Floor Debate of H. Con. Res. 49 Condemning Anti-Semitism in Europe

Floor Debate of H. Con. Res. 49 Condemning Anti-Semitism in Europe

Hon.
Christopher Smith
Washington, DC
United States
House of Representatives
108th Congress
First Session
Congressional Record, Vol. 149
No. 95
Thursday, July 03, 2003
EXPRESSING SENSE OF CONGRESS THAT ESCALATION OF ANTI-SEMITIC VIOLENCE WITHIN PARTICIPATING STATES OF OSCE IS OF PROFOUND CONCERN AND EFFORTS SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN TO PREVENT FUTURE OCCURRENCES

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution (H . Con . Res . 49 ) expressing the sense of the Congress that the sharp escalation of anti-Semitic violence within many participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is of profound concern and efforts should be undertaken to prevent future occurrences.

The Clerk read as follows:

H . Con . Res . 49

Whereas the expressions of anti-Semitism experienced throughout the region encompassing the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have included physical assaults, with some instances involving weapons or stones, arson of synagogues, and desecration of Jewish cultural sites, such as cemeteries and statues;

Whereas vicious propaganda and violence in many OSCE States against Jews, foreigners, and others portrayed as alien have reached alarming levels, in part due to the dangerous promotion of aggressive nationalism by political figures and others;

Whereas violence and other manifestations of xenophobia and discrimination can never be justified by political issues or international developments;

Whereas the Copenhagen Concluding Document adopted by the OSCE in 1990 was the first international agreement to condemn anti-Semitic acts, and the OSCE participating States pledged to “clearly and unequivocally condemn totalitarianism, racial and ethnic hatred, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and discrimination against anyone as well as persecution on religious and ideological grounds”;

Whereas the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at its meeting in Berlin in July 2002 unanimously adopted a resolution that, inter alia, called upon participating States to “ensure aggressive law enforcement by local and national authorities, including thorough investigation of anti-Semitic criminal acts, apprehension of perpetrators, initiation of appropriate criminal prosecutions and judicial proceedings”;

Whereas Decision No. 6 adopted by the OSCE Ministerial Council at its Tenth Meeting in Porto, Portugal in December 2002 (the “Porto Ministerial Declaration”) condemned “the recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE area, recognizing the role that the existence of anti-Semitism has played throughout history as a major threat to freedom”;

Whereas the Porto Ministerial Declaration also urged “the convening of separately designated human dimension events on issues addressed in this decision, including on the topics of anti-Semitism, discrimination and racism and xenophobia”; and

Whereas on December 10, 2002, at the Washington Parliamentary Forum on Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region, representatives of the United States Congress and the German Parliament agreed to denounce all forms of anti-Semitism and agreed that “anti-Semitic bigotry must have no place in our democratic societies”: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that--

(1) officials of the executive branch and Members of Congress should raise the issue of anti-Semitism in their bilateral contacts with other countries and at multilateral fora, including meetings of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Twelfth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to be convened in July 2003;

(2) participating States of the OSCE should unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism (including violence against Jews and Jewish cultural sites), racial and ethnic hatred, xenophobia, and discrimination, as well as persecution on religious grounds whenever it occurs;

(3) participating States of the OSCE should ensure effective law enforcement by local and national authorities against criminal acts stemming from anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or racial or ethnic hatred, whether directed at individuals, communities, or property, including thorough investigation and prosecution of such acts;

(4) participating States of the OSCE should promote the creation of educational efforts throughout the region encompassing the participating States of the OSCE to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people, increase Holocaust awareness programs, and help identify the necessary resources to accomplish this goal;

(5) legislators in all OSCE participating States should play a leading role in combating anti-Semitism and ensure that the resolution adopted at the 2002 meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Berlin is followed up by a series of concrete actions at the national level; and

(6) the OSCE should organize a separately designated human dimension event on anti-Semitism as early as possible in 2003, consistent with the Porto Ministerial Declaration adopted by the OSCE at the Tenth Meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in December 2002.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) each will control 20 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith).

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, anti-Semitism is a deadly disease of the heart that leads to violence, cruelty, and unspeakable acts of horror. The anti-Semite is, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel grimly wrote last week, an ideological fanatic and pathological racist: “An anti-Semite is someone who never met me, never heard of me, yet he hates me.”

While we all are aware and deplore the hate crimes and cowardly acts that are committed routinely by Hamas and their like-minded murderers, what is new, Mr. Speaker, is the enormous surge in anti-Semitic acts and the resurgence of hatred for Jews in Europe, the United States, and in Canada.

Just a brief look, Mr. Speaker, of some of the startling statistics makes the point. In France, for example, there was a 600 percent increase in anti-Semitic acts from the year 2001 to the year 2002. Thankfully, the French have moved with new legislation designed to not only chronicle and get a better handle on how often these hate crimes are occurring, but they are also trying to stop them.

The Anti-Defamation League, Mr. Speaker, did a survey that also showed a spike in five other countries of Europe. They found that 21 percent of the people in those five countries had strongly anti-Semitic perspectives or views. The ADL also looked at the United States and found that 17 percent of our own people in the United States had strong anti-Semitic views. If you extrapolate that, Mr. Speaker, that is about 35 million Americans. That is up 5 percent from just 5 years ago.

H . Con . Res . 49 recognizes this dangerous and alarming trend, condemns this ancient-modern scourge, and calls on each of the 55 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to take concrete steps to eradicate anti-Semitism. The resolution before us today is an unequivocal condemnation of violence against Jews and Jewish cultural sites, racial and ethnic hatred, xenophobia and discrimination, as well as persecution on religious grounds wherever it occurs.

The resolution calls on all the states of the OSCE to ensure effective law enforcement and prosecution of individuals perpetrating anti-Semitic violence as well as urging the parliaments of all those states to take concrete legislative action at the national level. We are encouraging, Mr. Speaker, the creation of education efforts to counter these anti-Semitic stereotypes and the attitudes that we are seeing increasingly among younger people. We are calling for an increase in Holocaust awareness programs, and seeking to identify necessary resources to accomplish these goals.

Mr. Speaker, as chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I chaired a congressional hearing and three international summits on anti-Semitism within the last year alone. Joined by my good friend and colleague from the German Bundestag, Gert Weisskirchen, at the three special summits, and my good friend and colleague, the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), who I thank as well for his good work on this, these summits have focused on this rising tide of anti-Semitism.

The summits, Mr. Speaker, were held in Berlin, in 2002; in Washington, in December of 2002; and in Vienna, earlier this year, in February. We heard from world renowned leaders, including Rabbi Israel Singer, President of the World Jewish Congress; Ambassador Alfred Moses, Abraham Foxman and Ken Jacobson of the Anti-Defamation League; Mark Levin from the NCSJ; Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee; Dr. Shimon Samuels, director of the Weisenthal Center located in Paris; and many others, Amnesty International and other human rights’ organizations, all of whom made very powerful statements about this alarming rise of hate directed towards Jews.

Let me just quote for my colleagues what Dr. Samuels said, very briefly: “The Holocaust, for 30 years, acted as a protective Teflon against blatant anti-Semitic expression. That Teflon has eroded, and what was considered distasteful and politically incorrect is becoming simply an opinion. But cocktail chatter at fine English dinners can end as Molotov cocktails against synagogues. Political correctness is also ending for others, as tolerance for multiculturalism gives way to populist voices in France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, and the Netherlands. These countries’ Jewish communities can be caught between the rock of radical Islamic violence and the hard place of a revitalized Holocaust-denying extreme right. Common cause must be sought between the victimized minorities against extremism and against fanaticism.”

Dr. Jacobson pointed out, and I quote, “Sadly, some European leaders have rationalized anti-Jewish attitudes and even more violent attacks against Jews as nothing more than a sign of popular frustration with events in the Middle East. Something to be expected, even understandable, they say.”

Mr. Speaker, we have been hearing more and more about this idea of pretext; that there is a disagreement with the policies of the Israeli Government, that somehow that gives license and an ability and permission for some people to hate the Jews themselves. We can disagree, as we do on this House floor. The gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings), the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), and I have been working on this for years, and of course the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos). We disagree on some issues, but anti-Semitism? We do not hate. We do not use that as a pretext, as a front to promote hatred. That is exactly what is happening in Europe, in the United States, and in Canada.

Let me point out too that, as a result of these summits, we have come up with an action plan. Mr. Weisskirchen and I have signed it, it has been agreed to by our commissions, and we are trying to promote it among all our States. Again, education, trying to get parliaments to step up to the plate, and trying to make a meaningful difference to mitigate and hopefully to end this terrible anti-Semitism.

Last week, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings) and I joined Rudy Giuliani in Vienna for an OSCE assembly focused on anti-Semitism. We have been doing it in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, but now the OSCE itself has taken up this important cause. And it will be followed up with a meeting, most likely in Berlin next year, to focus on anti-Semitism so that we rally the troops all over the world, starting with Europe, the U.S., and Canada to say “never again.”

Let me also point out to my colleagues, and I thought his statement said it all, when Abraham Foxman, who gave riveting testimony at our Berlin conference, pointed out just recently in the Jerusalem Post, just a couple of days ago, and I would like to close with his statement, he said “Anti-Semitism is surging in the world to the extent unprecedented since the end of World War II. Europe must take seriously the ideology of anti-Semitism coming out of the Arab and Islamic world. It must denounce the deliberate targeting of Jews by terrorist groups, whether it be al Qaeda or Hamas. It must denounce the vicious anti-Semitic material in the Arab press and educational systems and call on Arab leaders to do something about it. It must understand that the Holocaust happened not only because Germany was taken over by the Nazis, who developed a massive military power to conquer most of Europe, but also by the complicity--active and passive--of other Europeans. Today, the great threat comes from the combination of the ideology of hatred with Islamic extremists to acquire weapons of mass destruction.” And then he bottom lines it and says, “Let Europe never again be complicit in developments of this kind.”

Mr. Speaker, this Congress needs to go on record in a bipartisan way, Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Moderates, and Liberals to say anti-Semitism, never again, and we need to do it strongly today.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume, and I rise in strong support of the resolution.

First, I want to commend my dear friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the chairman of our delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for his lifelong indefatigable and passionate advocacy of human rights, and his powerful opposition in all fora to anti-Semitism. We are all in his debt.

I also want to thank the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde), of the Committee on International Relations, for moving this legislation so expeditiously to the floor. And I want to thank my good friend, the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), the ranking Democrat on our OSCE delegation, for his outstanding work on behalf of all of the causes that the human rights community is interested in.

Mr. Speaker, as the only survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to Congress, I am acutely aware of the dangers of allowing anti-Semitism to go unchecked. The horrors of the Holocaust in World War II began with anti-Semitism. Growing up in Europe in the 1930s, I saw firsthand the horrendous results of anti-Semitic rhetoric, leading to the nightmare of anti-Semitic violence, and, ultimately, to the mass murder of 6 million innocent men, women and children.

Mr. Speaker, today, anti-Semitism in Europe, as well as in a number of other places in this world, is approaching the appalling levels that I personally experienced in the 1930s.

We cannot, we must not, and we will not sit idly by and ignore the sharp escalation of anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Semitic violence.

Our resolution notes that expressions of anti-Semitism in some European countries range from vicious propaganda to physical assaults, from the burning of synagogues to the desecration of cemeteries. Since the 1990 Copenhagen Concluding Document, a number of resolutions have been adopted by OSCE condemning anti-Semitism. In that spirit, I welcome this effort.

Our resolution urges officials of our executive branch and Members of Congress to raise the issue of anti-Semitism in their bilateral and multilateral meetings with all foreign government officials where appropriate and to condemn in the strongest possible terms not only anti-Semitism but racial and ethnic hatred, xenophobia, discrimination and religious persecution of all types. We urge all member countries of the OSCE to ensure effective law enforcement by local and national authorities against criminal actions stemming from anti-Semitism and other types of racial hatred.

Most importantly, our resolution calls upon all States to promote educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes and to dramatically increase Holocaust awareness. Our best ammunition in this fight against anti-Semitism is education.

Mr. Speaker, the battle against this age-old and horrendous mental sickness will not be easily won, but I believe the recognition of the problem and the call for actions to deal with it is the first critical step. I urge all of my colleagues to support this important legislation which serves to eliminate the outrage of hate-filled anti-Semitism.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as she may consume to the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen), the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I am honored to be in the company of the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) in cosponsoring this resolution. I rise in support of its passage and ask my colleagues to vote in its favor as well.

Mr. Speaker, one of the essential lessons of the Holocaust is that words lead to murder, that the teaching of contempt and acceptance of bigotry and anti-Semitism can lead to genocide. Today, over 50 years after the horrors of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism has again become a disease spreading throughout the world. In recent years I have witnessed its resurgence, particularly through my work relating to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and legislative efforts concerning religious freedom in Europe.

At the commission, resolution after resolution, statement after statement are filled with the rhetoric of hatred, using the international fora to further promote and generate support for an anti-Semitic agenda, an agenda which condemns a freedom-loving people and a democratic nation, while many times legitimizing those regimes that torture, oppress, and subjugate their own people.

As the previous chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and as the current chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, and as cochair along with my colleague and friend the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) of the Congressional Task Force on Anti-Semitism, I have pressed European officials to take concrete steps to monitor, investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law crimes that are borne out of hatred for the Jewish people.

In January of this year, for example, Jewish leaders in France came to me with concern and anxiety about the increasing example of vandalism and personal attacks against rabbis in that country. I immediately called on the French foreign ministry officials and French parliamentarians to address this grave matter.

The situation in France, however, is only a microcosm of a growing problem that is sweeping throughout many OSCE states. While I will not delve into details because my colleagues, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), have already done so, I will simply note, as has been said, we must learn the lessons and the mistakes of the past, or we are condemned to repeat them.

This is why it is imperative that we take immediate action to prevent further escalation of anti-Semitism and related violence, to help ensure that the evil of the Holocaust will never again be allowed to exist.

As Eli Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate has said, “A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.” We can help prevent a repetition of history, and we can begin here today by voting in favor of this resolution. Let us adopt House Concurrent Resolution 49 and convey the commitment of the U.S. House of Representatives to work with our allies to confront and combat anti-Semitism and eradicate it from its roots.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), the distinguished ranking Democratic member of the Helsinki Commission, who has demonstrated a passionate commitment to human rights and on all of the issues that that commission works with.

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. Speaker, let me first thank the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos). There is no Member of this body who has done more in his lifetime to fight anti-Semitism than the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), and I congratulate him for his effective leadership against anti-Semitism here and around the world.

I also want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), who is the chairman of our OSCE delegation. I have the honor of being the ranking Democratic member. The gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings), who will be speaking shortly, is one of the commissioners. We have made the fight against anti-Semitism a top priority of our delegation. We have been effective in making it a top priority within the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

We have done that because we have seen a rise of anti-Semitism, physical assaults on individuals solely because they are Jewish, desecration of Jewish cultural sites, propaganda in the media have all been on the rise. We must have a zero tolerance policy about anti-Semitism.

The OSCE Helsinki Commission provides a unique opportunity for us to fight anti-Semitism. It not only has in its membership all of the countries of Europe, Canada and the United States, but it has the participation of our Mediterranean partners, which include Israel, Egypt and Jordan. The OSCE Helsinki Commission has had a history of effectively dealing with human rights issues, so that is why the United States leadership has been effective in bringing about the forums to deal with anti-Semitism. I know there was just a meeting in Vienna that the gentleman from New Jersey (Chairman Smith) and the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings) participated in. We adopted in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly last year a very strong resolution against anti-Semitism as a result of the U.S. leadership, and we have signed a letter of intent with Germany to spell out specific actions that we need to take in order to fight anti-Semitism.

We can never justify anti-Semitic actions by international developments or political issues. We need to have an action plan to fight anti-Semitism. We need to have strong laws that are adopted by our member states and enforced. We need to speak out against anti-Semitism as parliamentarians. Silence is not an option. As all my colleagues have expressed, we need educational programs for our children. The resolution says we need to create educational efforts throughout the region encompassing the participating states of OSCE to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people, increase Holocaust awareness programs, and help identify the necessary resources to accomplish this goal. Our children are our future. In many of these states, we are finding there are counterproductive programs promoting anti-Semitism.

We need a proactive agenda. This resolution puts this body on record in strong support of our resolution within OSCE to continue our commitment to support action plans to stamp out anti-Semitism. I urge my colleagues to support the resolution.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. Maloney), who has been a champion not only of the fight against anti-Semitism but on behalf of all human rights causes.

Mrs. MALONEY. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this resolution, and I thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) for their extraordinary leadership on this important issue and so many others.

We are experiencing the worst outbreak of anti-Semitism in Europe since the end of Holocaust in 1945. Just under 60 years have passed since the defeat of Hitler and now swastikas have reappeared in Europe. They can be found sprayed on Jewish schools, drawn on gravestones in a desecrated Jewish cemetery, painted on the wall of a synagogue, and stitched on the flags of anti-Israel demonstrators, and in the hearts and minds of the people who attack rabbinical students and Jewish athletes.

When we allow intolerance and hatred to fester and flourish, we are faced with tragic consequences. Put simply, hatred, violence and prejudice must not be tolerated. Countries must speak out against anti-Semitic acts, but rhetoric is not enough. Words will not restore the hundreds of Jewish cultural and religious sites which have been burned, desecrated and destroyed throughout Europe, and words alone will not prevent these tragedies from happening again.

Governments and institutions must condemn these acts as we do today, and they must ensure effective law enforcement against them. They must also promote tolerance education for their children. There is no question teaching children about the horror and tragedy of the Holocaust and other tragedies will create a generation of youth who are less likely to commit hate crimes and who are more likely to mature into adults who will envision and work towards peaceful world relations.

When this body passes H . Con . Res . 49 , we will be spending a strong message to the world that anti-Semitism must be confronted and must be eradicated. I thank both leaders, particularly the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), for his extraordinary life commitment to ending anti-Semitism and for world peace.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings), who has been throughout his congressional career and prior to that an indefatigable fighter for human rights.

(Mr. HASTINGS of Florida asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) for yielding me this time, and before I go forward, I would be terribly remiss if I did not point out that the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) has spent his lifetime in the struggle that some of us come to with equal passion, but not the clarity that he brings to the issue.

I also am happy to support the resolution offered by the chairman of the Helsinki Commission and to compliment the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) for his continuing work in the area of human rights and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) as being a stalwart champion for human rights.

As Chairman SMITH has already mentioned, last week he and I had the privilege to represent the United States at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s conference on anti-Semitism. A footnote right there. That conference came about because the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), myself and others on the Helsinki Commission along with colleagues in Europe brought it to the attention of the parliamentary assembly by way of resolution which we will introduce yet another resolution for follow-up purposes when we are in Rotterdam 1 week from now. But it was in this body that that conference’s seed was planted. The conference, which was the first of its kind, provided the OSCE’s 55 member states and NGOs with an opportunity to discuss ways in which governments can work to combat anti-Semitism within their borders and abroad.

Today’s resolution is an important symbolic statement of the House that the United States will not stand idly by while many European governments neglect a rise in anti-Semitism. We must work with our allies and not hesitate to apply pressure when needed to ensure that governments properly address increases in anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.

A few years ago, there were hopes that anti-Semitism was gradually declining and restricted to fringe elements such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists and certain conspiracy theorists. However, recent developments throughout much of Europe and the Middle East suggest that there is a resurgent anti-Semitism with a much broader base and message that resonates at an alarming level. Many European leaders have formally recognized the resurgence of anti-Semitism in their countries and have begun to take the necessary steps to stop this spreading virus. But still, more must be done to ensure that what occurred to the Jewish and minority communities in Europe during World War II will never happen again.

Sadly, Mr. Speaker, the fight against bigotry and xenophobia is an ongoing struggle as many of us know from our own personal experience. Last week when the gentleman from New Jersey and I were in Vienna, we heard from a woman whose name is Rosalia Abella of the Ontario Court of Appeals. As she noted in one of the more poignant statements made at that conference, “Indifference is injustice’s incubator.” Indeed it is.

Now is the time for the United States to be vocal and now is the time for the House to be active as it is today under the leadership of the gentleman from New Jersey and the gentleman from California. Today is not a day for complacency. If we remain silent, then there will be no tomorrow. We cannot legislate morality, we cannot legislate love, but we can teach tolerance and we can lead by example.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Shays).

Mr. SHAYS. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the Smith-Cardin-Lantos resolution. I am a cosponsor of this resolution because I am deeply concerned about the surge of anti-Semitism in Europe and throughout other parts of the world, but particularly in Europe.

This is not a problem that simply can be monitored. It must be actively and aggressively dealt with, for we must never forget that just 60 years ago, Europe saw the worst scourge of systematic, government-ordained hatred, violence and murder in the history of mankind, in what was an unbelievable Holocaust.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has recognized and condemned anti-Semitic violence in its member states. At its parliamentary assembly in July 2002, the OSCE resolved to aggressively enforce laws and investigate anti-Semitic criminal acts. It is important that the United States openly support the OSCE’s resolution and actively encourage it to address hatred and prevent violence in Europe.

Mr. Speaker, there are several topics on which the United States and Europe disagree. There must be no disagreement, however, on the absolute right of the Jewish people to practice their religion freely and to live in peace and prosperity. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should not only investigate anti-Semitic crimes but also promote and facilitate discussions that address the root causes of xenophobic hatred.

I encourage my colleagues and the administration to take advantage of bilateral meetings with our European counterparts to reaffirm our deep commitment to the prevention of violence in Europe.

I again thank the gentleman from New Jersey for bringing this resolution to the floor and urge its adoption.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Crowley), a distinguished member of the Committee on International Relations.

Mr. CROWLEY. I thank my good friend the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) for yielding me this time.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to strongly support this resolution, and I thank the gentleman from New Jersey for sponsoring this crucial piece of legislation. I am very aware of the danger of being inactive about the threat of anti-Semitism. It was anti-Semitism that was responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust, the most horrible crime committed against the Jewish people ever. Sadly, I have to say here today that nearly 60 years after the end of World War II, anti-Semitism in Europe, in many of the OSCE member states, is on the rise again. Once again we witness evil propaganda, physical attacks against Jews, the burning of Jewish sites and the desecration of synagogues. We must not stand aside and ignore this grave escalation of anti-Semitic violence and hatred.

This resolution addresses this threat. It particularly calls on administration officials and Members of Congress to focus on anti-Semitism in their bilateral and multilateral meetings. It calls upon OSCE member states to swiftly bring anti-Semitists to justice and to focus on educational endeavors to fight anti-Semitic stereotypes.

I would also like to point out that this piece of legislation is similar to a resolution I introduced last year. House Resolution 393 also addresses the anti-Semitic threat in the OSCE region. It urges European governments to provide security and safety of the Jewish communities, to prosecute and punish perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence, and to cultivate a climate in which all forms of anti-Semitism are rejected.

I was proud that my colleagues in Congress joined me in sending this message to the European Union, but we must go further. Anti-Semitism continues to fester throughout the OSCE region. This resolution is the right follow-up to my legislation that passed in the last Congress.

Mr. Speaker, the threat of anti-Semitism is looming large and our fight against it is far from over, but I believe that recognizing this problem and taking action is critical. I therefore urge all of my colleagues to strongly support House Resolution 49 sponsored by the gentleman from New Jersey. I would ask them all to vote for this resolution unanimously. I want to thank the gentleman from California again for his work on this resolution and all my colleagues in bringing this to the House floor.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from California (Mr. Rohrabacher).

Mr. ROHRABACHER. Mr. Speaker, I am proud to join the gentleman from New Jersey and the gentleman from California as I have over the years on many human rights issues, and this is a human rights issue. Racism, religious hatred, these are things that decent people must condemn and we must unite in our strong opposition wherever this type of vile behavior and vile thought patterns emerge. We must recognize that there are, however, people who exploit these type of negative feelings and this type of racial hatred. Anti-Semitism is perhaps the epitome of this ignorance and irrationality and mindless hatred and it is again raising its ugly head both in Europe and in the United States.

Let us note that over 10 years ago, a major political figure in the United States referred to New York City as “Hymietown.” What is important is the fact that he was winked at and that for 10 years after that statement, he still remained a recognized leader. That did tremendous harm in America’s black community. It sent a horrible message to young blacks and we are paying some of the price of an increased anti-Semitism today in our black community by mistakes that we made 10 years ago by not condemning that and other types of horrible remarks that should never have been made or accepted in our political debate.

In Europe today, we see that same kind of winking going on. Oh, yes, people are ignoring statements that are being made that are totally unacceptable to people who believe in civilized behavior and are opposed to this type of vile hatred, the vile hatred in relationship to their fellow man. This is an alarm bell today. I am very proud to stand here with the gentleman from California and the gentleman from New Jersey ringing the alarm bell. We are not going to sit idly by and wink at an increase in this level of hatred towards our Jewish friends nor towards any other minority in the Western democracies. The Western democracies, our friends in Europe, just like we in the United States, have to remain vigilant and it is up to us as leaders of this society and the democratic leaders in Europe to call to task those who would wink and would not condemn this type of vicious trend in their society. We can cut it short now. Let us stand together united against anti-Semitism and all such hatred.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to yield 2 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Frank).

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, in terms that we do not usually use on this floor but in terms that may be familiar to our friends in Europe, in the American context, I am a man of the left. I voted against the war in Iraq. I will vote for the resolution later about Israel’s right to respond to terrorism, but I will put into the Congressional Record Tom Friedman’s article urging them to think about prudence and restraint. I think the settlements are by and large a mistake. And I speak today in defense of this resolution, specifically to others on the left in Europe, many of whom have in my judgment been morally deficient in the obligation we have to speak out against prejudice and injustice across the board. Those who hold to liberal values have no moral right to put an ideological screen between victims and those values, and those on the left who use an excuse of a disagreement with the policy of the Sharon government or the Bush government or anybody else as a reason to be soft on anti-Semitism betray liberalism and betray its values.

By the way, with regard to the government of Israel, let me speak to the people on the left. I disagree with some aspects of its policy, but I staunchly defend its right to exist. But even more important, by every value that I as a liberal hold dear, the government and society of Israel is quite morally superior to any of its neighbors, and to focus only on those aspects of disagreement and to ignore its longstanding commitment to civil rights and civil liberties, in fact I think our society, the United States, has a good deal to learn from the society of Israel about how you deal with external threats and still show a respect for civil liberties.

I thank the gentleman from California and the gentleman from New Jersey for bringing this forward and the gentleman from Illinois for his support. I want to reiterate as a man on the left who shares a great deal of both general values and specific policy prescriptions with many on the left in Europe, I am appalled at those who fail to carry out our liberal principles fully and across the board. A vigorous and ongoing condemnation of anti-Semitism is a requisite part of that commitment.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

At the most recent conference that was held in Vienna, I just want to again thank the great work that Ambassador Minikes did, our Ambassador to the OSCE. He has worked very, very hard to help put together that anti-Semitism conference. He did an outstanding job. Ambassador Cliff Sobel, our Ambassador to the Netherlands, also worked very hard on it as well, as did many others in the State Department. It was a joint effort. Again I want to thank Rudy Giuliani for the good work he did in leading that.

Let me just also say that, Mr. Speaker, next week in Rotterdam we will have an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and I plan on offering another resolution on anti-Semitism at that and hopefully we continue not only this dialogue but this outrage that we are expressing about intolerance. The more we raise our voices, the more we have mutually reinforcing policies, including good law, good law enforcement and hopefully a chronicling of these misdeeds so that law enforcement knows that they do indeed have a problem. This has been a particular problem in Europe, where hate crimes are committed and they are not attributed to the hate crimes that they represent.

The more we chronicle, the more we will see that there is an explosion of anti-Semitism in Europe. This is a good resolution. I thank the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), and I thank the gentleman and chairman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde) for moving this bill expeditiously through the committee and for his strong support for it.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 minute to the gentlewoman from Nevada (Ms. Berkley), a distinguished member of the Committee on International Relations and a fighter for human rights.

Ms. BERKLEY. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) and the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) for putting this before our body.

I grew up hearing about anti-Semitism from my grandparents and my parents, things that I could not believe could have ever happened; but the anti-Semitism acts that they spoke of seemed like historic oddities to me, something from a distant time and a distant place. I never dreamed, never dreamed that anti-Semitism could ever rear its ugly head again during my lifetime or the lifetime of my children.

Especially after World War II, I thought Europe and the rest of the world had learned a very important and valuable lesson. I ran for Congress so that I could speak out against issues that I thought were horrific; and anti-Semitism, and its continued existence on this planet, is certainly something that I wish to speak out against. I am glad that we are condemning anti-Semitism in no uncertain terms and putting the United States Congress on record and speaking out forcefully against this horrible scourge and plague.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to reclaim my time for purposes of yielding the remainder of my time to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer).

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Bass). Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New Jersey?

There was no objection.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman has 1 minute.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer).

Mr. HOYER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the chairman of the Helsinki Commission for yielding me this time. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this very important resolution.

This is about anti-Semitism. But more broadly than that, it is about hate. It is about the human inclination from time to time to hate others who are different, to discriminate against others who are different, who have a different color of skin, who have a different religion, who have a different national origin. More human violence perhaps has been perpetrated in the name of those distinctions and prejudices and hate than any other.

It is important that we regularly and strongly and without equivocation speak out against those who would perpetrate and spread hate in our world, in our country, in our communities.

I thank the gentleman from New Jersey, and I thank my good friend, the gentleman from California, for their leadership on this issue. It is an appropriate statement for us to make as the representatives of a free and tolerant people.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Davis).

(Mr. DAVIS of Alabama asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Mr. DAVIS of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, I do not want this debate to end without adding my voice in support of the resolution.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Nadler), a distinguished fighter for human rights.

Mr. NADLER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time.

Mr. Speaker, many people thought that the Holocaust cleansed the Western world of anti-Semitism, that the catastrophe, the mass murder, and the genocide in the Holocaust caused the civilized world or at least the Western part of the civilized world to recoil in such horror that anti-Semitism would not be a major problem again. We now know that maybe it did that for a generation or two, but that the scourge of anti-Semitism is returning in great and terrible force in its ancient homeland of Europe and other places.

Today we have two major problems of anti-Semitism: in Europe and in the Muslim world. It is very appropriate that we adopt this resolution today to ask the governments of Europe through the OSCE and individually to crack down on anti-Semitism, to speak out against it, to act against it because many of the governments of Europe, many of the parts of the political left in Europe and elsewhere as well as the right have not done so. They ought to do so. And this resolution is fitting and appropriate to adopt today for that purpose. [Begin Insert]

Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H . Con . Res . 49 , expressing the sense of Congress that the sharp escalation of anti-Semitic violence within many participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is of profound concern and efforts should be undertaken to prevent future occurrences.

I begin by praising the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for their conference this past weekend devoted to the issues of anti-Semitism and how to combat it. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organization in the world with 55 participating countries from Europe, Central Asia, and North America. The OSCE has a comprehensive and cooperative approach to security, stressing preventative diplomacy and human rights.

The conference last weekend was the first high level OSCE conference devoted specifically to the issue of anti-Semitism. Over 400 government and nongovernment officials attended.

The conference took place at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. This same location is where Hitler stood, 65 years ago, proclaiming Austria’s annexation to a cheering crowd of thousands. Sixty-five years later, what can we say about tolerance and diversity in Europe? What can we say about Human Rights worldwide? Specifically, 65 years after the beginning of the worst genocide in our time, what can we say we have learned about anti-Semitism and the horrors of racial hatred?

Much has changed since then. Yet today there are both overt and subtle versions of anti-Semitism, in the United States and abroad. Physical assaults, arson at synagogues and desecration of Jewish cultural sites are occurring. Unfortunately, government officials are not speaking harshly enough against them.

The conference on anti-Semitism opened a day after the Romanian Government retracted an earlier claim that “there was no Holocaust” on Romanian soil. In Greece, a recent newspaper cartoon had one Israeli soldier telling the other, “we were not in Dachau concentration camp to survive, but to learn.”

France has experienced a six-fold increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the space of a year. In Poland, the word “Jewish” is used as a term of abuse for Polish soccer fans. In other parts of Europe, claims are made that Jews had forewarning of the September 11th attacks at the Pentagon and World Trade Towers.

The existence of anti-Semitism has played throughout history as a major threat to freedom. Participating states of the OSCE should unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism, racial and ethnic hatred and xenophobia, and they need to be loud and clear in their message.

We cannot allow future generations to be taught a distorted view of history. Prejudice must be rooted out of textbooks, governments must speak out against these wrongdoings, and anti-Semitic actions must be classified as hate crimes. We also need to ensure effective law enforcement. Finally, we must promote the creation of educational efforts and we must increase Holocaust awareness. I abhor and stand against all forms of hatred.

If action had been taken in the 1930s, many lives could have been saved. There are so many lessons of history that need to be learned, lest they not be repeated. For that reason I support H . Con . Res . 49 .

Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker: I will reluctantly vote in favor of this legislation, partly because it is simply a sense of Congress resolution. But I am concerned about this bill and the others like it we face with regularity on the floor of Congress. We all condemn violence against innocents, whether it is motivated by hatred, prejudice, greed, jealousy, or whatever else. But that is not what this legislation is really about. It is about the Congress of the United States presuming to know--and to legislate on--the affairs of European countries. First, this is the United States Congress. We have no Constitutional authority to pass legislation affecting foreign countries. Second, when we get involved in matters such as this we usually get it wrong. H. Con. Res. 45 is an example of us getting it wrong on both fronts.

This legislation refers to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe as if it is a purely homegrown phenomenon, as if native residents of European countries are suddenly committing violent crimes against Jews. But I think we are only getting part of the story here. What is absent from the legislation is mention of the well-reported fact that much of the anti-Jewish violence in Europe is perpetrated by recent immigrants from Muslim countries of the Middle East and Africa. Reporting on a firebombing of a Synagogue in Marseille, France, for example, the New York Times quotes the longtime president of that region’s Jewish Council, Charles Haddad, as saying, “This is not anti-Semitic violence; it’s the Middle East conflict that’s playing out here.”

Therefore, part of the problem in many European countries is the massive immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, where new residents bring their hatreds and prejudices with them. Those European politicians who recognize this growing problem--there are now 600,000 Jews in France and five million Muslims--are denounced as racist and worse. While I do not oppose immigration, it must be admitted that massive immigration from vastly different cultures brings a myriad of potential problems and conflicts. These are complicated issues for we in Congress to deal with here in the United States. Yes, prejudice and hatred are evil and must be opposed, but it is absurd for us to try to solve these problems in countries overseas. [End Insert]

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) that the House suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution, H . Con . Res . 49 .

The question was taken.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds of those present have voted in the affirmative.

Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX and the Chair’s prior announcement, further proceedings on this motion will be postponed.
 

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Leadership: 
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  • Human Rights Seminar Returns to the OSCE with a Focus on Women and Girls

    By Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE and Dr. Mischa E. Thompson, Director of Global Partnerships, Policy, and Innovation On November 16-17, 2021, for the first time since 2017, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Right (ODIHR) held its annual Human Rights Seminar on preventing and combating violence against women and girls. The event assessed participating States’ implementation of OSCE commitments on preventing and combating violence against women, identified continuing challenges and successes in addressing the problem, and examined opportunities to further engage OSCE institutions and other stakeholders in finding solutions. Given continued efforts by some participating States to block the OSCE’s human rights agenda, including Russia’s successful blockade of the 2021 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the return of the Human Dimension Seminar was lauded by Ambassador Ulrika Funered of the Swedish Chair-in-Office (CiO) and Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs UN Director Pawel Radomski of the incoming Polish CiO.  Noting “the particular importance of regular gatherings in promotion of human rights” and the “unique meetings characterized by meaningful discussions between civil society and participating States,” Director Radomski underlined Poland’s staunch commitment to holding human dimension events during its upcoming 2022 Chairmanship. Other speakers at the hybrid event—hosted in Warsaw, Poland, as well as online—included ODIHR Director Matteo Meccaci; Special Representative of the OSCE Chairpersonship on Gender Liliana Palihovici; and Special Representative of the OSCE Parliament Assembly (PA) on Gender Issues Dr. Hedy Fry. Speakers underscored the prevalence of violence against women in political and public life; violence against women belonging to vulnerable groups, especially migrants, refugees, and persons with disabilities; and the impact of the pandemic on women and girls.  Dr. Fry shared her alarm at recent violence targeting women in politics, from the January 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol that targeted Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to the physical and online violence targeting British parliamentarian Diane Abbott.  She attributed the violence to the “boldness” of women daring to enter spaces traditionally dominated by men and the subsequent efforts by men to silence them.  Dr. Mona Lena Krook, Professor and Chair of the Women & Politics Ph.D. Program at Rutgers University, highlighted the physical and psychological violence targeting women in politics and the subsequent but related dangers of women exiting politics to avoid harm to them and their families.  The work of Edita Miftari, an alumna of TILN, the young leaders program organized by the Helsinki Commission and the German Marshall Fund, was highlighted by Adnan Kadribasic of the Bosnian management consulting company, Lucid Linx.  In discussing the Balkan situation, he observed that female politicians experience discrimination and harassment but do not have reliable mechanisms for redress. Discussion panels and side events focused on the escalation of violence experienced by women during pandemic quarantines, the impact of the pandemic on women returning to the workforce, and strategies to protect migrant and refugee women.  Several speakers raised the intersectional nature of violence against women, including increased violence towards women of color, and special circumstances faced by disabled women.  Representatives of participating States showcased efforts to support women in leadership positions and programs to address violence.  Civil society participants from Central Asian and other countries expressed concern about some participating States using women’s initiatives to cultivate political favor instead of addressing issues of disparities and discrimination.  Others noted that progress had been made but voiced ongoing concern about how the pandemic negatively affected gains made previously in the workforce and in addressing domestic violence.   The event was attended by more than three hundred participants, including representatives from more than 50 OSCE participating States.  Dr. Mischa Thompson attended on behalf of the Helsinki Commission.

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest November 2021

  • Fifteen Years of the Recommendations of Policing in Multi-Ethnic Societies

    By Nathaniel Haas, Max Kampelman Fellow On November 5, 2021, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities convened a hybrid conference commemorating the 15th anniversary of “Recommendations on Policing in Multi-Ethnic Societies.” The conference focused on continuing challenges and new perspectives related to policing in diverse societies and was attended by more than 200 participants from thirty participating States and civil society, including Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin. Helsinki Commission staff Shannon Simrell and Dr. Mischa Thompson also attended. OSCE High Commissioner Kairat Abdrakhmanov opened the meeting, stating, “The Policing Recommendations provide guidance on how to enhance communication and trust between the police and national minority communities, thereby strengthening inter-ethnic relations, as well as increasing the operational effectiveness of the police.” He also noted the importance of the recommendations in assisting policymakers in ensuring police represent the societies they serve. Citing the urgent need to address discriminatory policing following the tragic death of George Floyd, Chairman Cardin said, “Strengthening cooperation between law enforcement and civil society, providing victims assistance, and promoting democracy and equal opportunity must become key aspects of the OSCE effort to address hate crimes and intolerance in the region.” As the OSCE PA Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance, Chairman Cardin also called attention to the urgent item recently adopted by the OSCE PA calling for an OSCE plan of action to address bias motivated violence, including in policing. Against the backdrop of high-profile cases of discriminatory policing, speakers discussed barriers and solutions to addressing police misconduct, increasing diversity in police forces, strengthening police-community relations, and incorporating minority and gender perspective in policies relating to police recruitment, training, and operations. Recommendations included training law enforcement officers on language and multicultural communications skills and developing inter-ethnic trust building measures to foster better community relations. Other speakers recalled the important role of police in working with communities following terrorist attacks such as the Pittsburgh Tree of Life and Norway attacks, as well as addressing issues of radicalization within police forces.   Several panelists recommended developing targeted outreach and recruiting campaigns to need for ethnic and gender diversity to increase police effectiveness and decrease violence.  Senior Police Advisor Kara Rose of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs offered examples of U.S. programs addressing implicit and explicit bias in the criminal justice system.  She highlighted gender strategies and programs that promote the protection of women and minorities in law enforcement careers.  Theresa Segovia, Associate Director of the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, discussed her work with religious communities and how working with youth was key to developing strong relations with multi-ethnic communities.  Given the duty of police to protect and serve, speakers also discussed the importance of depoliticizing the police and ways to keep police safe on the job amidst continuing societal tensions.

  • Helsinki Commission Supports Invocation of OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism in the Face of Sustained Human Rights Crisis in Belarus

    WASHINGTON—Following the invocation of the OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism to address the mounting human rights crisis in Belarus, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “One year after the release of a comprehensive, unbiased, and damning report detailing human rights abuses by the Lukashenko regime, Lukashenko has not simply failed to act on the report’s recommendations—he has intensified his brutal crackdown on those in Belarus who continue to fight for their fundamental freedoms. “Among its other commitments as an OSCE participating State, Belarus is bound to respect human rights and hold free and fair elections. By invoking the Vienna Mechanism, the United States and 34 other countries demand that the authorities in Belarus finally address the violations raised in the 2020 report and inform the international community about the steps the Lukashenko regime is taking to investigate those serious allegations. Ensuring human rights violators are held to account is of importance to us all.” In September 2020, 17 OSCE participating States, including the United States, invoked the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism to investigate credible accounts of widespread human rights violations perpetrated in the aftermath of Belarus’ fraudulent August 2020 elections. The Moscow Mechanism allows a group of OSCE participating States to appoint independent experts to investigate a particularly serious threat to the fulfillment of human rights commitments in a participating State. On November 5, 2020, the Moscow Mechanism report substantiated numerous allegations of torture and repression and included recommendations and advice for the Government of Belarus, the OSCE, and the international community. Lukashenko’s government failed to cooperate with the investigation. On November 4, 2021, as a follow-up to the 2020 report, 35 OSCE participating States posed detailed questions to the Lukashenko regime via OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism, which obliges participating States to respond to formal requests for information from other States about serious human rights concerns. The commission convened a hearing on human rights in Belarus on September 21, 2021.

  • HELSINKI COMMISSIONERS JOIN OSCE PA MEETING ON AFGHANISTAN, DEBATE POLICY RESPONSES

    On November 4, 2021, more than 40 members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) met remotely to discuss the current security challenges posed by developments in Afghanistan and the future of OSCE engagement with Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule. Since 2003, Afghanistan has been an OSCE Partner for Cooperation and shares a border with several OSCE countries. The debate, which was attended by seven members of the Helsinki Commission, took place as part of the OSCE PA’s annual Autumn Meeting. Each year, the Autumn Meeting focuses on debating one or more currently relevant issues confronting the OSCE region.  This year’s Autumn Meeting was originally planned to be in Dublin, Ireland, but a resurging COVID-19 pandemic forced the OSCE PA to rely on emergency procedures that allow for statutory meetings to be conducted remotely. OSCE PA Leaders Outline Challenges Posed by Afghanistan OSCE PA President Margaret Cederfelt opened the debate with an overview of the challenges presented by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. While three OSCE countries—Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan—share a border with Afghanistan, developments there also have serious implications for the rest of the OSCE participating States. The worsening humanitarian crisis, the Taliban’s historical connections to terrorism, the negative economic fallout, the potential impact on neighboring countries, and deteriorating human rights, particularly for women and girls, were all of concern. “Those who will suffer most from this is, of course, the ordinary people,” President Cederfelt emphasized, while highlighting the impending economic turmoil Afghanistan faces. “It is essential that human security is protected by safeguarding the fundamental rights of all Afghans.” President Cederfelt also underscored the need for international cooperation while addressing this situation, given its global security implications. The three leaders of the PA General Committees highlighted aspects of the crisis related to their specific mandates. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson, who chairs the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, noted, “Perhaps most alarming is the return of an international terrorist threat from Afghanistan. He also highlighted the production and trade of narcotics and illegal drugs backed by the Taliban as a serious challenge with global implications, thanks to major trafficking routes. “The security situation in Afghanistan is intrinsically linked with that of the OSCE region as a whole—but it will first and most immediately affect Afghanistan’s neighbors in Central Asia,” he said. “We must all be especially concerned about threats to the three OSCE participating States that have borders with Afghanistan: Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This is perhaps the area in which our organization can have the greatest and most immediate impact." The other two general committee chairs shared their concerns as well. Pere Joan Pons of Spain, who chairs the General Committee on Economia Affairs, Science, Technology, and Environment, highlighted Afghanistan’s current economic and environmental challenges, especially given the country’s vulnerability in the face of climate change. Sereine Mauborgne of France, who chairs the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Questions, discussed the serious human rights violations faced by women, girls, and other vulnerable populations. In addition, many Afghans face urgent or extreme food and security issues; the Taliban lacks the capability to provide either for the Afghan people. Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Center Tuula Yrjölä discussed Afghanistan’s relationship to the OSCE as a Partner for Cooperation and the potential role of the OSCE role in addressing the situation. She concluded that Afghanistan’s partnership status in the OSCE was based on shared values; its future may be in question under a Taliban government. Helsinki Commissioners Participate in the General Debate Following the introductory remarks, six members of the Helsinki Commission—including all four senior commission leaders—took the floor to voice their concerns and engage with other parliamentarians. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, who also serves as the Head of the U.S. Delegation and the OSCE PA Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance, expressed disappointment at how quickly the democratic government and institutions in Afghanistan deteriorated, despite years of investment and support. “One of the prime reasons was corruption,” explained Chairman Cardin. The rights of women and girls and ensuring humanitarian assistance reaches populations in need were two areas that he insisted be of focus as international efforts move forward. Media freedom was of particular concern for Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen. “Lower-level Taliban forces threaten and harass journalists,” he stated. “RFE/RL has reported that over the past weeks, its remaining journalists have been questioned by armed Taliban and door-to-door searched have been conducted looking for journalists affiliated with the United States.” Media freedom is among the fundamental freedoms the OSCE seeks to protect, and Co-Chairman Cohen insisted the Taliban must be held responsible for violating these rights. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker, who also serves as an OSCE PA Vice President, shared legislation he is sponsoring in Congress that seeks to strengthen the American response to Afghanistan and reiterated the dangers that religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan currently face. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson highlighted the dangers of terrorism and the oppressive rule of the Taliban. “It cannot be business as usual with the Taliban,” he stated.  “Together, we must use our leverage to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist haven devoid of human rights.” Chairman Cardin, Sen. Wicker, and Rep. Wilson all expressed concern over Afghanistan’s status as an OSCE Partner for Cooperation. “Before we recognize any representative of Afghanistan in our assembly, we should make sure that they will adhere to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act,” Chairman Cardin stated. Rep. Wilson argued that Afghanistan’s partner status should be reconsidered, and Sen. Wicker also emphasized the importance of the values shared by OSCE participating States and Partners for Cooperation. “I would hope that it is our position going forward that the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan not be recognized as an OSCE Partner for Cooperation,” Sen. Wicker said. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Gwen Moore focused on the dangers for women and girls and the human rights violations they face. Despite advances made in women’s rights in Afghanistan during the past two decades, the return of Taliban rule has brought a resurgence of violence and restrictions, endangering the lives of women throughout the country. Many have fled Afghanistan, fearing for their safety, while others have remained to fight for their country. While Rep. Moore strongly advocated for supporting resettlement efforts, she also emphasized that resettlement was a last resort. “We must continue to press for the protection of these women in their own country,” she said. Ms. Moore also proposed that the OSCE PA create and maintain a project to monitor and support Afghanistan’s female parliamentarians. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Ruben Gallego stressed the importance of aiding Afghans still in Afghanistan. “We must find ways to support Afghans in-country who are bravely calling for progress, and we must stand up for the human rights of those who suffer at the hands of the Taliban,” he said. Rep. Gallego further argued that the international community must do more than simply aid in the evacuation of those fleeing the Taliban’s rule. “We must also ensure that those who have been evacuated have long-term support in the resettlement process. The United States must do its part in accepting the bulk of Afghan refugees, and I have personally pushed in Congress to provide Afghans with the long-term resources they need to settle into a new life,” he stated, and asked all the participating parliamentarians to urge their countries to do the same. OSCE Efforts Moving Forward Throughout the debate, which highlighted various vulnerable populations and severe security threats that must be addressed in the future, one recurring theme was the need for international cooperation. While President Cederfelt began the meeting by observing that it will be impossible to know the future, Rep. Gallego expressed one certainty. “The end of America’s military commitment in Afghanistan does not mean we will turn a blind eye to Afghanistan’s people or the security of the region,” he said.

  • Helsinki Commission Welcomes Confirmation of Michael Carpenter as U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE

    WASHINGTON—Following the November 3 confirmation of Michael Carpenter as Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We are delighted that the Senate has confirmed Michael Carpenter as our next ambassador to the OSCE. He is an expert on European security, has the ear of the president, and his confirmation clearly demonstrates the strong commitment of both Congress and the administration to upholding Helsinki commitments and the OSCE’s concept of comprehensive security. “We look forward to working closely with Ambassador Carpenter to confront the threats to U.S. interests across the region and to realize the potential of our investment in a Europe whole, free, and at peace. Countering Vladimir Putin’s dangerous behavior on the ground and within the OSCE itself is paramount. Russia’s war against Ukraine, its illegal troop presence in neighboring countries, and its efforts to undermine the OSCE’s human dimension require a robust response from the United States and our allies.   “We further pledge our support to Ambassador Carpenter as he works to enhance the capacity of the OSCE to counter corruption, mediate conflicts, promote tolerance and non-discrimination, and address the alarming increase in political prisoners across the region.” Ambassador Carpenter will lead the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, comprising a multi-agency team of more than 30 staff members, including a representative from the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest October 2021

  • 30th Anniversary of OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s—OSCE—Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights—ODIHR—one of the world’s most preeminent and comprehensive human rights protection bodies. In 1990–1991, during the signing of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe that created ODIHR, a spirit of ‘‘profound change and historic expectations’’ prevailed among the United States, nations of Europe, and the Soviet Union. Revolutionary for their time, heads of state and governments resolved to ‘‘build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.’’ Further, by affirming that government’s first responsibility is to ensure the ‘‘protection and promotion of human rights,’’ they explicitly linked the full attainment of those rights with ‘‘the foundation of freedom, justice and peace’’ and set the standard for relations and security within and among nations. Now, 30 years later, I am deeply concerned that the fundamental freedoms that ODIHR was founded to safeguard are in peril. Authoritarianism is on the rise in Europe. Credible reports allege there are more than 750 political prisoners in Belarus, many detained for participating peacefully in protest of the fraudulent elections of August 2020 and the brutal government crackdown that followed. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s administration continues its unprecedented consolidation of Hungary’s media, even as opposition figures organize to resist him. In many countries across the OSCE area, we have witnessed an alarming rise in anti-Semitism, racism, religious and other intolerance, and violence against women. These scourges have worsened the conditions imposed by the COVID–19 pandemic that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our communities. With these and other challenges in mind, ODIHR’s valuable work to assist nations to live up to their commitments is more relevant and more needed than ever. ODIHR is empowered by states to ensure respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and tolerance. ODIHR actively partners with OSCE’s 57 participating states, civil society, and international organizations to support human rights defenders, enhance the independence of judiciaries, and promote human-rights-based policing. It offers legislative reviews and develops tools to support local government officials, including the Words into Action project, which enhances social inclusion within local communities and for which I proudly help secure funding. The most visible demonstration of ODIHR’s collaboration with the United States is perhaps in the field of election observation, where its methodology is rightly seen as the gold standard in international election observation. Since its founding, ODIHR, the Department of State, and the U.S. Congress, through the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, have deployed thousands of American citizens and legislators to observe the conduct of elections across the OSCE area, including in the United States. Since OSCE states pledged in 1990 to hold free and fair elections, elections observation has been recognized as one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage states’ commitment to democratic standards and is a hallmark of ODIHR’s work. For nearly 30 years, ODIHR has organized Europe’s largest human rights review conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting—HDIM—gathering thousands of representatives of governments, parliaments, and civil society for 2 weeks around the same table to review progress on human rights commitments. Unfortunately, the HDIM did not take place this September. Russia blocked consensus to hold the meeting, thereby denying the OSCE region’s nearly 1 billion citizens of a meaningful and sustained opportunity to hold their governments to account. In September, Russia also prevented ODIHR from deploying a full and independent election observation mission to observe its Duma elections. Likewise, Russia was responsible for the closure of OSCE’s border observation mission, which provided valuable insight into the personnel and materiel flowing across Russia’s border into the temporarily occupied areas of eastern Ukraine. ODIHR’s work is more important and relevant than at any time since its founding at the end of the Cold War. I would like to take a moment to extend my heartfelt appreciation to ODIHR’s 180 staff from 35 countries, upon whose dedication and professionalism we rely as we strive to realize an equitable and just future for all. ODIHR is not only the human rights arm of the world’s largest regional security organization; it is also the independent body endowed to assist us as we pursue this important goal. The phrase ‘‘Vancouver to Vladivostok’’ is routinely invoked to describe the organization’s broad geographical reach. However, it is perhaps ODIHR—and OSCE’s—revolutionary and comprehensive concept of ‘‘security,’’ which includes military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights, that is its defining characteristic and most important contribution to world peace and the reason why we should all be celebrating ODIHR’s 30th anniversary this year and take steps to ensure its success for years to come.

  • Cardin Statement on the Third Anniversary of the Attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), who also serves as Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, released the following statement on the third anniversary of the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. “It’s been three years since a gunman on a hate-filled mission killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Congregation. On that awful day, we lost the lives of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. Each are still in our hearts. The shooter also injured six others, including four Pittsburgh police officers. “It’s unthinkable that anyone would walk in to sacred place of worship armed with an assault rifle and multiple handguns, yelling ‘All Jews must die.’ Horrified doesn’t capture the feeling I had when I first heard of the event. “According to a recent report, 1 in 4 American Jews has experienced anti-Semitism over the past year and 4 in 10 American Jews feel the need to conceal their Jewishness in public for fear of anti-Semitism. In 2021, we saw a spike of anti-Semitic violence and language across the country. “Every person has a responsibility to break the cycle of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry that has been taught from one generation to the next, in this country and around the world. Leaders, especially, need to be accountable for ending hate through their words and their deeds. This violent attack in Pittsburgh should never have happened. Hate should have no place in our society. “Through the darkness, as Pittsburgh mourned its dead, the community responded with messages of compassion, tolerance and respect. Through their pain, they reminded all of us that the antidote to hate is not revenge or more hate, but love. May the memory of those killed at the Tree of Life synagogue be a blessing to their community and may their families, the survivors, and our society as a whole find peace.”

  • In Pursuit of Truth

    A free press is the lifeblood of democracy; without independent media, democracy is doomed, economies suffer, and peace is imperiled. In many of the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), autocrats exploit financial and legal means, alongside physical violence, to intimidate and silence independent media. Journalists and their associates are attacked both online and offline; jailed on phony charges; and even killed for the secrets they expose. Leaders undermine public trust in the press to hide their misdeeds. Disinformation—particularly lies related to the COVID-19 pandemic—continues to pollute the information landscape. In her first appearance before Congress, OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro assessed the state of media freedom across the OSCE region. Other expert witnesses discussed recent attacks on journalists and media outlets, the motivations that lead authorities to try and silence the press, global disinformation networks, and more. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) opened the hearing by stating that media freedom is the bedrock of the democratic process, making it possible for citizens to make informed decisions on their political reality. He also addressed COVID-19 and disinformation, citing the need to safeguard fundamental freedom of expression while performing the vital task of reporting the truth. Chairman Cardin cited a Freedom House report showing a decline in democracy in some countries, often overlapping with a decline in media freedom, and expressed a concern over the silencing of media in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Turkey, and Russia to name a few. As a co-sponsor of the Global Press Freedom Act, Senator Cardin expressed his wish for the U.S. to become more involved in press freedom across the globe. The OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media (RFOM), Teresa Ribeiro, thanked the Helsinki Commission for the strong support for the RFOM as an institution and media freedom and expression. Ribeiro seconded Chairman Cardin’s statement that free and independent media is a core pillar of democracy, adding that media is more than just a provider of daily news. Ribeiro addressed the steady decline of media freedom all over the OSCE region and decline in trust in the media. “We live in a time where accusing media outlets and individual journalists of false news has become the norm,” she said. Key issues, according to Ribeiro, include rising violence against journalists, abuse of the legal system to silence their work, restrictions imposed by authoritarian governments on the media, declining trust in the media, as well as the power of social media companies and their ability to shape the media landscape. Ribeiro argued that governments have a positive obligation to protect both the freedom of expression and a free press that delivers truthful information to citizens. In her opinion, the best way to fight disinformation is not through restrictive laws, but rather by promoting independent journalists. Robert Mahoney, the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), reported on his organizations efforts to track media freedom across the OSCE region. He stated that journalists and media have come under attack in almost all OSCE countries. Some of these attacks are by private citizens, but most attacks on press freedom are carried out by governments such as those in Hungry, Poland, Tajikistan, Serbia, Turkmenistan, Belarus, or Russia. Specifically, Mahoney mentioned the number of journalists behind bars in Turkey and the use of foreign agent laws in Russia to sideline media. He also expressed concern over the targeted murders of journalists in the OSCE in countries including Ukraine, Slovakia, and Malta. Mahoney recommended fully implementing the 2018 OSCE ministerial council agreement on the freedom of the media, supporting the RFOM mandate and urging the mandate holder to challenge those countries with the worst press freedom records, implement the policies outlined in the 2020 resource guide by the RFOM on the safety of female journalists online, and considering the use of targeted sanctions to gold governments within the OSCE region accountable for their violations of press freedoms. Jamie Fly, President of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, gave an update on his organizations efforts to provide news and media to 27 countries across Eurasia. Much of his testimony was focused on Russia and Belarus, where the gravest violations of press freedom occur. In Russia, foreign agent laws are increasingly being used to violate the freedom of the press and fines connected to these laws (such as $4.4 million owed by RFE/RL to Russia) are used to pressure news outlets financially. Fly believes the Kremlin is seeking absolute control over the information space in advance of the end of President Vladimir Putin’s current term in 2024. In Belarus, RFE/RL officers were raided, and equipment was confiscated. Meanwhile, many journalists threatened by the new government in Afghanistan are still hoping to evacuate and require outside support. Fly called for more advocacy for journalists in critical regions, funding for unbiased media to counter the large sums of money authoritarian governments spend on their biased media outlets, as well as pressure on those governments which jail journalists. Peter Pomerantsev, Director of the Arena Program and Senior Visiting Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, testified that the principles we use to defend journalists are being weaponized to attack journalists in other countries. He argued that the crushing of media voices happens not only through censorship, but also through the flood of disinformation. These mass inauthentic campaigns take away the fundamental right to receive information and know its origins, Pomerantsev said, and argued that the best way to counter such disinformation is through better transparency on the origins of content encountered online. Helsinki Commissioner Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH) asked the witnesses about steps the United States could take to counter disinformation and misinformation, especially strategies that have been found to be successful in Europe. Ribeiro answered that media literacy and better training for journalists to become fact checkers are key. Additionally, building back trust between the media and the public is vital, and the local level is the best way to do so. Mahoney agreed, stating that local news is generally trusted more than the news at a national level, but the decline in local news outlets in the U.S. has pushed people towards getting news from social media. Acknowledging various levels of media freedom across the OSCE, Chairman Cardin asked what best practices are to protect the freedom of the media. Ribeiro replied that different tools need to be used in different countries. Some countries have strong rule of law, yet still have issues with media freedom. In her capacity as RFOM, her tools include voice, advocacy, and assisting participating states to improve media freedom. Chairman Cardin also asked what should be done to protect journalists against indiscriminate arrests, detentions, and physical violence. Mahoney answered that the number one focus must be on bringing those who murder journalists to justice. Too often the murderers go free, sending the signal to others that journalists can be silenced this way. Next, to pressure governments that imprison journalists, including calling them out at conferences on the international stage. Lastly, the OSCE and EU must lift their standards and prevent capture of the media by the state. Chairman Cardin thanked Mahoney for his comments and added that the Helsinki Commission and the U.S. Congress is happy to help, but needs specifics like names and stories, not numbers, to advocate for journalists across the world. Asked about where the United States needs to concentrate its priorities regarding RFE/RL in the OSCE region, Jamie Fly noted the importance of social media in reaching audiences, and therefore the power social media companies have over RFE/RL. Social media algorithms dictate which content users see, and often authoritarian regimes intervene and pressure social media companies to remove content critical of them because of supposed terms-of-service violations, as was the case with Navalny’s election app in Russia. Fly affirmed the need for pressure and targeted sanctions on regimes violating press freedom, as well as support for journalist who cannot work safely in their home countries. Pomerantsev expanded on the issues of social media algorithms, explaining that understanding why an algorithm promotes some content over another is key to slowing disinformation. He emphasized that transparency, not regulation of content, is the best way to do so. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) addressed the rising violence against journalists worldwide, including 29 killings in 2021, and increased imprisonment of journalists. Calling out Turkey, a NATO ally, for severe transgressions, Sen. Wicker asked if there is hope for improvement. Mahoney responded by saying the decline of press freedoms in Turkey has been happening for 20 years, but the coup attempt in 2016 worsened it. In his opinion, the OSCE and EU have been unsuccessful in attempting to bring change to media conditions in Turkey and must be more forceful in their critique of Erdogan and his regime. Chair Cardin closed the hearing by stating, “This commission stands ready to work with you to protect individual journalists as well as to put a spotlight on counties which are violating the freedom of the media.” Related Information Witness Biographies  

  • Helsinki Commission Mourns Death of Colin Powell

    WASHINGTON—Following the death of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We mourn the loss of a thoughtful leader, respected diplomat, and dedicated public servant. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell actively supported the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its comprehensive definition of security, which includes respect for human rights. In 1990, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his leadership of the U.S. delegation to a seminar in Vienna on military doctrine demonstrated that when Moscow was serious about overcoming differences through the Helsinki Process, the United States was ready to collaborate, as is true today. “Secretary Powell’s subsequent work in the OSCE on fighting anti-Semitism and championing election observation proved that he was not only a warrior and a diplomat, but also a steadfast advocate for human rights and a defender of the most vulnerable.” Secretary Powell was one of the most active U.S. Secretaries of State in OSCE history, personally attending Ministerial Council meetings in 2001, 2003, and 2004. In 2001, he said: “We see our membership in the OSCE as complementing and reinforcing our strong bilateral ties with European and Eurasian countries, our membership in NATO, and our relationship with the European Union. This organization embraces a wide-range of ethnicities, traditions and histories. More importantly, it reflects our common embrace of democratic and market principals and our common commitment to peace and stability. In short, the OSCE encompasses the hopes that all of us share for a Europe that is fully whole and free.”

  • Media Freedom Across the OSCE Region to Be Assessed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: IN PURSUIT OF TRUTH Media Freedom in the OSCE Region Wednesday, October 20, 2021 2:30pm Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 419 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission A free press is the lifeblood of democracy; without independent media, democracy is doomed, economies suffer, and peace is imperiled. In many of the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), autocrats exploit financial and legal means, alongside physical violence, to intimidate and silence independent media. Journalists and their associates are attacked both online and offline; jailed on phony charges; and even killed for the secrets they expose. Leaders undermine public trust in the press to hide their misdeeds. Disinformation—particularly lies related to the COVID-19 pandemic—continues to pollute the information landscape. In her first appearance before Congress, OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro will assess the state of media freedom across the OSCE region. Other expert witnesses will discuss recent attacks on journalists and media outlets, the motivations that lead authorities to try and silence the press, global disinformation networks, and more. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Teresa Ribeiro, Representative on Freedom of the Media, OSCE Jamie Fly, President & CEO, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Robert Mahoney, Deputy Executive Director, Committee to Protect Journalists Peter Pomerantsev, Director of Arena Program and Senior Fellow, Johns Hopkins University; Author and Journalist

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Condemns Russian Obstruction of OSCE Human Rights Work

    WASHINGTON—In response to Russian intransigence blocking the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We are extremely disappointed that the HDIM failed to start this week as planned, due solely to Russian intransigence blocking the meeting. The Kremlin has reached a new low in its efforts to undermine the OSCE’s work to promote human rights and democracy. “Russia clearly fears criticism of its worsening human rights record and fraudulent elections from the OSCE, other OSCE participating States, and civil society. The HDIM, through its thorough review of states’ human rights records and its inclusion of civil society, is a crown jewel of the OSCE’s human rights work. “We urge Russia to change its position and we expect the HDIM to be held in accordance with the agreement adopted in Helsinki in 1992 by the heads of state of all OSCE participating States—including Russia—that established the HDIM. For our part, we will continue to speak out when we see human rights violations, including in the Russian Federation.” The OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting is the region’s largest annual human rights conference, and typically brings togethers hundreds of government and nongovernmental representatives, international experts, and human rights activists for two weeks to engage in a comprehensive review of the participating States’ compliance with their human rights and democracy-related commitments. The meeting is held in Warsaw, Poland, where the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is headquartered.

  • Helsinki Commission Summer 2021 Digital Digest

  • OSCE SHDM on Digital Technology and Human Rights

    OSCE Conference on Risks and Opportunities Posed by Digital Technologies On July 12 and 13, 2021, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) held the third Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) of the year, titled "Digital Technologies and Human Rights - Opportunities and Challenges." The virtual conference included representatives from 45 OSCE participating States; a dozen OSCE missions and institutions, including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; more than 140 academic, national, and non-governmental human rights institutions; and international organizations like the Council of Europe, European Union, and the United Nations. Digital technologies affect human rights, gender equality, and the rule of law, and in her opening remarks, Swedish Foreign Ministry Director-General for Political Affairs Elinor Hammarskjöld stressed the nexus between digital technologies and Swedish OSCE Chairpersonship-in-Office (CiO) priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored how the digital divide disproportionately affects women and girls, she explained, and stressed the threat that widespread use of digital technologies can pose to fundamental freedoms if used indiscriminately by authorities. Panelists highlighted opportunities for digital technologies to benefit societies and human rights defenders, as well as dangers they can pose to human rights. Maia Rusakova, associate professor of sociology at St. Petersburg State University, warned that data collection technologies have facilitated online recruitment by human traffickers. However, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and tracking blockchain financial transactions and social media activity could play a role in combatting the digital threats of human trafficking.  Susie Alegre, an associate at the human rights NGO Doughty Street Chambers, highlighted how cutting-edge data collection can raise awareness of threats to human rights, support investigations, facilitate positive social change, and support human rights defenders. Examples include Data 4 Black Lives, eyeWitness to Atrocities, Forensic Architecture, and Bellingcat. Elif Kuskonmaz, a lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, cautioned that misuse of facial recognition technology could pose threats to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech, and that it could be exploited to wrongfully detain citizens. To prevent such abuse, she recommended that participating States adopt adequate legal frameworks concerning the collection, use, storage, and sharing of personal data. She urged all participating States to review the Council of Europe's Convention 108+, which addresses personal data collection in a national security context. Other panelists explored the capacity of artificial intelligence systems to reinforce existing structural inequalities through algorithms and the subsequent human rights implications. Civil Society Concerns about Government Use—or Abuse—of Digital Technology Civil society participants shared human rights concerns related to governmental use of digital technologies. Many urged the OSCE to call out repressive behavior and help participating States establish adequate legal protections against misuse. Several urged the United States and the European Union to target sanctions against the worst offenders. Many participants also took the opportunity to raise human rights concerns directly with government officials, and alleged misuse of data collected by government agencies to persecute human rights defenders, social activists, and their families.  For example, civil society activists from Kazakhstan accused the government of conducting digital surveillance and censorship on NGOs and activists, and they complained that mandatory “security certificates” allow the government to monitor and block use of non-government-controlled social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Other NGOs raised concerns about Spain's treatment of protesters in Catalonia, Greece's treatment of Turks in Western Thrace, and Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, including Crimea. A German NGO called for the abolition of facial recognition technology due to its use by law enforcement to profile specific ethnic groups and minorities, including Roma and Sinti.  Civil society participants also expressed concerns over participating States’ use of digital technology to target dissent by deploying spyware against individuals, spreading misleading government-sponsored content, and silencing protest groups and democratic movements. Several NGOs argued that their governments exploited conditions imposed by the pandemic to use surveillance camera footage, geolocation data, and contact tracing as part of a domestic surveillance campaign to discourage public political dissent. Participants highlighted how technology has been used to spread racist messaging, including the racist abuse of English football players following the recent Union of European Football Associations Euro 2020 matches. Many voiced their dismay that social media companies do not hold accountable individuals who spread racist content. Participants recommended that social media companies implement more robust algorithms to detect racist remarks.  Participating States Respond Several participating States addressed the use of technology. The European Union recognized the importance of addressing human rights abuses that arise from the misuse of digital technologies. Turkey responded by touting its 2016 law on data protection and emphasizing its multiculturalism. The Holy See responded that it is necessary to improve education in proper use and effects of technology. The Holy See also called for international regulations to guarantee the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to private personal electronic communication.

  • Ranking Member Joe Wilson on July 2021 Congressional Delegation

    Mr. Speaker, this month, I was grateful to participate in a Congressional delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly led by Senator Roger Wicker and Senator Ben Cardin. It was inspiring to see the extraordinary economic advances of Estonia and Bulgaria. In Tallinn, Estonia, we were welcomed by the dynamic Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, and the dedicated Foreign Minister, Eva-Maria Liimets. While in Tallinn, we learned that Russian diplomats had been expelled in April across the Baltics to join the protest of the Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, exposing the irrefutable evidence that two Russian GRU agents were behind the 2014 ammunition depot explosion at Vrbetice, which killed two persons. The same two Russian agents named by the Czech Republic are suspected by British authorities for poisoning former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018. The Czech Republic has correctly demanded Russia pay for damages.

  • Cardin and Wicker Discuss July 2021 Congressional Delegation in Colloquy

    Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I take this time to talk about the work of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in a recent opportunity we had to participate in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I am joined on the floor by Senator Wicker, who is the Republican chair of the Helsinki Commission. The two of us have worked together in a nonpartisan, bipartisan manner in regards to the work of the Helsinki Commission. I just want to spend a few minutes, and then I am going to yield the floor and allow Senator WICKER to give his comments. The OSCE, as the chair is fully aware as a member of the Commission, represents the U.S. participation in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe—57 states, which includes all of Europe, all of the former Republics of the Soviet Union, and Canada and the United States. The Commission works on the principle of three buckets: one for political affairs and security, another for economic and environmental progress, and the third on democracy and human rights. But it recognizes—and I think this has been the hallmark of the Helsinki Commission—that you can’t have advancements on political affairs or security or economic or environmental progress unless you make progress on democracy and human rights, that they are interwoven. In the Helsinki Commission, the OSCE is best known for its advancements for basic human rights. So I think of the initiatives that we have had in the Helsinki Commission for dealing with trafficking in humans and the legislation that came out of that and how we led the global response to dealing with trafficking. I think about the efforts we made in regards to tolerance, dealing with anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance and how we have made progress throughout the entire OSCE region. I think about the issues we did in regards to sanctions against human rights violators so they cannot use our banking system or visit our country, the Magnitsky-type sanctions. All of that came out of the work of the Helsinki Commission. So one of the major arms of our work is the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which is the group of parliamentarians who meet every year and have meetings throughout the year to exchange views and to carry out the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. For the last year and a half, we have been compromised because we haven’t had an opportunity to meet in person, and it required us to meet by internet, and we have, but we had a unique opportunity during the last recess period to actually travel and meet with the parliamentarians. We had an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly annual meeting in Vienna. And we had a chance to do this in a hybrid manner. So we were able to travel 12-strong from the U.S. Congress to be at that meeting, and we were joined by five others here in the United States, including our Presiding Officer, to participate in the Parliamentary Assembly, and we were able to advance a lot of very important issues. But I must tell you, we were noticed at this meeting. The U.S. presence was critically important in dealing with some very timely issues. I know that Senator Wickerwill talk about this. He is one of the great leaders of the Parliamentary Assembly. He is Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly. We are very proud of the leadership position that he holds. By the way, his election was in Vienna to be the Vice President of the Parliamentary Assembly. We had multiple candidates and several elected to Vice-Presidents, but Senator Wicker led the ballot with the largest number of votes, which I think speaks to his well-thought-of respect among the OSCE parliamentarians. We wanted to make sure that this was a substantive meeting. Quite frankly, the leadership of the Parliamentary Assembly said: Let’s just get in there and get it over with and not bring up anything controversial. But that is not the way we operate. We have to take up current issues. So we took up the issue of tolerance. I was happy to sponsor a resolution that ultimately passed by unanimous vote that speaks to anti-Semitism, racism, intolerance, and the growth of hate in the OSCE region. But we also made sure that we considered the recent elections in Belarus and how unfair those elections were and how Mr. Lukashenko has been acting in a way that is so contrary to the human rights of the people who live there, and the election results there do not reflect the will of the people. We also had a chance to make sure we took up the issues concerning Ukraine. Once again, there was a lot of controversy on why you should bring that up during this meeting. We did. We supported that to make it clear that Russia’s aggression and its occupation of Crimea and its interference in eastern Ukraine will never be recognized as legitimate by the United States or, by that matter, the Parliamentary Assembly, because we responded in all of those areas. I am pleased to tell you that we supported Margareta Cederfelt, who is going to be the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Sweden, and we look forward to her visit here in the United States. Richard Hudson, Representative Hudson, will be the chair of the first committee. So we are going to have active participation in the Parliamentary Assembly. We had the chance to visit some other countries. But if I might, I think I am going to yield the floor and give my good friend and the leader of our congressional delegation trip an opportunity to expand on some of the things we were able to do in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. With that, I yield the floor. Mr. WICKER. Madam President, I thank my colleague from Maryland, who has been such a leader in the area of human rights and international recognition of the challenges that our world faces today. I do appreciate his leadership and his partnership. We have worked shoulder to shoulder on so many issues. Yes, I proudly rise with him this afternoon to talk about a very valuable series of meetings that our 12-member delegation had in 4 countries in Europe in recent days. This was Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate, a truly bipartisan and bicameral delegation—a very large delegation—which I think my colleague will agree made a strong statement on behalf of the United States of America and on behalf of the U.S. House and Senate about the way we view European engagement and our partnership and friendship with the 50-plus member countries of the OSCE and their Parliamentary Assembly. We visited Vienna, Austria, for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. As Senator Cardin mentioned, we met with great success. Yes, I was reelected to the position of vice president, and I appreciate the support of Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate in helping me get those votes to receive another three-year term there. Richard Hudson, our colleague from the House of Representatives, has been very active as chairman of Committee No. 1 in the Parliamentary Assembly. He is highly regarded. He was reelected without opposition. So there are two bits of success there. And then the great piece of work, actually, was with regard to Senator Cardin's initiative on the rising hate and intolerance that we are seeing all around the world, particularly among member countries of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Senator Cardin actually took the lead in challenging the leadership of the Parliamentary Assembly in saying that issues should be discussed. Even though they weren’t in an immediate, like, three-week crisis mode, they deserved to be brought forward. And Senator Cardin was able to get his resolution considered and passed overwhelmingly, and we made a strong statement on behalf of countering the rising hate and intolerance and countering the use of these things to buttress authoritarianism and to stoke conflict around the world. We also passed a very important resolution about the tragedy, the outrage that has gone on in Belarus. I can tell you, the opposition party leader from Belarus was in this Capitol building just yesterday talking about the importance of support from places like the United States Congress. I can tell you, Madam President, that Senator Shaheen and I are about to send a letter to our colleagues asking any and all of us to join a Freedom Caucus for the Belarusian people, the Belarus Freedom Caucus. We asked the opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, to tell us whether that would be helpful. She said the formation of this caucus to support the freedom movement in Belarus would be a strong signal. It would be well received and effective on behalf of the opposition leadership there in Belarus. Then, again, we reiterated our opposition to what Russia has done in Ukraine and particularly to the recent Russian military buildup and ongoing aggression in Ukraine. We did a lot there with the Parliamentary Assembly. We went on to Estonia, met with leadership there—a former President, the current Prime Minister, other leaders. And, also, we had a chance to travel to the very easternmost part of Estonia and actually travel on the Narva River and look right across to Russia and the security guards there, understanding what our Estonian allies are up against with Putin’s Russia staring right across the river at their freedom and democracy. From there, we joined the Three Seas conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. I can tell you, this is a group of Eastern European former Soviet Bloc countries that are striving to be in charge of their own infrastructure and rely less on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. I think the fact that 12 Americans showed up, participated, met with Heads of state at that conference made a very strong statement of American support for freedom and for looking westwardly in trying to get their problems solved and their infrastructure needs met. We also had a very meaningful visit to Norway, where we saw some American-Norwegian defense initiatives. I am very proud of the partnership that this Helsinki Commission—our organ of the American OSCE PA—and the way that we joined together to express our support for freedom, for democracy, for the rule of law, for opposing corruption, both at the petty local level and also at the larger State-sponsored level. One other thing before I yield back and let my friend close. Particularly in Bulgaria, but also all during our trip, we were met with hearty thanks for the United States leadership in the global Magnitsky Act. This began as an initiative with Senator Cardin, Senator Lieberman, Senator McCain, and me several years ago directed—during the Obama administration—directed toward individual Russians who had violated human rights and individual liberty in a very outrageous and gross way, allowing us to sanction individuals rather than causing harm to the people of Russia in that case. That has been expanded now to the global level and other countries are adopting this. But I can tell you, when we arrived in Bulgaria, we were met with great thanks from people who are trying to combat lawlessness and corruption at the top level of government. I just have to say, of course, Ben Cardin has been the premier leader in this worldwide effort. It was gratifying to know and to learn firsthand on the ground there in Sofia, Bulgaria, that an initiative that began right here in this U.S. Senate years ago, and continues to this day, is having a beneficial effect on the people all across Europe and particularly in some of the countries that we visited. I yield back to the Senator from Maryland. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maryland. Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, let me again thank Senator Wicker. Thank you for your leadership on so many issues. But on this congressional delegation, for those who are not familiar, it is not easy to put together the type of opportunities to advance American values. And Senator Wicker took the responsibility as the leader of our delegation to make sure that we had the opportunities to advance American values. I thank him for all the effort he put into it. It was certainly extremely successful. I just want to emphasize a few things before closing. One, in Vienna, we did have an opportunity to meet with Rafael Grossi, who is the Director General of the IAEA. That is the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has the responsibility of monitoring the nuclear programs throughout the world. Obviously, it has played a bigger role in regard to the program in Iran, and it was monitoring exactly what was happening in Iran under the JCPOA. They now don’t have the same access, and we had a chance to talk with the Director General as to the challenges with the Iranian program. And I think it was helpful for all of us to understand exactly the role that the IAEA can play in regard to getting us information about what is happening on the ground in Iran. Senator Wicker talked about our visit to Estonia, a strong ally partner, NATO partner. We showed our support by going to Narva, which is on the Russian border. It is a town that has a majority of Russian-speaking Estonians. It is an interesting community. But we could see across the river, very clearly, the Russian patrol boats. We know and heard firsthand of the concern of the Estonians. They saw what happened in Ukraine and they worry that same thing could happen in Estonia with Russian aggression. I must tell you, our presence to reinforce the NATO commitment, I think, was an extremely important message that we gave to the Estonian people. Mr. WICKER. Would the gentleman yield on that point? Mr. CARDIN. I would be glad to yield. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Mississippi. Mr. WICKER. If I might add, people in Narva, Estonia, and people in the city across the river have access to each other across a bridge there. And it is clear to the people on the Russian side that their cousins and friends in Narva, Estonia, live a better life and have a better standard of living in this free country, this NATO ally called Estonia, than the Russian cousins and friends have on the other side. I just thought I would add that to the discourse before Senator Cardin moves on to discussing Norway and Bulgaria. Thank you. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maryland. Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, let me move onto Bulgaria very briefly. Senator Wicker did cover Bulgaria. The Three Seas Initiative, I wasn’t that familiar with it before traveling to Bulgaria. It is an initiative by twelve states that are basically part of the Eastern European Coalition, states that are developing democratic institutions and democratic economies after the fall of the Soviet Union. They need to build up their resilience as a collective entity in energy, transportation, and digital infrastructure. The Three Seas Initiative is to attract investment to connect the twelve countries together on infrastructure needs. It is for many reasons. It is for its own economic strength and growth, but also for resiliency against the efforts of China on its Belt and Road Initiative, which is trying to infiltrate these countries and convert their way of economy to more of the Chinese system. The Three Seas Initiative is an effort to have their own independent way of attracting capital. The United States is participating in the Three Seas. We are not a member, but we are participating and providing resources for the fund that is being developed that would be leveraged for these type of investments. While we were in Bulgaria, we had a chance to have bilateral meetings. There were twelve heads of state there. We had bilateral meetings with the President of Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania. We had very constructive discussions about what is happening in their country. We raised Helsinki issues with all these countries. Senator Wicker already talked about how we were welcomed by the Bulgarian leadership in regards to the imposition of the Magnitsky sanctions. We are heroes. They feel like they have a second chance to try to develop the type of anti-corruption mechanisms that they desperately need. Our visit to Varna, which is on the Black Sea, was very educational to see how Russia is trying to dominate the Black Sea area and one of the reasons why they are so aggressive in Ukraine and the Crimea. I think that was extremely helpful for us to understand the security risks and how we have to work with our NATO partners to protect the Black Sea area, particularly from the potential aggression—not potential—from the aggression of Russia. Also in Bulgaria, we had a chance to visit a Roma village. It is not my first visit to a Roma village. I have visited over the years. It is a real tragic situation. The Roma population have been in Europe for centuries. They lived in communities for hundreds of years, yet they do not have property rights. They have lived in their homes, and yet they do not have the opportunity to have their homes registered. And at any time, the government can come in and take away their property without compensation. They rarely have reliable utilities. The village we visited did not have water systems, so they had to use outhouses, et cetera. They had limited availability of fresh water. Their utility service is not reliable. And they go to segregated schools. They don’t have the same employment opportunities. So we, once again, will raise the rights of the Roma population as part of our commitment under the Helsinki Commission, and we are following up with the local officials to try to help in that regard. Then, lastly, on our way back, we visited Norway. I learned a lot because I did not know about the pre-positioning program. I know my friend Senator Wicker already knew about this from his Armed Services service, but it is where we pre-position equipment so that we can respond rapidly to a circumstance anywhere in the world. The Norway pre-positioning is actually used to help us in regard to the Middle East and our needs in the Middle East. So it was an extremely, extremely, I think, productive visit to these countries. I think we did carry out our commitment under the Helsinki Commission, and we advanced American values. I think we represented our country well, and we were very well noticed. With that, I yield the floor. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Mississippi. Mr. WICKER. Madam President, one other thing that our colleagues might not understand about the OSCE is their role in election observation. As we were leaving Sofia on the morning of July 11, we crossed paths with some other representatives from the OSCE from European countries who were there to observe the parliamentary elections being held in Bulgaria that very day. Also, on the same day, Moldova, another member of the OSCE, was having parliamentary elections.  We have every hope that the results of these elections will be a further resolve in those two nation members to counter the corruption at the highest level, and we want to congratulate both of those member states of the OSCE for free and fair elections in Europe. With that, I thank my colleague. I yield the floor.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Advances Priority Issues at First OSCE PA Annual Session Since Onset of Covid-19 Pandemic

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) last week led a U.S. delegation to the 2021 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Annual Session in Vienna, Austria. The assembly was the first major gathering with an in-person component since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The 2021 OSCE PA Annual Session was held in a hybrid format, with most of the approximately 250 delegates participating remotely and others convening in Vienna. The United States had more representatives to the in-person meeting of the OSCE PA Standing Committee—comprising the heads of national delegations and other OSCE PA leaders—than any other participating State: Chairman Cardin, as the head of the U.S. delegation; Sen. Wicker, who serves as a vice-president of the OSCE PA; and Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), who chairs the OSCE PA General Committee on Political Affairs and Security. Other members traveling to Vienna included Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Sen. John Cornyn (TX), Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Rep. Andy Harris (MD-01), and  Rep. Trent Kelly (MS-01). Remote participants in the Annual Session included Commissioners Sen. Tina Smith (MN), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), along with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). During the Annual Session, the American legislators engaged in debates on political affairs and security, economic and environmental matters, and democracy and human rights. The U.S. legislators also played key roles in the adoption of three resolutions reflecting the major issues confronting the OSCE today: rising hate and its use to bolster authoritarianism and conflict, a call for democratic change in Belarus, and continued opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Chairman Cardin, who also serves as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Intolerance, sponsored the first resolution, urging OSCE participating States to adopt an OSCE Anti-Discrimination, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan, to strengthen the efforts of law enforcement, civil society, and others to tackle discrimination and extremism. In addition, parliamentarians held the first Assembly elections in two years, with both Sen. Wicker and Rep. Hudson easily retaining their leadership posts. Sen. Wicker received the most votes of any of the nine vice-presidential candidates, while Rep. Hudson was elected by acclamation. While in Vienna, members also met with OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid and other senior OSCE officials, along with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi. The in-person delegation also traveled to Estonia, where they met with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets, former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Chair of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson to demonstrate the strong U.S. support for the bilateral security relationship. During a visit to Narva, delegation members engaged with representatives of the local Russian-speaking community and visited the Russia-Estonia border to gain a better understanding of the security situation. “The American alliance with Estonia is based on shared democratic values. We appreciate our bilateral relationship and mutual efforts to support the democratic opposition in Belarus and independent voices in Russia,” said Chairman Cardin. “Across the 57 nations that are part of the OSCE, rising challenges to democratic norms require a sober and sustained response from those committed to the rule of law and the defense of human rights. Estonia and the United States are staunch allies in this effort.” “As the Baltic region faces serious and continuing security challenges, the United States is proud to support our steadfast NATO allies,” Sen. Wicker said. “This visit by a bipartisan and bicameral delegation is representative of the strong consensus in the U.S. Congress to push back against the Kremlin’s malign activities in the region. We also appreciate the important and growing contributions of Estonia and our other regional allies and partners as we work to address global security challenges.” Members then traveled to Bulgaria for the Three Seas Initiative Summit, designed to promote transparent and sustainable investments in energy, transportation, and digital infrastructure that contribute to an undivided, free, prosperous, and resilient Europe. While at the summit, they held bilateral meetings with President Andrzej Duda of Poland, President Rumen Radev of Bulgaria, and President Egils Levits of Latvia to discuss a broad range of security and human rights issues. The delegation also traveled to Varna to examine Black Sea regional security issues; visited a Roma community to better understand the current situation of Roma in Bulgaria and underscore U.S. support for the rights of Bulgaria's Roma population; and met with journalists of the recently re-established Bulgarian service of Radio Free Europe. “We brought a dozen members from the U.S. Congress to Sofia to demonstrate support for the Three Seas Initiative and also to engage with Bulgaria’s leaders and its people about our shared values and basic human rights,” said Chairman Cardin. “Protecting civil and human rights is an essential component of every democracy and we look forward to hearing more about how Bulgaria is safeguarding fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.” “The Black Sea region has seen a troublesome rise in tension recently,” said Sen. Wicker. “Our visit to the area was intended to keep us abreast of the situation and to demonstrate our strong, enduring, and bipartisan support to Bulgaria and our other NATO Allies and partners in the region.” En route back to the United States, the delegation visited the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program Norway, a cooperative effort with a stalwart NATO ally that reinforces regional security and offers direct support to U.S. deployments as far away as Iraq.  

  • 45th Anniversary of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

    I take this time as the Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the Helsinki Commission, as we celebrate our 45th anniversary. The Helsinki Commission is the vehicle for U.S. participation in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), representing 57 states that have come together under the OSCE, all the countries of Europe, all the countries of the former Soviet Union, including those located in Central Asia, the United States, and Canada. Mr. President, this is a unique body in that it represents both the executive and legislative branches of government. The executive branch has representatives on the Helsinki Commission, and both the House and Senate have Senators and Representatives that serve on the Helsinki Commission. I am very pleased to have as my co-leader Senator Wicker from Mississippi as the Republican leader in the Senate on the Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Commission has been responsible for elevating our moral dimension to U.S. foreign policy. Its principles point out very clearly that you cannot have security without dealing with good governance and human rights; you cannot have economic progress unless you have governance that respects the rights of all its citizens. That is why I was so pleased when President Biden announced that his foreign policy would be value-based, that as we participate in our foreign policy challenges, it will always be wrapped in our values, and his recent trip to Europe underscored that important lesson. And then he issued, not two weeks ago, the statement that corruption is a core national security threat and that we have a responsibility to fight corruption in order to protect our national security. I am so pleased of the accomplishments of the Helsinki Commission, particularly from the human rights and human dimension. I go back to my early days in the House of Representatives, when the Soviet Union still existed and the challenges of Soviet Jews trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union. It was the Helsinki Commission that was one of the leading voices to help deal with Soviet Jews. I think about trafficking-in-persons, modern-day slavery, and the efforts that the United States did in leading that effort, including passing landmark legislation in trafficking in persons and establishing a rating system where every country in the world is rated on how well they are dealing with fighting trafficking. Now this has become the model, and so many countries have acted. It was the U.S. Helsinki Commission that led the effort for what Congress was able to pass and the international effort in order to fight trafficking-in-persons. I think about the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide, and recognize that it was the Helsinki Commission that pushed to hold those who were responsible for these atrocities accountable, particularly as it related to the Balkan conflict. Then I think about the landmark legislation that was passed in the Congress that deals with sanctions against human rights violators, first the Magnitsky sanctions and then the Global Magnitsky sanctions. It came out of hearings from the Helsinki Commission and legislation that we authored. It is not only the standard here in the United States. It has been adopted as the standard in Europe, in Canada, and in other countries, to make it clear that human rights violators will not be able to hide their illicit funds in our banking system or visit our country. Perhaps our strongest contribution is the oversight hearings that we hold. We also passed the Elie Wiesel Atrocities Prevention Act. But just last week we had a hearing in the Helsinki Commission on how we can prevent atrocities from occurring in the first place. So I am very proud of the accomplishments of the commission. Part of the responsibilities of every member state of the OSCE is that we have the right to challenge any State’s compliance with the Helsinki Final Act Accords. So it is our responsibility to challenge when Russia violates those provisions or when we see violations in Turkey—any member State, we can challenge. But we also have to do our own self-evaluation. As Chairman of the commission, I have been using that opportunity to question conduct in our own country when it does not match the responsibilities that we should have. We saw that in the past in regard to the torture issues in Guantanamo Bay. My participation in the Helsinki Commission goes back to my early days in the House of Representatives and some of my proudest moments of representing our country on the international stage. Let me just give you a few examples. In February 1991, I joined a fact-finding mission to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. That is when the Soviet tanks were in Vilnius. That is when the Soviet Union was demonstrating oppression against the people of the Baltic States. It was a very sad moment of oppression, and we went there to stand up for the people of the region, to let them know that the United States never recognized the Soviet’s occupation of the Baltic States, and that we stood with the people and their independence. It was very interesting. We went from there to Moscow, and Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t want to have anything to do with us. He wouldn’t have a meeting with us, and he wouldn’t acknowledge that we were there. But we had a meeting with Boris Yeltsin, who at that time was the chair of the parliament, and we got great visibility. And Yeltsin supported our efforts to condemn the Russian use of force. I have been to Germany several times. My first trip on behalf of the Helsinki Commission was when it was a divided country, and we went to East Berlin. We were the voices for those oppressed people whose voices could not otherwise be heard, and we gave them hope that one day they would see freedom. I then returned when we were literally taking down the Berlin Wall, and I joined in taking down part of the Berlin Wall. I have part of that as a prized possession in my home. I have returned to Germany as a united country and see what a democratic Germany means and the work of our commission to bring down the Iron Curtain. Germany is now a leading democratic state and a great ally of the United States. I have been to Kyiv, Ukraine, on several occasions. I was there during the Maidan protests, where the people demanded democracy. And then I had a chance to return and monitor the elections in Ukraine with Senator Portman—again, a country that has been able to rid itself of the oppression of the Soviet Union. I have been very active in the Helsinki Commission in regards to the Parliamentary Assembly. I chaired one of their three standing committees. I had a chance to become Vice-President at the Parliamentary Assembly. Today, I acknowledge Senator Wicker, who is Vice-President. It points out the bipartisan nature of the Helsinki Commission and our work on the international platform.

  • Tribute to Erika Schlager

    I want to acknowledge one individual who recently announced that she is retiring, Erika Schlager, after 34 years of service to the Commission and to the global community. Erika received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where she graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her A.M. degree from Harvard University in Soviet Union studies and her juris doctor degree with honors from the George Washington University Law School. She studied at Warsaw University as a Fulbright fellow and received a diploma from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Quite a record. She used that academic preparation to make a difference in the world—and what a difference she made. Erika has been an unfailing professional in her dedication to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that the commission meets its mandate and defends human rights abroad. Her deep expertise, which she has honed over decades of work, is renowned both among policy professionals in the United States and in the countries of Central Europe that she followed for the commission. Erika is one of our nation’s top experts on Europe’s most vulnerable communities. She is a leading voice on Roma rights—Europe’s largest minority, with significant populations also in the United States. I have joined Erika in the crusade to speak up for the Roma population, a group that has been denied citizenship in so much of Europe. What a difference she has made in their lives. Erika has worked with Members of Congress, the Department of State and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to address issues ranging from the enslavement and sterilization of Roma to a permanent memorial in Berlin dedicated to the Sinti and Roma victims of the Nazi regime, to annual recognition of International Roma Day. She has brought to my attention the candidacy of Ethel Brooks to be the first Roma board member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I know that Erika will continue to bring Roma perspective and history on the Holocaust to further the tolerance, education, and human rights work of the museum. I have the honor of representing the Senate on the Holocaust Memorial Museum board, and I can tell you that Erika is so deeply respected by the professionals at that museum for the work she has done in furthering the goal of that institution to prevent atrocities against any groups of people. Erika has long been one of my top advisers on the Holocaust restitution and Europe’s Jewish community. She has worked closely with me over the years to raise concerns about the rise of Holocaust revisionism in countries like Hungary and Poland; to foster implementation of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets measures to right the economic wrongs that accompanied the Holocaust; and to hold accountable a French railway that transported thousands of Holocaust victims to their deaths. She worked on all of these issues and made significant progress. Erika has been instrumental in ensuring that the Helsinki Commission works to hold the United States accountable for our own human rights record, examining U.S. policies and conduct concerning Guantanamo Bay detention camps and U.S. policy regarding torture. Erika’s counsel greatly assisted me in my role as the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE’s Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance, where I was focused on human rights and justice here at home and across the expanse of the 57 participating States of the OSCE. From the plight of African Americans and Muslims to migrants and refugees, Erika has been integral to the Helsinki Commission’s mandate of upholding the myriad of human rights commitments defined in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE agreements. In addition to her many professional milestones and achievements, Erika retires from the commission having left a deeply personal mark on those she worked with, from diplomats and civil servants to the staff of the Helsinki Commission. She is a natural teacher with a gift of taking a complex issue and distilling it in a way that makes it both relevant and accessible. Erika has taught our diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute and spoken at international meetings and at universities across the nation and around the world. She displayed her exceptional teaching ability at the Department of State’s annual training program on Roma rights, and she has ensured that Roma civil society groups could also participate. She has actively sought out dialogue and collaboration with new colleagues to help deepen their understanding of the Helsinki Commission’s role, of the challenges the commission could usefully seek to address abroad, and of the unique tools at its disposal to do just that. Erika is always quick to ask about a colleague’s well-being or inquire after a family member’s well-being. She has fostered collegiality among the Commission’s staff through her unfailing kindness and good nature. In so doing, she has repeatedly demonstrated how deeply she cares, not just for the work she has dedicated her career to, but also for the people whose great privilege it is to call her a colleague and a friend. I will say on a personal basis that I have benefited so much from her friendship, from her understanding, from her strategic thinking, from where we can make a difference. We know there are a lot of problems around the world. We know we can’t settle all the issues. But Erika helped us focus on areas where we can make a difference, and thanks to her input, we have made a difference. I know I speak on behalf of all Helsinki Commission members and staff and scores of other individuals—many who may not know her name—and groups concerned about advancing human rights around the globe and here at home when I say how we will miss Erika. Henry David Thoreau said: ‘‘Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.’’ Erika has embodied that maxim in her professional career and in her life. She has made an enormous difference, and she will continue to do so. I wish her all the best with respect to her future endeavors. I know we will continue to hear from her. Thank you, Erika, for the way you served the commission, our country, and the global community.

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