Ukraine and Georgia. More broadly, the hearing focused on the degree to which these states had transformed their policies and institutions in order to join NATO.

  • Commission Staff Participates in Conference on Roma; Greece Slated to Serve as OSCE Chair in 2009

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law U.S. Embassy in Athens Organizes Conference on Romani Issues On February 29, Helsinki Commission staff participated in a conference on Romani issues organized by the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, primarily for human rights officers from U.S. Embassies in Europe. The conference was designed to improve understanding of Romani minority concerns, and to allow human rights officers to share information and ideas related to their congressionally mandated human rights reporting obligations. The conference underscored the strong interest of the United States in the situation of Romani minority communities throughout the OSCE region and provided a useful opportunity for human rights officers to improve their knowledge of this minority group’s history and experiences. Roma now constitute the largest ethnic minority in the European Union. The conference was opened by the United States Ambassador to Greece, Daniel Speckhard. Andrzej Mirga, the senior advisor for Romani issues with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (Warsaw) and Helsinki Commission staff served as speakers during the morning session. Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor spoke during a working lunch. In the afternoon, Embassy officials from various posts led “best practices” discussion groups – although it proved more difficult to identify such practices than one might have hoped. Commission Staff Visit Romani Shanty Towns On the margins of the conference, Commission staff held meetings on Romani issues with representatives of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Division for International Human Rights, Refugees, and Immigration; the Ombudsman for Human Rights; the Ministry of Interior; and the Ministry of Education. In addition, staff visited several Romani shanty towns in the Athens region, including the infamous Aspropyrgos camp. Greece does not recognize any groups as “minorities” other than those few formally recognized under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne (primarily the Muslims of Western Thrace). Accordingly, Roma are not considered an ethnic minority but a “socially vulnerable group.” It is estimated that there are roughly 150,000-300,000 Roma in Greece, out of a population of 11-million-plus. This population largely consists of indigenous Greek Roma, but also includes some Roma who have migrated from Albania in recent years. Greece does not count people according to ethnic affiliation or identity on its national census. Roma in Greece face problems similar to those faced by Roma in other countries. In recent years, Romani plaintiffs have successfully brought cases against Greece before the European Court of Human Rights, including for ill-treatment or excessive use of force by the police. Non-governmental organizations have also been particularly concerned by the deplorable conditions in some Romani shanty towns and the lack of equal access to education and the ability of Roma to obtain documents. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has also expressed concern about forced evictions of Roma. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin and Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter participated in a Helsinki Commission delegation to Greece in early 1998, and met with (among others) Romani representatives. Greece Slated to Serve as OSCE Chair Greece is slated to serve as Chair of the OSCE in 2009; Kazakhstan has been selected to serve in that position in 2010. Finland serves as the current OSCE Chair-in-Office. At his inaugural address to the OSCE Permanent Council in January, Finnish Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva stated, “More can be done also to fight discrimination against Roma and Sinti. I count on all participating States to renew their commitment to implementing the recommendations in the OSCE Action Plan of 2003.” Finland plans to schedule one of this year’s three Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings on Romani human rights issues.

Pages