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Belarus: 25 Years after Signing the Helsinki Final Act
Failure to Implement Electoral Reform Continues to Impede Democracy in Belarus
Monday, November 06, 2017

In July 2017, Belarus hosted the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Annual Session.  However, two decades ago, the OSCE PA refused to even recognize the legitimacy of Belarus’ putative elected representatives.  What has changed?

Download the full report to learn more.

Contributors: Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law,
Scott Rauland, Senior State Department Advisor,
and Michael Newton, Intern

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  • Director of OSCE Office For Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to Testify at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY Obstacles and Opportunities in the OSCE Region Wednesday, January 29, 2020 10:00 a.m. Longworth House Office Building Room 1334 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission For nearly three decades, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has been at the forefront of efforts to promote human rights and democracy throughout the 57-nation OSCE region. In her first appearance before Congress, ODIHR Director Ambassador Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir will discuss the organization’s flagship work in international election observation; countering anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance; and helping governments to combat human trafficking, protect human rights defenders, and better implement their commitments to fundamental freedoms including assembly and religion. The OSCE, the world’s largest regional security body, is based on a comprehensive concept of security that recognizes that respect for human rights and functioning democratic institutions underpin regional peace and security. ODIHR provides support, assistance, and expertise to participating States and civil society to promote democracy, rule of law, human rights, and tolerance and non-discrimination. ODIHR observes elections at the invitation of participating States, reviews legislation, and advises governments on how to develop and sustain democratic institutions. The office also works closely with the OSCE’s field operations and organizes Europe’s largest annual human rights meeting, bringing together annually hundreds of government officials, international experts, civil society representatives and human rights activists.  

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Crimea

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: LIFE UNDER OCCUPATION The State of Human Rights in Crimea Tuesday, January 28, 2020 10:00 a.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 210 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Nearly six years into Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, the human rights situation there continues to deteriorate.  Russian authorities have restricted freedom of speech and assembly, suppressed civil society activity, persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, muzzled dissent, and continue to implement an aggressive process of “Russification” toward residents of the peninsula.  The hearing will feature Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker who was sentenced to 20 years in jail by a Russian court on trumped-up charges of terrorism in 2014. In 2018, Sentsov became a worldwide symbol of defiance and courage when he launched a hunger strike on behalf of all Ukrainian political prisoners being held by Russia. He and other witnesses will discuss the Russian Government’s continued assault on Crimea’s vulnerable minorities, as well as its blatant disregard for basic rights. The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Oleg Sentsov, Ukrainian writer and filmmaker held prisoner by Russia for five years Tamila Tasheva, Deputy Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Melinda Haring, Deputy Director, Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center; Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute

  • Chairman Hastings Urges Ukraine to Grant Akhmetova Political Asylum

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of Tuesday’s trial to determine whether journalist and activist Zhanara Akhmetova will be granted political asylum in Ukraine or face extradition to her home country of Kazakhstan, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) released the following statement: “By granting asylum to Zhanara Akhmetova, the Government of Ukraine can demonstrate its commitment to protecting the fundamental freedoms of those who peacefully express political dissent. Her request for asylum clearly is motivated by real and dangerous political persecution in her home country. Ukraine must stand firmly on the side of human rights and allow Ms. Akhmetova to remain safely in the country.” Akhmetova fled to Ukraine in 2017 after she was targeted by authorities in Kazakhstan for her reporting and for peacefully expressing her political opinions through the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) movement, an opposition party associated with the main political opponent of former President Nazarbayev. Later that year, Ukrainian authorities detained her following a request by the Government of Kazakhstan, which previously has misused Interpol mechanisms to target opposition figures. In the past, Ukrainian authorities sometimes have cooperated with requests by the authorities of Central Asian states to return persecuted individuals. Persons affiliated with the DCK have previously faced mistreatment and torture at the hands of Kazakh authorities, suggesting that Akhmetova’s extradition would seriously endanger her safety. Ukrainian migration authorities have twice denied Akhmetova’s request for asylum, although Ukraine’s Supreme Court has ordered that the case be reconsidered as political.

  • Co-Chairman Wicker Introduces Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act in Senate

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) yesterday introduced the Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (S. 3064) in the Senate. The legislation would combat Russia’s religious freedom violations in the Crimea and Donbas regions of Ukraine. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Commissioner Rep.  Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) introduced a bipartisan companion bill in the House of Representatives last week. “The Kremlin’s illegal land grab is accompanied by a brutal crackdown on religious freedom in Crimea and the Donbas,” said Co-Chairman Wicker. “This legislation would combat persecution of faith communities in Ukraine and ensure that Russian authorities are held responsible for their actions.” The Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act would require the president of the United States to consider particularly severe violations of religious freedom in Russia-occupied or otherwise controlled territory in Ukraine when determining whether to designate Russia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for such violations. The bill would clarify that Russia should be held responsible for violations in territory it controls or occupies illegally, not just for violations inside Russia’s internationally-recognized borders. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the president to designate CPCs when their governments engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom. It also requires the president to take 15 specific actions, or other commensurate action, in response. Last year, on behalf of President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Russia for the Special Watch List of countries where violations are severe. Russian forces first invaded Crimea in February 2014 and continue to occupy it illegally. Since April 2014, Russia has controlled parts of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine with non-state armed groups and illegal entities under its command. Under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions, Russia is responsible for religious freedom violations in Crimea and parts of the Donbas. As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia has repeatedly committed to respect and protect freedom of religion or belief. The Helsinki Commission has compiled 16 documents outlining religious freedom commitments made by OSCE participating States.

  • Mongolia: The OSCE’s Newest Participating State

    Mongolia became an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating State in 2012, the most recent country to freely undertake all OSCE commitments. Previously, Mongolia—like Australia, several countries in Asia, and a number of Mediterranean nations— had been an OSCE Partner for Cooperation, states in formal dialogue with the OSCE, though not taking on OSCE commitments. This transition—from partner to full-fledged participant—is the first time such a transition had been made, and marks the first ever enlargement of the OSCE region. It signaled the strong commitment of Mongolia to the values articulated in the Helsinki Final Act. Recently, Helsinki Commission staff visited Mongolia to meet with interlocutors in government, civil society, and the private sector. The delegation found entrepreneurial partners committed to democratic values and fundamental freedoms. This was particularly impressive given that the country is located between Russia and China—large authoritarian powers known for their use of economic and other forms of coercion to achieve foreign policy goals. However, Mongolia also faces emerging challenges regarding public corruption and the rule of law. While Mongolia remains the sole strong democracy in the region, recent developments and trends may threaten its democratic achievements and its potential to be a model for other nations in the region. The OSCE is based on an idea of comprehensive security: the concept that military security, economic security, and human security must all be considered when engaging in international relations. Mongolia can be analyzed through a similar lens, with its military situation, economic situation and human rights situation all informing policy toward the country. First Dimension: Political-Military Affairs Mongolia is in the quintessential bad neighborhood. No two countries have acted as aggressively toward their neighbors Russia and China. Russia currently is in violation of all ten Helsinki principles as a result of its occupation of Crimea and continuing destabilization of Eastern Ukraine. Luckily, neither of Mongolia’s neighbors has yet opted to invade the country. Historically, Russia has acted as guarantor of Mongolia’s sovereignty against China, the much more likely candidate of the two to pose an immediate security threat. However, recently Russia has increased its cooperation with China, as demonstrated by a recent Russia-China joint military exercise. While Mongolia continues to purchase arms from Russia, this new trend of Russian-Chinese cooperation poses the most important threat to Mongolian security. Already, Mongolia has been pressured to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a China-centric political alliance—to which Russia also belongs—based on authoritarianism and dedicated to the eradication of the so-called three evils of terrorism, extremism, and separatism. However, there are also reasons to doubt the future of Russia-China cooperation. Mongolian national security experts seem certain that the scope of cooperation has a low ceiling and that much of the collaboration—like the recent military exercise—is just for show. These experts argue that Russia has no desire to subordinate itself to Chinese interests in the long-term, which it would be required to do to enhance cooperation; China is the much stronger partner. Second Dimension: Economic & Environmental Issues While a military invasion of Mongolia by China remains unlikely, China has found other ways to exert its influence in the country, largely through economic coercion. China’s economic weight and importance as a market for Mongolia—a commodity-based economy heavily reliant on its much larger neighbor—means that China can dictate terms on contracts and agreements. It can also leverage this economic power for political purposes as it famously did when it closed a key China-Mongolia border crossing for truckers after the Dalai Lama visited Ulaanbaatar. As a result, Mongolian policymakers have begun to search for new markets, products, and opportunities that could diversify their economy. One key product is cashmere. Currently, most cashmere exports to the United States originate from China, which, thanks to its enormous market, largely determines the global price of cashmere. This enables China to purchase Mongolian cashmere cheaply and prevent it from posing a challenge to the Chinese cashmere industry. The Mongolia Third Neighbor Trade Act (H.R. 2219 and S. 1188) currently being considered by the U.S. Congress would remove U.S. tariffs on Mongolian cashmere goods and increase the demand for raw cashmere within Mongolia, empowering domestic producers and eroding China’s quasi-monopolistic control of the market. In doing so, the Third Neighbor Trade Act would help to diversify Mongolia’s economy and make it more resilient against its large, aggressive neighbor to the south. It would also serve to empower women in the country, who are employed disproportionately to men in cashmere factories. However, sustainability remains a problem. The goats from which cashmere is derived feed on grass in a destructive way, pulling out root and stem. This can lead to the desertification of the environment. As demand for cashmere increases and nomads enhance their herds with additional goats, one can expect this tragedy of the commons to become worse. Though producers of cashmere goods within Mongolia have attempted to build sustainability into their business models, the U.S. Congress may wish to consider this aspect of the business to prevent any unintended environmental consequences of increased demand for Mongolian cashmere. Corruption Mongolia is currently struggling to address an ongoing public corruption problem, in part through the Independent Agency Against Corruption, an independent investigative law enforcement agency designed to fight graft. Still, reporting shows that bribery and abuse of public office remain a problem in the country and one that should be of concern as an OSCE participating State. Mongolia was recently added to the grey list kept by the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF). The FATF is the premier international governing, rulemaking, and peer evaluation body for financial conduct. Its most potent tool is the FATF black list, which identifies countries that do not comply with its list of international financial standards designed to prevent threat financing and money laundering. The price of landing on this black list is immense—banks will not do business with blacklisted countries, or entities located within them, leading to enormous losses in potential revenue. The grey list serves as the warning list prior to inclusion on the black list. Though grand corruption may have gotten in the way of completing the necessary reforms to avoid a designation on the FATF grey list, in Mongolia’s case, it appears that the problem may be primarily one of capacity. Mongolia has never had to establish the anti-money laundering framework of a more developed country and lacks the training and expertise to bring itself in compliance. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is already providing assistance to Mongolia to build robust anti-money laundering systems that will get it off the grey list. An OSCE field mission could also assist with these and other capacity problems; however, all participating States must agree to allow Mongolia to host such a mission. Russia continues to block this move. Rule of Law While lack of capacity explains many of Mongolia’s compliance problems, signs indicate that certain powerful political players are seeking to roll back rule of law safeguards in the country. Recently, a law was passed enabling the National Security Council of Mongolia—a small body consisting of the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker—to dismiss judges due to claims of corruption. While the council argues that reform necessary to take down corrupt judges who would otherwise be defended by the patrons they serve, it is not hard to imagine how this power could abused. At least 17 judges have been dismissed in this fashion. The National Security Council claims that this power will no longer be necessary once they have completed reforms that should weed corruption out of the judiciary. This reform includes new bodies to both select and discipline judges. Third Dimension: Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues Media Consolidation Media consolidation is a growing problem for journalism in Mongolia. The major media outlets of the country are owned by a handful of individuals who use this ownership to further their political agendas. As a result, journalists are at risk of self-censorship or even pushed to promote stories that further the political narratives of the media tycoons. Media consolidation breeds a problematic information environment in Mongolia and contributes to a lack of opinion diversity. Closing Space for Civil Society Mongolia also seems threatened by the potential for the ruling elite to close the space for the operation of civil society. A draft law proposes creating a public fund that would serve as the exclusive funding source for all civil society operations. This would mean that civil society would be forced to comply with the conditions put on this fund or cease to exist. While this approach is not yet law, interlocutors warned that the next election will be one to watch and could lead to the consolidation of power should certain elements be victorious. Conclusion Mongolia is a country with great potential to contribute to the Helsinki Process if it is empowered to do so. By joining the organization in 2012, it proved that the OSCE could grow. Now, it seeks to demonstrate its leadership once again by receiving an OSCE field mission at a time when many of its neighbors are trying to close theirs—like Kazakhstan—or have successfully closed theirs—like Azerbaijan. With the right combination of ambition and caution, Mongolia could lead the way to a future of democracy in the steppe. However, there are warning signs that Mongolia could be heading in the wrong direction. The United States should do everything in its power to prevent this—both via diplomatic engagement and economic assistance. The clearest way for Congress to do this is through the passage of the Third Neighbor Trade Act. The OSCE too should focus its efforts on Mongolia as a far-flung state with immense potential. Mongolians could take up leadership positions in its institutions, potentially even serving as a Chair-in-Office in the near future. By becoming more visible in the organization itself, Mongolia can build its profile as a leader and the OSCE can take advantage of its expertise in preserving democracy in a hard neighborhood.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Introduce Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Commissioner Rep.  Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) yesterday introduced the bipartisan Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (H.R. 5408) in the House of Representatives. The legislation combats Russia’s religious freedom violations in the Crimea and Donbas regions of Ukraine. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate next week. “For more than five years, Russia has illegally occupied Crimea and controlled part of the Donbas with the armed groups it commands. Kremlin personnel and proxies abduct, imprison, and torture people in those regions for their faith,” said Rep. Wilson. “Russian officials are culpable, and this bill helps ensure they are held accountable.” “The Kremlin persecutes peaceful religious communities in occupied Crimea and crony-controlled eastern Donbas even more brutally and broadly than it does in Russia,” said Rep. Cleaver. “The Russian Government is violating international humanitarian law and its international commitments to respect and protect religious freedom. Creating consequences for the Kremlin for this lawlessness will mean justice for the people of Ukraine.” The Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act would require the President of the United States to consider particularly severe violations of religious freedom in Russia-occupied or otherwise controlled territory in Ukraine when determining whether to designate Russia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for such violations. The bill clarifies that Russia should be held responsible for violations in territory it occupies illegally or controls, not just for violations inside Russia’s internationally-recognized borders. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the president to designate CPCs when their governments engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom. It also requires the president to take 15 specific actions, or commensurate action, in response. Last year, on behalf of President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Russia for the Special Watch List of countries where violations are severe. Russian forces first invaded Crimea in February 2014 and continue to illegally occupy it. Since April 2014, Russia has controlled parts of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine with non-state armed groups and illegal entities it commands. Under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions, Russia is responsible for religious freedom violations in Crimea and parts of the Donbas. As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia has repeatedly committed to respect and protect freedom of religion or belief. The Helsinki Commission has compiled 16 documents outlining religious freedom commitments made by OSCE participating States. Original co-sponsors of the legislation include Helsinki Commissioners Rep. Gwen S. Moore (WI-04), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Rep. Marc A. Veasey (TX-33), and Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09). Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Rep. Mark Meadows (NC-11), Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05), Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (FL-12), Rep. Daniel W. Lipinski (IL-03), Rep. Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09) are also original co-sponsors.

  • Albania's Leadership in Europe

    Each year, one participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is selected by the others to chair the 57-member organization. Since the role of OSCE “Chair-in-Office” was inaugurated in 1991, the organization has responded to numerous conflicts and crises in the Western Balkans. As the holder of the 2020 Chairmanship, Albania now seeks make its own contribution to security and cooperation in Europe as a whole. However, leading an organization that requires consensus-based decision-making is a difficult task, especially as the OSCE confronts significant security, economic, human rights, and democratic challenges including Russia’s aggression, ongoing regional conflicts, resistance to democratic reforms, and serious democratic backsliding in some OSCE countries. Taking place less than a week after the 2019 OSCE Ministerial in Bratislava, the culmination of the 2019 Slovak chairmanship, this Helsinki Commission briefing took a close look at Albania’s interest in chairing the OSCE and how that task may impact Albania in 2020. The panelists, each a member of Albania’s delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), provided a parliamentary perspective ahead of a hearing in early 2020 that will feature the Chair-in-Office and focus more specifically on the priorities and objectives of the Albanian chairmanship.       

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Provide Parliamentary Perspective on Albania’s Upcoming OSCE Chairmanship

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following staff-led briefing: ALBANIA’S LEADERSHIP IN EUROPE Parliamentary Perspectives of the Albanian OSCE Chairmanship in 2020 Wednesday, December 11, 2019 2:00 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building ROOM CHANGE: NOW ROOM 2200 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Each year, one participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is selected by the others to chair the 57-member organization. Since the role of OSCE “Chair-in-Office” was inaugurated in 1991, the organization has responded to numerous conflicts and crises in the Western Balkans. As the holder of the 2020 Chairmanship, Albania now seeks make its own contribution to security and cooperation in Europe as a whole. However, leading an organization that requires consensus-based decision-making is a difficult task, especially as the OSCE confronts significant security, economic, human rights, and democratic challenges including Russia’s aggression, ongoing regional conflicts, resistance to democratic reforms, and serious democratic backsliding in some OSCE countries. Taking place less than a week after the 2019 OSCE Ministerial in Bratislava, the culmination of the 2019 Slovak chairmanship, this Helsinki Commission briefing will take a close look at Albania’s interest in chairing the OSCE and how that task may impact Albania in 2020. The panelists, each a member of Albania’s delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), will provide a parliamentary perspective ahead of a hearing in early 2020 that will feature the Chair-in-Office and focus more specifically on the priorities and objectives of the Albanian chairmanship.               Panelists scheduled to participate include: Ditmir Bushati, Member of Parliament from the ruling Socialist Party; head of the Albanian Delegation to the OSCE PA Elona Hoxha Gjebrea, Member of Parliament from the ruling Socialist Party; member of the Albanian Delegation to the OSCE PA Rudina Hajdari, Member of Parliament from the opposition Democratic Party; member of the Albanian Delegation to the OSCE PA

  • Public Diplomacy, Democracy, and Global Leadership

    For more than a century, the United States has advanced shared human rights, economic, and security policy goals in the transatlantic relationship by cultivating people-to-people ties through public diplomacy initiatives.  As democracies around the world face new challenges emanating from demographic shifts, technological advancements, and evolving security threats, the need for public diplomacy initiatives that cultivate leaders who espouse democratic principles, including inclusive and representative governance, grows more relevant. The U.S. Helsinki Commission convened a hearing to focus on U.S.-led public diplomacy international exchange initiatives that strengthen democratic institutions by targeting young and diverse leaders, encouraging civic engagement, and fostering social inclusion and cohesion in the OSCE region. Presiding over the hearing, Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) stated, “This year, under my leadership, the Helsinki Commission has held events on the importance of international election observation, good governance, and focused on democratic backsliding in particular countries as part of our continued commitment to the underlying principles of the Helsinki Final Act.  Common to all of these issues is the role good leaders can play in ensuring free and fair elections; laws that are equitable, transparent, and enforced; and laying the groundwork to ensure protections and rights for all in their constituencies […] for the long-term stability of our nation and the transatlantic partnership.”  In his opening remarks, Chairman Hastings also noted that he planned to introduce legislation to support of leadership exchanges and knowledge-building between diverse transatlantic policymakers, and to encourage representative democracies. He also announced a February program for young OSCE parliamentarians to strengthen their political inclusion and advance peace and security efforts. Chairman Hastings was joined by Commissioners Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. Veasey raised the importance of metrics in assessing the impact of leadership programs and soft diplomacy, while Rep. Cleaver stated, “For the first time since the end of World War II, the extreme right is actually winning seats in the German Parliament,” highlighting increased security risks related to public diplomacy programs operating in countries that have seen an increase in hate crimes and racial prejudice. Witnesses included Cordell Carter, II, Executive Director of the Socrates Program at the Aspen Institute; Stacie Walters Fujii, Chair of the American Council of Young Political Leaders; and Lora Berg, Counselor for Inclusive Leadership at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Carter reviewed the Aspen Institute’s public policy programming on transatlantic relations and discussed the importance of promoting democratic values, including efforts to strengthen the capacity of congressional staff and encourage dialogues around the United States on being an “inclusive republic.”  He concluded by asking Congress to create more opportunities for public discourse on issues that threaten the stability of democracies around the world. Fujii discussed the importance of international exchanges in supporting democracies and the work of American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL). ACYPL was founded in 1966 to strengthen transatlantic relationships by promoting mutual understanding among young political leaders in Western Europe and the former Soviet Union.  Critical aspects of the program include offering international leaders the opportunity to come to the U.S. to observe campaigning, polling stations, election returns, and the response of the American people to elections, complemented by follow-on educational conversations about democratic processes in their countries.  Berg highlighted the importance of public diplomacy initiatives in advancing inclusive leadership and observed that nations gain in richness and capacity when diversity is reflected in leadership. She also noted that inclusive leadership not only plays an important role in promoting social harmony, but it also helps to ensure economic growth, stating that “the places with the highest social cohesion are the most reliable for investment.” Berg explained that the GMF’s Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN) grew out of work she engaged in while working for the Department of State. TILN is an innovative network of young, diverse leaders across the United States and Europe supported by the Helsinki Commission and State Department.    Berg argued for the expansion of U.S. Government-supported public diplomacy inclusive leadership initiatives targeting youth and diverse populations in western democracies, including through public-private partnerships, the creation of a public diplomacy officer position in Europe to foster Europe-wide next generation transatlantic leadership, and increased political participation measures domestically and abroad for diverse populations.   

  • Helsinki Commission to Review Role of Professional Exchanges in Strengthening Democratic Institutions

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: PUBLIC DIPLOMACY, DEMOCRACY, AND GLOBAL LEADERSHIP An Approach for the 21st Century Thursday, December 5, 2019 10:00 a.m. Longworth House Office Building Room 1334 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission For more than a century, the United States has advanced human rights, economic, and security policy goals in Europe by cultivating people-to-people ties across the Atlantic. More than 500 heads of state, 100 Members of Congress, and thousands of professionals have participated in U.S. Government-sponsored exchanges, including the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, while public and private organizations have hosted similar programs to bring leaders together.    Witnesses at the hearing will explore the origins and role of professional exchanges and other public diplomacy programs that strengthen relationships with U.S. allies in the face of shared challenges including eroding trust in democratic institutions, demographic shifts, technological advancements, and evolving security threats. In particular, the hearing will focus on international exchange initiatives that strengthen democratic institutions by targeting young and diverse leaders, encouraging civic engagement, and fostering social inclusion and cohesion in the OSCE region.  The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Lora Berg, Senior Fellow, Leadership Programs, German Marshall Fund of the United States Cordell Carter, II, Executive Director, Socrates Program, The Aspen Institute   Stacie Walters Fujii, Chair, American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL)   Photo credit: German Marshall Fund of the United States

  • Not-So-Good Neighbors

    As a new generation of political leaders in Belarus seeks to forge closer ties with the West, the Kremlin has stepped up influence and disinformation campaigns designed to erode Belarusian sovereignty and exploit the strong historical, cultural, and economic ties between the two nations. Expert witnesses examined how Russia most effectively penetrates Belarusian society, and the extent to which Russia’s disinformation and hybrid tactics are influencing the political landscape at a pivotal moment. Speakers also decoded Russia’s tactics in Belarus and explored how the United States can help promote the sovereignty of Belarus.

  • The Importance of the Open Skies Treaty

    The Trump administration reportedly is considering withdrawing the United States from the Open Skies Treaty, a key arms control agreement that has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades. The treaty underpins security and stability in Europe by providing for unarmed aerial observation flights over its 34 signatories. The treaty allows even small countries greater awareness of military activities around them—more crucial than ever given the Kremlin’s demonstrated willingness to violate established borders. The principles of military transparency embodied by the treaty flow from the same fundamental commitments that led to the creation of today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Open Skies Consultative Commission, which oversees implementation of the treaty, meets monthly at OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Witnesses at the hearing, organized jointly with the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment, explored the continued contributions of the Open Skies Treaty to the security of the United States, as well as its benefits to U.S. allies and partners. Witnesses also assessed Russia’s partial non-compliance with elements of the treaty and strategies to address this challenge, and evaluated the implications of a possible U.S. withdrawal on security and stability in Europe and Eurasia.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing to Examine Russian Influence in Belarus

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: NOT-SO-GOOD NEIGHBORS Russian Influence in Belarus Wednesday, November 20, 2019 10:00 a.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission As a new generation of political leaders in Belarus seeks to forge closer ties with the West, the Kremlin has stepped up influence and disinformation campaigns designed to erode Belarusian sovereignty and exploit the strong historical, cultural, and economic ties between the two nations. Expert witnesses will examine how Russia most effectively penetrates Belarusian society, and the extent to which Russia’s disinformation and hybrid tactics are influencing the political landscape at a pivotal moment. Speakers will decode Russia’s tactics in Belarus and explore how the United States can help promote the sovereignty of Belarus. The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Sofya Orlosky, Senior Program Manager for Eurasia, Freedom House Franak Viačorka, Research Media Analyst (Contractor), U.S. Agency for Global Media Brian Whitmore, Senior Fellow and Director of the Russia Program, CEPA Andrei Yeliseyeu, Head of Monitoring Unit, International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS); Research Director, EAST Center  

  • Helsinki Commission and Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment to Hold Joint Hearing on Open Skies Treaty

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment have announced the following hearing: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE OPEN SKIES TREATY Tuesday, November 19, 2019 10:00 a.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2172 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission The Trump administration reportedly is considering withdrawing the United States from the Open Skies Treaty, a key arms control agreement that has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades. The treaty underpins security and stability in Europe by providing for unarmed aerial observation flights over its 34 signatories. The treaty allows even small countries greater awareness of military activities around them—more crucial than ever given the Kremlin’s demonstrated willingness to violate established borders. The principles of military transparency embodied by the treaty flow from the same fundamental commitments that led to the creation of today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Open Skies Consultative Commission, which oversees implementation of the treaty, meets monthly at OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Witnesses at the hearing, organized jointly with the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment, will explore the continued contributions of the Open Skies Treaty to the security of the United States, as well as its benefits to U.S. allies and partners. Witnesses also will assess Russia’s partial non-compliance with elements of the treaty and strategies to address this challenge, and evaluate the implications of a possible U.S. withdrawal on security and stability in Europe and Eurasia. Witnesses scheduled to participate include: Jon Wolfsthal, Director, Nuclear Crisis Group; Senior Advisor, Global Zero; Former Special Assistant to the President for National Security; Former Senior Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the National Security Council Damian Leader, Ph.D., Professor, New York University; former Chief Arms Control Delegate for the United States Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Amy Woolf, Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy, Congressional Research Services Witnesses may be added.  All members of the media wishing to attend the hearing must be accredited through the House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Gallery. For more information on accreditation, please contact the gallery at 202-225-5214.  

  • Helsinki Commission Provides Robust, Bipartisan U.S. Representation at Inter-Parliamentary Gathering in Morocco

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) led a congressional delegation to Marrakech, Morocco, in early October for the 18th Autumn Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). The delegation included Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), an OSCE Vice President and head of the U.S. Delegation to OSCE PA in 2019, as well as Ranking House Commissioner Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioner Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05) and Rep. Andy Harris (MD).  Prior to arriving in Marrakech, the delegation visited Tunisia and Israel for a firsthand examination of what recently has been a dynamic political landscape in each country, with implications for U.S. policy. The Assembly’s ongoing activities provide the United States good opportunities for active engagement of its allies and friends, as well as to advance issues of U.S. concern or interest.  Autumn Meetings were established in 2002 to bridge the gap between the OSCE PA’s annual sessions, usually held in late June or early July and ending with the adoption of a substantive declaration, and winter meetings held in mid-February to engage OSCE officials and institutions. Autumn meetings provide an additional opportunity for dialogue and often include—as was the case in Marrakech—a forum focusing on Mediterranean issues. The program also includes a meeting of the Standing Committee, composed of heads of delegations, which makes many of the executive decisions shaping OSCE PA activity.  For the first time, in 2019 the Autumn Meeting was hosted not by an OSCE participating State, but by a Mediterranean partner country. The 2019 meeting attracted approximately 190 parliamentarians from among the 57 participating States and five Mediterranean partner countries.  The U.S. delegation was the largest ever to an Autumn Meeting, making overall U.S. participation in the OSCE PA in 2019 the highest since the assembly was founded in 1991. Chairman Hastings addressed the Mediterranean forum, reporting on the delegation’s visit to Tunisia and Israel beforehand and emphasizing the need to increase opportunities for youth and to engage civil society. Co-Chairman Wicker also reported on delegation travels in the Standing Committee, concentrating on elections and government formation in Tunisia and Israel, adding that in Israel the threat posed by Iran also was an important topic. He also noted that the U.S. Government shared the concerns of France and Italy, among other countries, regarding Turkish drilling for natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus. The three other sessions of the Autumn Meeting focused on the security, economic/environmental and human dimensions of OSCE work, each with guest speakers from the host country or elsewhere in Africa.  In his capacity as a Vice President of OSCE PA, Sen. Wicker chaired a session on the exchange of best practices between the OSCE and African regional partners, noting that the OSCE’s concept of “comprehensive security” has had successful applications in European dialogue that could also be valuable in the wider Euro-Mediterranean region. Rep. Harris spoke in a session highlighting economic development and environmental migration, addressing issues ranging from human trafficking to energy diversity to water supplies. In a session on combating intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, Rep. Cleaver focused on the real dangers of rising intolerance in an ever-smaller world. On the margins of the formal sessions, the U.S. delegation held bilateral meetings with the parliamentary delegations of Ukraine and Morocco, and Chairman Hastings hosted all attending Mediterranean partner country parliamentarians to a session focusing on U.S. policy and interests in North Africa and the Middle East. Chairman Hastings and Co-Chairman Wicker also participated in a working lunch to discuss possible reforms of the OSCE PA to make the Assembly more effective and visible.  Rep. Harris attended an event convened by the OSCE Ad Hoc Committee on Migration, while Rep. Joe Wilson met with the Bulgarian and other delegations to discuss items of common interest.   The U.S. delegation also extensively engaged parliamentarians and diplomats from Albania ahead of that country’s chairmanship of the OSCE in 2020. While the OSCE PA will remain active throughout the remainder of 2019—including observing elections in Belarus and Uzbekistan and attending the December meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava, Slovakia—the next large gathering of OSCE PA delegates will be in February of 2020, for the Winter Meeting in Vienna.

  • At What Cost?

    Sparked by the recent Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, increased tensions between the United States and Turkey have reignited the debate about the future of U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations. The Helsinki Commission convened this hearing to discuss how the United States should respond to the Turkish Government’s continuing abuse of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Expert witnesses at the hearing reviewed prominent cases of politically-motivated prosecution, failures of due process, and prospects for judicial reform as they relate to Turkey’s commitments as a member of both the OSCE and NATO. The panel also evaluated President Erdogan’s plan to return millions of Syrian refugees to their war-torn country or push them to Europe, and the human consequences of his military incursion into Syria. Presiding over the hearing, Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson affirmed that as co-chair for the Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations & Turkish Americans he supports the people of Turkey and the U.S.-Turkish alliance. He cautioned, however, that President Erdogan’s actions threaten to undermine that alliance and damage the security of the region. Rep. Marc Veasey noted that Turkey is being “torn between two worlds”: one of democracy and one of autocracy. Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Steve Cohen were also present at the hearing. The Commission heard testimony from Gonul Tol, Director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute; Merve Tahiroglu, the Turkey Program Coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED); Henri Barkey, the Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen Professor at Lehigh University; Eric Schwartz, the President of Refugees International; and Talip Kucukcan, professor of sociology at Marmara University. Dr. Tol testified that “most freedoms under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been dramatically curtailed” but counseled that Turkey “is not a fullblown dictatorship.” The Turkish government has targeted activists, journalists, and opposition politicians with “trumped-up terrorism charges and “largely criminalized Kurdish political expression.” She highlighted the opposition’s recent victories in mayoral elections as “a testament to the peoples of Turkey, the great majority of whom refuse to give up on the idea of democratic rule.” Dr. Tol further urged the United States to view “the Kurdish question…[as] a matter of democratization and human rights” for the Turkish state. Ms. Tahiroglu explained the deterioration of the rule of law under Erdogan’s government. According to her testimony, Erdogan’s administration has politicized the judiciary and rendered it “a main weapon against government critics and opponents” through repressive laws and false terrorism charges. She noted key judicial cases against civil society activists, journalists, opposition politicians, professors, U.S. citizens, and employees of U.S. consulates in the country. Ms. Tahiroglu testified that the breakdown of the rule of law in Turkey matters for U.S. interests because it has swept up U.S. citizens, “fuels anti-Americanism,” and “embolden[s] Turkey’s aggressive policies abroad by suppressing dissenting voices.” Dr. Barkey focused his testimony on the Turkish government’s suppression of the struggle for recognition of Kurdish social and political identity. Barkey explained the significance of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP)—Turkey’s second largest opposition party—in providing an opportunity for Turkey’s Kurdish population to participate in Turkish politics. “From that perspective, they have been very, very successful,” Barkey assessed. “It may have been far too successful for its own good.” Dr. Barkey detailed President Erdogan’s “relentless campaign to dismantle and delegitimize the HDP.” Mr. Schwartz spoke about the humanitarian implications of Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria. The reports of human rights abuses and civilian deaths are cause for deep concern, he said. He criticized the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria instead of implementing a strategic departure. Schwartz concluded with a recommendation for the United States to support locally based NGOs that provide humanitarian assistance to populations by the Turkish operation. Dr. Kucukcan reminded the audience that Turkey’s incursion occurred with President Donald Trump’s consent. The incursion, he noted, serves to protect Turkey’s national security and preserve the territorial integrity of Syria.  Dr. Kucukcan disputed that Turkey plans “ethnic cleansing” or “demographic engineering in places where [military] operations took place.”

  • 2019 ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL DIMENSION IMPLEMENTATION MEETING

    By Camille Moore, Policy Advisor From October 14 – 15, 2019, approximately 150 senior officials, experts, academics, and non-governmental organization representatives gathered in Vienna, Austria for the 2019 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Economic and Environmental Dimension and Implementation Meeting (EEDIM). Transboundary cooperation over natural resources is key to avoiding future geopolitical challenges; however, a changing global climate presents more existential obstacles. For example, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council – a body of 27 national science academies from the EU, Norway, and Switzerland – found that the number of costly floods and other hydrological events have quadrupled since 1980 and have doubled since 2004. As the world’s largest regional security organization, the OSCE is uniquely equipped to address transboundary issues related to economics and the environment. For example, across the OSCE region there are over 150 river and lake basins shared by two or more participating States, making joint agreements and cooperation critical to conflict prevention and sustainable development. The 2019 EEDIM focused on the management, legal protection, and cooperation around energy and shared natural resources like water. Environmental crimes, good “green” governance, and the inclusion of women in water management were all highlighted at the meeting. Historically, the EEDIM sets the agenda for the decisions made at the annual December Ministerial Council. While the 2019 discussion was constructive and several noteworthy initiatives were shared, the overall dialogue focused on past accomplishments rather than plans to critically assess the present strength or future of shared cooperation over natural resources. Environmental Crimes Environmental crime is the third most lucrative transnational crime activity today—after narcotic drugs trafficking and counterfeiting—and generates an estimated $281 billion in illicit profits annually. The Group of Friends on the Environment is an informal coalition of participating States seeking to keep transboundary environmental crimes and environmental good governance high on the OSCE agenda. Participants include OSCE participating States Albania, Germany, Austria, Canada, the United States of America, France, Georgia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, and Switzerland. Defending the environment is no easy task and dangerous work. One non-governmental organization (NGO) present at the 2019 EEDIM noted the need for dedicated support to combat the perpetrators of environmental harm. Rather than inspiring further discussion about the real dangers faced by environmental defenders, however, the statement was met only with vague comments from a handful of participating States on the importance of funding environmental protection. Good “Green” Governance The Maastricht Strategy (2003) defines good governance as a contribution to prosperity, stability, and security at all levels. Within the environmental dimension, the OSCE promotes commitments to both good governance and environmental sustainability. Most, if not all, participants shared their 2030 plans to “green” their economies, which included measures like limiting industrial risk, aligning national and international economic agreements, and modernizing technological innovation for greater efficiency. Instead of sharing the obstacles they face in reaching the 2030 sustainable development goals or the funding and support they need to realistically meet their needs (for example, the OSCE offers its support of cross-border cooperation in the form of agreements like those between Albania and North Macedonia like the Ohrid Lake Joint Commission which establishes a framework for integrated border management to stabilize relations over Ohrid Lake), most nations focused solely on national policy strategies and improved legislative frameworks. Womenomics and Water Management Women are disproportionately burdened when water resources are mismanaged or scarce. “Women are much more active than men in activities related to water,” says Matluba Rajabalieva, Chairperson of the Garm Development Centre, a Tajikistan-based NGO working to promote women and girls’ empowerment in communities. Womenomics, the idea that women’s economic advancement improves the whole economy, has been well-documented in water management and has fueled several OSCE initiatives. The OSCE and its participating States have developed programming and initiatives that address water diplomacy with women-centric solutions. Through workshops, initiatives, and activities, the OSCE Gender Section and the Office of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OSCEEA) connects water users and decision makers and ensures gender parity between the two groups. At the EEDIM, the Permanent Delegation of Finland to the OSCE hosted an official side event titled “Water Diplomacy, Proactive Peace Mediation,” which focused on the OSCEEA’s extra-budgetary project, “Women, Water Management and Conflict Prevention.” The project aims to enhance the participation of women in conflict resolution and water management at all levels in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The Kazakh-German University also recently launched a water resource management program which focuses on women participation.

  • Hastings and Cardin Condemn Mob Attack on Budapest Community Center

    WASHINGTON—Following Wednesday’s mob attack on Aurora, a small Jewish community center that provides office space to civil society groups in Budapest, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) and Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following statements: “Wednesday’s mob attack on Aurora is an alarming escalation of violence toward minorities and civil society groups in Hungary. This second attack by paramilitary-style extremists in less than a month sends a frightening message: Authorities cannot, or will not, protect you,” said Chairman Hastings. “A decade ago, far-right extremists in Hungary orchestrated dozens of violent attacks, murdering six Hungarians including five-year-old Robert Csorba. The Government of Hungary must not allow such a tragedy to occur again.” “The Hungarian Government may boast of a ‘zero-tolerance for anti-Semitism’ policy abroad, but in reality, in Budapest they traffic in anti-Semitic tropes, honor fascist-era leaders and ideologues, and stoke hatred of migrants and Muslims,” said Sen. Cardin, who also serves as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance. “Actions speak louder than words. I hope that available photographs of the mob will aid law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators, and I commend the district’s newly elected mayor for visiting Aurora and seeking to ensure its safety.” Marom, a Hungarian Jewish association, established and runs Aurora Community Center, an umbrella organization that provides office space to small civil society groups including the Roma Press Center, migrant aid, and Pride Parade organizers. In Wednesday’s attack, the mob burned a rainbow flag and branded a para-military logo onto the premises. On September 26, the center also was attacked and vandalized by extremists. Under the Orbán government, the conditions for independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Hungary have deteriorated. Over the past two years, Hungarian authorities have accused Marom of administrative violations ranging from mismatched dates on official documents to, most recently, lacking an appropriate agreement with the center’s landlord. In 2018, Hungary passed a law establishing a 25 percent tax on organizations which engage in “propaganda activity that portrays immigration in a positive light.” It is a tax on government-disfavored speech. Hungary also adopted amendments to its "law on aiding illegal migration" that make handing out know-your-rights leaflets punishable by up to one year in prison. In 2017, Hungary adopted a Russian-style "foreign agent" law which, according to the U.S. Department of State, “unfairly burdens a targeted group of Hungarian civil society organizations, many of which focus on fighting corruption and protecting human rights and civil liberties.” The bill was proposed by the far-right wing party Jobbik. In 2014, armed police carried out raids on 13 civil society organizations, seizing computers and documents for alleged financial misconduct. No charges were ever brought against the NGOs. Between 2008 and 2010, at least six people were murdered, many others were injured, and whole communities were terrorized in a series of attacks by right-wing extremists.  Maria Balog was shot in her own home in a middle-of-the-night raid that also wounded her 13-year-old daughter. Jeno Koka was shot as he got in his car to go to work. Five-year-old Robert Csorba and his father were killed by sniper fire while attempting to escape an arson attack on their home.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing to Review Human Rights Developments in Turkey

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: AT WHAT COST? The Human Toll of Turkey’s Policy at Home and Abroad Thursday, October 31, 2019 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Sparked by the recent Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, increased tensions between the United States and Turkey have reignited the debate about the future of U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations. At the hearing, expert witnesses will discuss how the United States should respond to the Turkish Government’s continuing abuse of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Participants will review prominent cases of politically-motivated prosecution, failures of due process, and prospects for judicial reform as they relate to Turkey’s commitments as a member of both the OSCE and NATO. The panel also will evaluate President Erdogan’s plan to return millions of Syrian refugees to their war-torn country or push them to Europe, and the human consequences of his military incursion into Syria. The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Henri Barkey, Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen Professor, Lehigh University Talip Kucukcan, Professor of Sociology, Marmara University Eric Schwartz, President, Refugees International Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey Program Coordinator, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) Gonul Tol, Director, Center for Turkish Studies, Middle East Institute (MEI) Additional witnesses may be added.

  • Chairman Hastings on Yom Kippur Shooting outside German Synagogue

    WASHINGTON—Following yesterday’s shooting outside of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) issued the following statement: “I am heartbroken to hear about the shooting near a synagogue in Germany where Jewish worshippers gathered to observe Yom Kippur. I stand in solidarity with the two innocent lives lost and the families and worshippers who were impacted by this senseless act of violence and hatred. As we commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue tragedy later this month, we must do more across borders to address these common challenges together.”

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