OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

Hon.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States
Senate
112th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Mr. President, I wish to submit for the Record a report on the activity of a congressional delegation I led to Belgrade, Serbia, from July 7 to 10, to represent the United States at the 20th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I did so in my capacity as cochairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

I was joined by our colleague from New Hampshire, Senator Shaheen, who also traveled to Sarajevo, Bosnia. Senator Shaheen is also a member of the Helsinki Commission. Our colleague from Alaska, Senator Begich, also participated on the delegation but was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, as part of the official U.S. Delegation to the 6th annual Croatian Summit of regional political leaders and European officials.

As the report details, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE PA, has been an excellent opportunity for the U.S. Congress to engage our European friends and allies, and to make clear to less friendly countries that our ties to the continent will not be diminished.

U.S. engagement also provides a means for us to advance U.S. interests by encouraging Europe to focus more on policy issues of concern to us, from democratic shortcomings within Europe such as Belarus to the new challenges and opportunities coming from North Africa and the Middle East and other parts of the world.

The revised Senate schedule made us miss the opening days of the Belgrade meeting, but we made up for that with an intensive schedule from Friday to Sunday. All three U.S. resolutions and most of our delegation's amendments to resolutions were adopted, including a resolution I submitted on political transition in the Mediterranean region and amendments welcoming the arrest of at-large war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic and calling for Turkey to allow the Ecumenical Patriarch to open a theological school in Halki.

Senator Shaheen and I also used the opportunity of visiting Belgrade to encourage progress in Serbia's democratic transition. We met with President Tadic as well as the Speaker of the Serbian National Assembly, the chief negotiator in the technical talks on Kosovo-related issues, representatives of civil society, and of Serbia's Romani and Jewish communities.

We came away from our visit impressed with the progress Serbia has made thus far. While there are lingering manifestations of the extreme and violent nationalism from the Milosevic era of the 1990s, I believe there is a genuine commitment to overcome them. We should support those in and out of government in Serbia who turn this commitment into action.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the Report to which I referred.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

Report of the US. Congressional Delegation (CoDel Cardin) to Belgrade, Serbia; Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Dubrovnik, Croatia July 7-10, 2011

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, and fellow Senator and Commissioner Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) traveled to the 20th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), held in Belgrade, Serbia, from July 6-10, 2011. The senators were able to do this despite a U.S. Congressional schedule that precluded House Members from traveling to the meeting and curtailed Senate attendance to only three of the session's five days. Three resolutions and more than one dozen amendments to various resolutions initiated by the United States Delegation were nevertheless considered and passed by the Assembly. Senator Shaheen was also able to make a one-day visit to neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, and both Senators were able to link with their colleague, Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), attending the Croatian Summit of regional political leaders held in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

THE OSCE PA

The Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of 320 parliamentarians from the 56 participating States, stretching from Central Asia and Russia across Europe and including the United States and Canada. Annual Sessions are the chief venue for debating international issues and voting on a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development, rule-of-law, economic, environmental and security concerns among the participating States and the international community.

The Parliamentary Assembly adopts its declaration by majority voting for resolutions coming from three committees dealing with political/security, economic/environmental and democracy/human rights issues respectively, in addition to other resolutions introduced by delegations to supplement these texts. Following the amendment of these resolutions also by majority voting, this generally allows for considerable verbiage to be accepted each year but also for franker language addressing controversial or new issues to be included than the OSCE itself can achieve on the basis of consensus among the 56 participating States. The heavy focus of OSCE diplomats on issues like trafficking in persons and combating intolerance in society is rooted in initiatives originally undertaken by the parliamentarians in the Assembly.

Having the largest delegation with 17 members, the United States historically has played a key role in OSCE PA proceedings, and there has been robust congressional participation since the Assembly's inception two decades ago. This engagement is reassuring to friends and allies in Europe while ensuring that issues of interest or concern to U.S. foreign policy are raised and discussed. In addition to representing the United States as delegates, members of the Helsinki Commission have served as OSCE PA special representatives on specific issues of concern, committee officers, vice presidents and the Assembly president.

THE TWENTIETH ANNUAL SESSION

This year's Annual Session was hosted by the National Assembly of Serbia and held in Belgrade's Sava Center, the 1977-78 venue for the first follow-up meeting of the diplomatic process that was initiated by the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act and is the OSCE today. During various interventions at the session, note was made not only of the vast changes in Europe since that time but also in Serbia, which was then a constituent republic of the former Yugoslavia but is today an independent state making progress in democratic development after overcoming more than a decade of authoritarian rule and extreme nationalist sentiment.

A meeting of the Standing Committee--composed of OSCE PA officers plus the heads of all delegations--met prior to the opening of the Annual Session. Chaired by OSCE PA President Petros Efthymiou of Greece, the committee heard numerous reports on the activities of the past year, endorsed a budget that has remained frozen for a fourth consecutive fiscal year, and approved for consideration at the Annual Session 25 of the 26 items introduced by various delegations to supplement the committee resolutions. Only an Italian draft on Asbestos Contamination failed to achieve a 2/3 vote approving its consideration.

With approximately 230 parliamentarians in attendance, the opening plenary of the Annual Session featured a welcome by Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic and National Assembly Speaker Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic and reports by the OSCE Chair-in Office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Az 0ubalis, and the newly appointed OSCE Secretary General, Lamberto Zannier of Italy. Zannier welcomed the OSCE PA's interest in fostering closer cooperation with the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna and committed himself to facilitating greater PA engagement through his leadership of the OSCE Secretariat and coordination with its institutions.

In his own remarks, PA President Efthymiou noted the "spirit of Helsinki'' which developed at the Belgrade meeting more than three decades ago and lamented the crisis in which the OSCE finds itself today. He called for significant changes to the operations of the Vienna-based organization to make it more effective and relevant in addressing the political and security issues of today. The theme for the Annual Session--Strengthening the OSCE'S Effectiveness and Efficiency, a New Start after the Astana Summit--was chosen to address this matter in light of last December's summit meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, which had heightened the political attention paid to the OSCE's work.

The following three days were devoted to committee consideration and amendment of the three resolutions and 21 supplementary items, and plenary consideration of the four additional supplementary items. Two additional resolutions were defeated in the process. The first was another initiative of an Italian delegate focusing on crimes causing serious social alarm, which lacked significant support. The second originated with the Belgian delegation on enlarging the OSCE's Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation to include Lebanon and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The latter was lost in a close vote after being heavily debated by those who advocate wider engagement in the long-term and those who questioned the timing of taking such an initiative. A number of parliamentarians felt it inappropriate for the OSCE to solicit interest by the Lebanese Government and the PNA while they are both under leadership that does not embrace OSCE principles. Some of the resolutions which did pass examined the deplorable human rights situation in Belarus, the unresolved conflict in Moldova, gender issues in the OSCE and the participating States, national minority concerns including the plight of Roma, cyber security, as well as combating violent extremism, transnational organized crime, and human trafficking for labor and organs.

U.S. INITIATIVES IN BELGRADE

Despite its small size, the U.S. Delegation remained very active in the deliberations, introducing three resolutions of its own, working closely with the delegation of the Netherlands on a fourth, and suggesting over a dozen amendments to various texts. All four of these resolutions were adopted, as were all but two of the U.S. amendments.

Co-Chairman Cardin's major initiative was a resolution on Mediterranean Political Transition, which directs the OSCE and its participating States to make their expertise in building democratic institutions available to Mediterranean Partner States: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. The resolution specifically encouraged the interim governments of Egypt and Tunisia to make a formal request for OSCE support following their consultations with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). It also called for an OSCE civil society forum to be hosted by a Mediterranean Partner State later this year. The Senator collaborated with the head of the Spanish delegation on numerous additional amendments to demonstrate the real priority this should be for the organization, and the initiative received widespread praise among the delegates. "We have all been inspired by the movements for freedom and change sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa,'' Senator Cardin noted while introducing the resolution, "and we support the citizens of the countries in the region as they demand respect for their basic human rights, economic opportunity, and open and responsive government ..... The OSCE and our Parliamentary Assembly have substantial capacity to assist our Mediterranean Partners..... We also must condemn in the strongest terms the unbridled violence unleashed by the governments of Libya and Syria against their own citizens.''

Though not in attendance, Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) introduced two resolutions for the Assembly's consideration that also were adopted. The first dealt with Combating Labor Trafficking in Supply Chains, urging governments to ensure that all goods they procure are free from raw materials and finished products produced by trafficked labor and to press corporations to independently verify that their supply chains are free of exploitation. The resolution also sought to raise consumer awareness about industries more likely to use trafficked labor. Two strengthening amendments authored by Co-Chairman Cardin were adopted. The amendments welcomed a recent OSCE meeting on the issue and urged diplomats to pass a declaration on the matter during a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers later this year.

The second Smith Resolution focused on International Parental Child Abductions and passed without amendment. Its core focus was to press OSCE States to become parties to the 1983 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and to implement its provisions. The resolution also urged that parental child abduction be considered at the 2011 OSCE Ministerial Council in Vilnius this December.

Ranking House Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who serves as the Parliamentary Assembly's Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, collaborated with OSCE PA Special Representative on Migration Kathleen Ferrier of the Netherlands on countering racism and xenophobia in Europe with measures to foster inclusion of affected communities. Noting that 2011 has been designated the International Year for People of African Descent, the resolution included a focus on racial bias against citizens and migrants of African descent, and called for specific measures to be taken by OSCE institutions to address reported increases of racial and ethnic discrimination in the OSCE region. The resolution also emphasized the importance of integrating ethnic minorities into economic and political life through capacity building partnerships between the public and private sector. The resolution passed with widespread support.

Supported by Senator Shaheen, Co-Chairman Cardin covered several smaller and more detailed issues with amendments, such as one welcoming the arrest in Serbia of at-large war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic, another urging Turkey to allow the reopening of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate's Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay, and another supporting greater transparency in the energy sector. Working with a German delegate, Senator Cardin also succeeded in removing language from a Serbian resolution which politicized the issue of investigating an organ-trafficking case that originated in neighboring Kosovo during the 1999 conflict. Serbian officials lobbied the PA Assembly directly and through the media to accept the resolution's call for the United Nations to conduct the investigation, contrary to the efforts being undertaken by the U.S. and EU to proceed through an already established EU rule-of-law mission. The U.S.-supported amendment was successful in designating the EU entity and the U.N. Mission in Kosovo as responsible for the investigation. There was insufficient support, however, for a U.S. amendment welcoming EU efforts thus far.

During the course of debate, Co-Chairman Cardin also suggested granting Mediterranean Partner countries a greater ability to participate in OSCE PA sessions through changes to Assembly rules. He also highlighted U.S. policy on cyber security in the vigorous debate of a resolution which in some respects diverged from the U.S. approach. In his capacity as an OSCE Vice President, the Senator, as an urgent matter, also supported consideration of a resolution focused on the lack of transparency in the OSCE during the recent selection of a new Secretary General. Language on this matter was also included in the final declaration.

SELECTING THE OSCE PA LEADERSHIP FOR THE COMING YEAR

In addition to hearing closing comments from Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and adopting the final declaration, the parliamentarians attending the Annual Session voted for contested seats in the Assembly's leadership. President Efthymiou was unopposed, as was Treasurer Roberto Battelli of Slovenia, and both were re-elected by acclamation. In a race among six candidates for three of the nine Vice President positions, Wolfgang Grossruck of Austria was re-elected, with Walburga Habsburg-Douglas of Sweden and Tonino Picula of Croatia elected for the first time. Senator Cardin has one additional year in his term as Vice President and is not eligible for another re-election.

Committee officers saw more dramatic changes, with only one officer retaining his position as committee chair. Others moved to higher positions within the committees or ran for the three Vice President seats. Unfortunately for the U.S. Delegation, Representative Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), a Helsinki Commissioner, did not win his second re-election bid as a committee Vice Chair due to his inability to be in Belgrade. He was unsuccessful in fighting off a challenge by a French delegate who entered the race at the last minute.

SIDE EVENTS IN BELGRADE

In addition to the formal proceedings, OSCE PA meetings often offer the possibility for delegations to sponsor side-events on issues needing additional attention. A luncheon focusing on gender issues in the OSCE is held annually, including in Belgrade. Non-governmental organizations may also hold their own events and invite the delegates to participate. In Belgrade, a coalition held a session on continued use of torture in OSCE States, with a focus particularly on the situation in Kyrgyzstan following the ethnic violence in 2009. Delegation-sponsored events in Belgrade included one on human rights abuses in Belarus, one on cases of alleged trafficking in human organs in Kosovo and elsewhere, and one featuring a film on two Jewish sisters in Serbia who escaped the Holocaust during World War II. With Senator Shaheen and U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Mary Burce Warlick in attendance, Senator Cardin participated in the latter event with opening comments on the work of the Vienna-based organization Centropa, which prepared the -film. Delegation staff attended most of the other side events as well.

BILATERAL MEETINGS WITH SERBIA AND A SIDE-TRIP TO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

While the delegation travelled to Belgrade principally to represent the United States at the OSCE PA Annual Session, the Helsinki Commission leadership regularly uses this travel to discuss bilateral issues with the host country and to visit nearby countries of concern. In Serbia, the delegation met with President Boris Tadic, National Assembly Speaker Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic, and chief negotiator for technical talks on Kosovo Boris Stefanovic. Ambassador Warlick briefed the Senators and attended the meetings.

Evident in the bilateral meetings was the progress Serbia was making in its internal political transition and attainment of European integration. Serbian officials made clear they were committed to overcoming the nationalist legacy of the Milosevic era, strengthening Serbia's democratic institutions and encouraging greater respect for the rule of law. While there are clear differences between the United States and Serbia regarding Kosovo, the officials asked for an expression of congressional support for agreements being reached in technical talks between Belgrade and Pristina that were of direct benefit to the people and brought an increased sense of regional stability, as well. They also stressed their support for Bosnia-Herzegovina's unity and territorial integrity. The U.S. Delegation welcomed Serbia's approach and encouraged Belgrade to curtail the activity of parallel Serbian institutions in northern Kosovo which are currently the greatest source of instability in the region. The message was amplified throughout the region by a VOA interview conducted with Senator Cardin.

 

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  • Helsinki Commission on Opening of Europe’s Largest Human Rights Meeting

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement ahead of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) annual high-level meeting on human rights. From September 22-October 3, civil society and government representatives of OSCE participating States will gather in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to discuss compliance with the full range of OSCE human dimension commitments, with special focus on migrant rights, minority issues, and combating violence against women and children. “The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting takes place while Russian aggression in Ukraine continues to threaten basic OSCE principles. I expect this will be a major focus of the meeting, as well as Russian actions at home that are cynically rolling back the ability of civil society to comment on or contribute to how that country functions," said Chairman Cardin. "I am pleased that Professor Brian Atwood will head the U.S. Delegation at this critical time. The promises OSCE states made to one another almost 25 years ago, that respect for human rights within any country is a matter of concern for all states, has guided us and must continue to do so. I also welcome the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, who will be taking a high-level study group to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." Co-Chairman Smith said, “The Russian government’s gross human rights violations in Ukraine must be a central topic of discussion at the Human Dimension meeting. HDIM is an indispensable tool for holding states accountable to OSCE commitments and most effective when both government and civil society representatives have equal opportunity to debate each state’s human rights record.  One issue that states and civil society must discuss this year in Warsaw, and at the OSCE “Berlin Plus 10” anti-Semitism conference in November, is the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE region.  The OSCE must also continue to combat trafficking in human beings, including through fulfilling commitments taken last year to train transportation workers to identify possible victims and to improve law enforcement information sharing internationally on potential sex tourists. Commitments are made to be kept.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Calls for Investigation, Accountability for Terrorist Act in Ukraine Separatist Region

    WASHINGTON—In response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in territory controlled by separatists in Ukraine, members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today called for unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators in order to establish responsibility for the killings in order to hold those parties accountable. “The downing of Malaysian Air flight 17 is an unspeakable tragedy. It did not have to happen and those responsible must be held accountable,” said Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “As we mourn for those lost and share our heartfelt prayers with the victims' families, I encourage international efforts to establish what happened and who was responsible.  In particular, I welcome the efforts and courage of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission team which has made its way to the crash site. I am extremely disappointed to learn that they were forced to depart after a mere 75 minutes due to aggression by the Moscow-sponsored separatists.  "This heinous crime is a direct consequence of Russia’s unjustified aggression in Ukraine which began with the annexation of Crimea nearly five months ago and has continued in two regions in eastern Ukraine, in violation of OSCE and other international norms. It is a direct result of Putin’s destabilization of Ukraine. The top three leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic are all Russian citizens and two of them are Russian intelligence operatives," continued Chairman Cardin. “Russia has continued to sponsor these terrorists with heavy weapons, equipment and men continuing to flow across the Russian border into Ukraine. If Russian involvement is confirmed, serious consideration needs to be given to designating the Donetsk People’s Republic a Foreign Terrorist Organization and the Russian Federation a State Sponsor of Terrorism.” Co-Chairman of the Commission, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), stated that “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the 298 innocent victims, including 80 children, who perished, likely at the hands of Russian operatives. I urge the President to vigorously work for full access for identification and removal of victims’ remains, and international investigation. The entire area should be treated as a crime scene – as the plane appears to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from a separatist-controlled area. This follows a pattern of actions where the rebels have shot down Ukrainian military planes and helicopters, most recently a Ukrainian military cargo plane earlier this week, for which they took credit.” “I am profoundly saddened and outraged at the senseless loss of innocent civilians on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17,” said Commissioner Representative Michael Burgess (TX-26). “I am extremely disturbed by the lack of access for international observers and first responders and by reports of looting and of people contaminating the crash site.  Not only must we be able to conduct a proper investigation, but the remains of the victims must be treated properly and with the utmost respect. I am also troubled by reports that there may be other efforts by the separatists and Russian authorities to cover up what really happened.”

  • Chairman Cardin Floor Statement on 2014 OSCE PA Annual Session

    On July 9, 2014, Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Senator Roger Wicker, Ranking Member of the Commission, held a colloquy on the Senate floor with Senator Tom Harkin to discuss the outcome of the U.S. delegation’s participation at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) annual session from June 28-July 2 that successfully advanced priority security and human rights initiatives. Key among the U.S. initiatives was a resolution introduced by Chairman Ben Cardin condemning Russia’s violation of international commitments by annexing Crimea and directly supporting separatist conflict in Ukraine. To watch the colloquy, click here.

  • Cardin, Smith Advance Security and Human Rights during Annual Meeting of European Parliamentarians

    WASHINGTON - A bipartisan 8-member Congressional delegation led by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), visited Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. In Baku, Azerbaijan, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, headed the U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) from June 28-July 2 that successfully advanced priority security and human rights initiatives. Key among the U.S. initiatives was a resolution introduced by Chairman Ben Cardin condemning Russia’s violation of international commitments by annexing Crimea and directly supporting separatist conflict in Ukraine. Upon passage of the resolution by a 3 to 1 margin, Cardin stated: “Russia is a member of this organization, but is violating its core principles. We must speak up in the strongest possible way and hold Russia accountable for its destabilizing actions and that is what we did here.” Co-Chairman Smith received overwhelming support for his resolution on efforts to combat child sex trafficking. As the Assembly’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking, Smith’s initiative pressed for the formation of a notification system among countries regarding the travel of persons convicted of sex crimes against children, as well as increased cooperation between law enforcement agencies and with the travel industry to prevent child sex tourism. “This resolution provides a tool to mitigate the horrific abuse of children by sexual tourism,” said Smith. “These predators thrive on secrecy, and so the goal is advance notification of sex offender travel so that children can be protected.” In addition to Chairman Cardin and Co-Chairman Smith, the delegation included Commission Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Commissioner Representative Robert Aderholt(R-AL), Commissioner Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA), Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). The U.S. delegation fielded two of the 18 resolutions considered at the annual session, as well as a total of 19 amendments to several of these resolutions. In an initiative related to Chairman Cardin’s Ukraine resolution, Senator Wicker introduced language adopted by the Assembly recognizing the importance of the OSCE’s military observation missions, including the inspections in Ukraine.  Senator Wicker also participated in a dialogue with fellow parliamentarians on OSCE engagement with partner country Afghanistan. Senator Tom Harkin successfully offered amendments calling for access and equal opportunity for persons with disabilities, including calling for the ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by all OSCE participating States. Commissioner Representative Robert Aderholt achieved passage of language supporting the integration of Western Balkan countries into the EU and NATO, and, in a separate initiative, highlighted the plight of “disappeared” political prisoners in Turkmenistan and called on that government to finally come clean on the fate of these individuals, one of whom was a former OSCE ambassador. An initiative by Rep. David Schweikert encouraged increased outreach by the OSCE to Mediterranean Partner countries, while Rep. Phil Gingrey brokered an agreement calling for concrete steps to promote clean and affordable energy. Finally, Rep. Smith and Senator Cardin joined an initiative with the Canadian delegation to respond more vigorously to acts of anti-Semitism throughout the participating States. On July 2 the meeting concluded with the adoption of the Baku Declaration, containing broad policy recommendations for the OSCE and its 57 participating States in the fields of political affairs and military security, trade, the environment and human rights. While in Azerbaijan, the delegation also held bilateral meetings with the Government of Azerbaijan, including meeting with President Ilham Aliyev as well as representatives of civil society fighting for media freedom, rule of law and disability rights in Azerbaijan. Bilateral meetings in Georgia and Moldova In addition to attending the OSCE PA’s Annual Session in Azerbaijan, Chairman Cardin led the delegation to stops in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Chisinau, Moldova, for bilateral meetings to discuss expanded ties with the United States as well as regional security in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine. In Georgia the delegation met with the President, Prime Minister, and the leadership of the United National Movement opposition party offering U.S. support and encouraging further democratic reforms, particularly in building a robust and independent judiciary free from corruption and untainted by politically-motivated prosecutions. In Moldova, the delegation met with the Prime Minister and key political leaders across the spectrum on the day the national parliament ratified an historic agreement with the European Union. The delegation also held consultations with the leadership of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, representatives of civil society, and the U.S. Embassy.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on OSCE Mediterranean Partners

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: Political Pluralism in the OSCE Mediterranean Partners? Wednesday, July 9, 2014 10:00 am U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 203/202 The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) have cooperated closely through tangible projects, expertise exchanges, election assistance, conferences, and rich dialogue to advance human security with the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation – Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia. A hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe will serve as an opportunity to take stock of political developments among the Mediterranean Partners in the years following the popular uprisings that began in late 2010, now often referred to as the “Arab Awakening.”  This hearing will explore political transition among the Mediterranean Partners in terms of current developments in democratic reforms, civil society empowerment, political pluralism, and the role of international community engagement.  The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: The Honorable William Roebuck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and the Maghreb, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs The Honorable William B. Taylor, Vice President for Middle East and Africa of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and Brookings Institution Saban Center Non-Resident Senior Fellow Ms. Zeinab Abdelkarim, Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)

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

    The hearing addressed security, economic, and human rights dimensions of U.S. - Azerbaijan relations ahead of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly 2014 annual meeting, taking place in Azerbaijan. Helsinki Commission Chairman Benjamin Cardin opened the hearing by speaking to these three dimensions. Regarding human rights, there are several concerns. Azerbaijan's presidential elections fell short of international standards and there are several individuals who have been harassed and detained because of their desire to report on events in Azerbaijan, raising concerns about freedom of the media. Chairman Cardin was joined by Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State, Thomas O. Melia, Miriam Lanskoy, and Brenda Shaffer.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: The Security, Economic and Human Rights Dimensions of US-Azerbaijan Relations Wednesday, June 11, 2014 10:00 am Russell Senate Office Building Room 432 The Republic of Azerbaijan has been an ally of the United States since its independence in 1991. It is a supplier of energy to Europe and has played an important role in assisting the U.S. and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan through the contribution of troops and as a conduit for the Northern Distribution Network. Azerbaijan is a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and in May it assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe (COE). Despite membership in both of Europe’s leading human rights institutions, Azerbaijan has been consistently criticized for its undemocratic elections and its use of the judicial system to punish political opponents. As the U.S. Helsinki Commission prepares to attend the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Baku at the end of June, this hearing will examine the U.S.-Azerbaijan relationship and the impact of regional and domestic issues in Azerbaijan on that relationship. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Tom Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Department of State Miriam Lanskoy, Director for Russia and Eurasia, National Endowment for Democracy Brenda Shaffer, Visiting Researcher, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University

  • Cardin, Wicker Lead Colleagues in Urging Action to Free OSCE Observers Held in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Chairman and Senate Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, along with Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), and Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), have written to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to take action to secure the release of observers being held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The senators also seek action to stem the tide of “other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants” in the region. “In addition to the OSCE observers, several dozen people — journalists, activists, police officers, politicians — are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk … we continue to be deeply dismayed at the other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in eastern and southern Ukraine,” the senators wrote. “These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. … “To be sure, the actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression towards Ukraine – first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine. … we commit to working with you so that the United States and its international partners can significantly increase the diplomatic pressure on Russia, especially through economic sanctions … Violations of human rights, particularly the rights of minorities, as well as gross violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated.” The text of the letter follows. April 30, 2014 The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State United States Department of State 2201 C Street Northwest Washington, D.C.  20520 Dear Secretary Kerry: We write to you to express our alarm at the detention of members of a military observer mission operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  They are being held hostage by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk. We urge you to do everything in your power to help secure their release. In addition to the OSCE observers, several dozen people — journalists, activists, police officers, politicians — are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk. Furthermore, we continue to be deeply dismayed at the other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in eastern and southern Ukraine.  These include attacks and threats against minority groups, particularly Jews and Roma as well as Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea.  Supporters of a united Ukraine have been targeted as well, including a local politician and a university student whose tortured bodies were found dumped in a river near Slovyansk. The Joint Statement on Ukraine signed on April 17 by the EU, the United States, Russia and Ukraine calls on all sides to refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions and condemns and rejects all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. We fear both the spirit and the letter of this agreement have been breached. In recent days, we have seen troubling manifestations against ethnic and religious minority communities.  The distribution of flyers in Donetsk calling for Jews to register their religion and property is a chilling reminder of an especially dark period in European history and we welcome your unequivocal remarks of condemnation. While the perpetrators of this onerous action have not been determined, one thing is clear:  Moscow, which controls the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in its anti-Ukrainian campaign, utilizing its media as a vehicle.  Perhaps more insidiously, among the various Russian special forces, operatives and agitators in Ukraine are members of neo-Nazi groups and the Black Hundreds, a reincarnation of the notorious Russian anti-Semitic organization that existed more than a century ago. Jewish communities in parts of eastern Ukraine are not the only ones with reasons to be worried.  In Slovyansk, armed separatists have invaded Romani houses, beating and robbing men, women and children. Even Ukrainian-speakers, including Ukrainian-speaking journalists, have reportedly experienced intimidation in the largely Russian-speaking Donetsk oblast. At the same time, in the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, Crimean Tatars continue to be threatened with deportation and attacked for speaking their own language in their ancestral homeland. Moreover, the most visible long-time leader of the Crimean Tatar community and former Soviet political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemilev, has reportedly been banned from returning to Crimea.  Additionally, the separatist Crimean authorities announced that Ukrainian literature and history will no longer be offered in Crimean schools. We commend the Ukrainian government for its denunciation of attacks and threats against minorities and its pledge to find those responsible and bring them to justice. It is imperative that the Russian-controlled separatist groups cease their de-stabilizing, violent activity, which has left all minorities vulnerable. These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. They need to be permitted to operate unhindered in eastern Ukraine and to be allowed access into Crimea, which Russia has thus far blocked.  We urge you to continue to do everything possible to facilitate their unimpeded access to all parts of Ukraine, including the provision of adequate resources. To be sure, the actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression towards Ukraine – first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin needs to keep the Geneva promises and immediately rein in the militants and get Russian soldiers and other assorted operatives out of Ukraine.  If not, we commit to working with you so that the United States and its international partners can significantly increase the diplomatic pressure on Russia, especially through economic sanctions. Violations of human rights, particularly the rights of minorities, as well as gross violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated. Sincerely, Benjamin L. Cardin, U.S.S. Roger F. Wicker, U.S.S. Jeanne Shaheen, U.S.S. Richard Blumenthal, U.S.S. Barbara A. Mikulski, U.S.S. Brian Schatz, U.S.S. Michael F. Bennet, U.S.S. Christopher Murphy, U.S.S.

  • Cardin, Colleagues Ask Kerry To Urge NATO, OSCE To End All Defense Contracts With Russia

    WASHINGTON– In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, – joined by 10 of his colleagues – asked the State Department to urge NATO member countries and participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to end all defense contracts with Russia in response to the country’s illegal annexation of Crimea and violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. Cardin was joined by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and U.S. Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and Michael Burgess (R-Texas). “We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage our NATO allies and OSCE participating states to take similar actions,” the members of Congress wrote. “We urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately. We believe this is a crucial step in reestablishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia.” Text of the letter is  below.   April 14, 2014 The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State United States Department of State 2201 C Street Northwest Washington, D.C. 20520 Dear Secretary Kerry: We write to express our support for NATO’s decision to suspend military and civilian cooperation with Russia. We also ask that you further urge both NATO member countries and participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to work cooperatively to cease all trade involving military equipment with Russia in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. This would be a forceful next step by both international organizations (of which the United States is a member) to affirm that there is no more business as usual when it comes to bilateral trade of military equipment given Russia’s hostile actions. As you are aware, two decades ago the Partnership for Peace program was implemented to foster trust between NATO member countries and the member states of the former Soviet Union, and to acknowledge a shared political commitment to creating lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area. This integration with the member states of the former Soviet Union was predicated on shared values and common obligations to uphold international law. Likewise, the Helsinki Final Act, which has been signed by 57 OSCE nations, including the United States, affirmed our collective commitment to sovereign equality, respect for human rights, and fundamental freedoms. Russia violated these shared principles by disregarding its treaty obligations under the bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.  We should immediately halt the trade in military equipment now that Russia has reneged on its commitment to abide by international law. Russia has clearly violated the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, and its actions are antithetical to the principles that NATO member countries like the United States seek to uphold. Nonetheless, significant bilateral trade in military equipment continues. The United Kingdom announced the Military Technical Cooperation Agreement with Russia in January 2014, which would provide a framework for Russian and UK defense companies to cooperate at an unclassified level and enable British and Russian arms producers to exchange defense components and technical data. France has continued an existing contract to sell two high-tech Mistral warships to Russia, and the Hungarian Ministry of Defense recently acquired three Mil Mi-8 transport helicopters produced by Rosoboronexport. Unfortunately and inexplicably, the United States is, at the time of writing, continuing with plans to receive 22 more Mi-17 helicopters from Russia as part of our ongoing assistance to Afghanistan. We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage our NATO allies and OSCE participating states to take similar actions. We urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately. We believe this is a crucial step in reestablishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia. We thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, BENJAMIN L. CARDIN United States Senate   RICHARD BLUMENTHAL                                                   United States Senate   JOHN CORNYN                             United States Senate   ROGER F. WICKER                                 United States Senate                              DANIEL COATS                             United States Senate   CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY                             United States Senate   DAVID VITTER United States Senate   KELLY AYOTTE United States Senate   LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER Member of Congress   JOE PITTS Member of Congress   MICHAEL C. BURGESS Member of Congress

  • Switzerland's Leadership of the OSCE

    Hon. Benjamin Cardin, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over the hearing on the new Switzerland's leadership of the OSCE. He was joined by Didier Burkhalter. He was the president of the Swiss Confederation, foreign minister, and Chair in Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Mr. Burkhalter explained the priorities of the Swiss chairmanship: to contribute to fostering security and stability, to improving people's life, and to strengthening the OSCE's capacity to act. His mission was to enhance security, freedom, and responsability.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on OSCE with the Swiss President and Foreign Minister

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following hearing: Switzerland’s Leadership of the OSCE Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Scheduled to testify: His Excellency Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation, Foreign Minister and Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE President of the Swiss Confederation and Foreign Minister, His Excellency Didier Burkhalter, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing takes place at the beginning of Switzerland’s 2014 chairmanship of the 57-country OSCE, which is based in Vienna, Austria and best known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. President Burkhalter is expected to discuss the Chairmanship-in-Office’s priorities and provide insights regarding the ongoing work of the OSCE.  Switzerland’s chairmanship comes at an important time in the development of an organization that operates on the basis of consensus and includes countries ranging from democracies to dictatorships. The OSCE region is facing challenges ranging from backsliding on human rights in some countries to the political crisis and recent violence in Ukraine.

  • Kyiv Ministerial Held Amid Protests

    On December 5 and 6, 2013, Kyiv hosted the 20th meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe while hundreds of thousands of protestors occupied Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s central square. Although as 2013 OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ukraine had successfully shepherded a package of decisions to adoption in Kyiv, the meeting was dominated by demonstrations taking place throughout the country triggered on November 21 by the Ukrainian government’s suspension of preparations to sign integration agreements with the EU. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland represented the United States. She began the Ministerial by meeting with civil society activists, which she described as her “most important event” in Kyiv. In her opening statement at the Ministerial, she highlighted three “worrying trends” in OSCE participating States: the persecution of journalists, the rising intolerance of minorities, and “democratic backsliding” into restrictive laws and practices that violate civil liberties.

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