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The Holy See and Religious Freedom
The Unique Contribution of a Unique OSCE Participating State
Thursday, December 20, 2018

Because of its unique status as the universal government of a specific religion, rather than a territorial state, the Holy See is probably the least understood of the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, it has a rich diplomatic history and has contributed significantly to the development of today’s OSCE, particularly in the area of religious freedom.

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  • Status of Religious Liberty for Minority Faiths in Europe and the OSCE

    The purpose of this hearing, which the Hon. Christopher H. Smith chaired, was to discuss the reality of disturbing undercurrents of subtle, but growing, discrimination and harassment of minority religious believers, as opposed to discussing the widespread documentation of torture and persecution of practitioners of minority faiths. In a number of European countries, government authorities had seemed to work on restricting the freedoms of conscience and speech in much of their governments’ actions. For example, in Russia, on September 26, 1997, President Boris Yeltsin signed the law called “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations,” which blatantly violated agreements of the OSCE which the former U.S.S.R. helped to initiate. Through use of witnesses, then, attendees of this hearing, namely commissioners, gained a deeper understanding of the religious liberty violations within OSCE member countries and insight into how to best influence governments to adhere more closely to internationally accepted human rights standards.

  • OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    The purpose of this briefing, which Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Michael Hathaway presided over, was to provide information to the public about the U.S.’s approach to the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, as well as to hear from two highly respected non-governmental organizations regarding issues that they believed should have been taken up in Warsaw. At the point of the briefing, already established issues at Warsaw included freedom of religion, media, association on assembly, the prevention of torture, international humanitarian law, tolerance and non-discrimination, national minorities, and the plight of the Roma. The aim in mind was to encourage improved implementation of human dimension obligations by OSCE member states. Participants in this hearing included State Department Secretary Rudolph Perina, and Holly Cartner and Adrian Karatnycky with Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, respectively.

  • The Meaning of Yeltsin's Veto of Russia's Law on Religion

    This briefing provided an analysis of the events surrounding President Yeltsin's veto of the proposed law on religious organizations in Russia which would have effectively banned the activities of certain religious minority groups including Protestants and Catholics. The bill passed emphatically in both houses of the Russian Parliament, mounting great domestic pressure on the President to approve it. Larry Uzzell of the Keston Institute credits the blocking of the bill to international pressure from both the US and the EU, which were vocal in their opposition. Congress sent several letters to Mr. Yeltsin, including one which was signed by 160 senators and members of the House of Representatives. The discussion in the question and answer period centered around more concrete measures taken by the US Congress to persuade Yeltsin to veto the bill, including economic incentives tied to foreign aid and trade.

  • Russia’s Religion Law

    This briefing addressed Congressional concerns about a draft law regarding religion that was making its way through the Duma. Given that this draft was vetoed by President Yeltsin, the Commission took special care to highlight this act standing for religious freedom and the efforts that were made to respect and adhere to the Russia’s international commitments. Larry Uzzell of the Keston Institute provided an analysis of the events surround President Yeltsin’s recent veto of the proposed law on religious organizations in Russia. The roles of domestic and international influences in this resulting veto were each evaluated. Trends of religious freedom in Russia were also examined in the context of how much progress the defeat of this law would actually make.

  • The Future of Chechnya

    Former senatosr and commissionesr chaired this hearing, which focused on the efforts of the citizens in Chechnya to free themselves from Russian power. Russia’s “transgressions” against the Chechnyan populace entailed lack of recognition of international principles. More specifically, the 1994 OSCE Budapest Document, with which the Russians agreed, stipulates that each participating state will ensure that its armed forces are commanded in a way that is consistent with the provisions of international law. Moreover, even when force cannot be avoided, each state will ensure that its use must be commensurate with the needs.  At the time of this hearing, anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 people had been killed because of the conflict in the territory, and tens of thousands of men, women, and children had been driven from their homes. In addition, there had been a cease-fire in Chechnya. However, the dangers had not recently ended.

  • Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)

    This briefing focused on the topics of European security and NATO enlargement, specifically in terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Elements of the treaty that remained especially important, including the goal of avoiding destabilizing concentrations of forces in Europe and the goal of creating greater transparency and promoting information exchange among governments in Europe, were discussed. Witnesses testifying at this briefing spoke to the need for amendments and changes to the CFE, but maintained the relevance of the treaty to international security. Different strategies for making these changes related to Russian pressure and NATO involvement were presented. 

  • Religious Freedom in Russia

    Helsinki Commission Staff Advisor John Finerty presented the question of the quality and depth of religious freedom in Russia currently, and allowed for an evaluation of the progress, or lack thereof, of religious liberty following the fall of the Soviet Union. Larry Uzzell, the Moscow representative of the Keston Institute of England, one of the oldest organizations specializing in religious life and religious freedom in Communist and former Communist countries, was asked to address the issue of religious freedom in Russia and had several key points to say on the matter. In his testimony, Mr. Uzzell emphasizes discrimination in the practice of registration in giving provincial governments the power to regulate all aspects of religious life, which is detrimental to religious liberty, and asserts that the prospects of religious freedom in Russia have suffered a setback in recent years.

  • U.S. Statements on the Human Dimension, 1996 OSCE Vienna Review Conference and Lisbon Summit

    This compendium of statements illustrates the U.S. perspective that one of the key and distinguishing features of the OSCE is the interlocking framework of critical, politically binding commitments which provide a common set of principles to which all participating States can aspire. The OSCE draws its real strength and practical flexibility from participating states' commitments to the values of the original Helsinki Act, rather than from a legalized, treaty-based institutional structure. A fundamental strength of the OSCE is the review process, which provides a regular opportunity to assess a participating states' efforts to further the realization of the Helsinki Accords within its own borders, and in its relations with other OSCE states. The OSCE is increasingly a pillar of European security. By facilitating honest implementation review the OSCE can strengthen security links based on common values.

  • Report: US Helsinki Commission Delegation to Georgia and Azerbaijan

    From April 22-26, 1996, Commission staff attended, along with 30 media professionals, the International Conference on Conflict in Trans-Caucasus [sic] and the Role of Mass Media, held in Kobuleti, Ajaria (an Autonomous Republic in Georgia). The conferences organizers were the OSCE Office of Democratic Institu- tions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Mission to Georgia, the Council of Europe and the Tbilisi-based Black Sea Press Information Agency. The project was co-sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, through the Eurasia Foundation. Participants came from Baku, Tskhinvali (South Ossetia), Stepanakert (Nagorno-Karabakh), Tbilisi and Yerevan. Organized by the ODIHR as a follow-up to the 1995 Human Dimension Implementation Review Meeting in Warsaw, the conference was one in a series on the role of the media in conflict situations and in systems undergoing the transition from communism. The stated aim of these conferences is to develop aware- ness of and working recommendations for the journalists working in conflict regions on the role the media can play in preventing and resolving conflicts. A secondary goal is to give journalists from states or regions in conflict the opportunity to meet, discuss common problems and establish personal contacts to promote the exchange of information. Other scheduled conferences examine the role of the media in the former Yugoslavia (June 1996) and the situation of the media in Uzbekistan (October 1996). One important reason conference organizers chose Kobuleti was that Ajaria has managed to avoid the destruction and disruption visited upon the rest of Georgia in the last several years by ethnic conflicts and by gangs of marauding criminals associated with various paramilitary groups. Under the iron grip of Aslan Abashidze, the Chairman of Ajarias Supreme Soviet, Ajaria has been relatively calm, and has taken in refugees from Georgias ethnic-separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Since these conflicts are technically unre- solved, Tbilisi, the capital, would have been problematic for Abkhaz and South Ossetians, whereas Ajaria seemed a more neutral site.

  • Turkish Minority in Western Thrace

    This briefing presented an overview of the problems and the situation of the Turkish minority in Thrace, which had suffered from human rights abuses, including the deprivation of citizenship, denials of the right to buy land or houses, restriction of freedom of expression, movement, and religion, and the degrading treatment of ethnic Turks by Greek government officials. In spite of some reforms taken to improve this situation, many issues still remain, involving education, the expropriation of land, and religious discrimination. Witnesses providing testimony at this hearing – including Tozun Bahcheli, Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace; Van Coufoudakis, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Indiana University/Purdue; and Western Thrace residents Adem Bekiroglu and Irene Laganis – discussed the limitations established by the Greek government’s failure to acknowledge without restriction the existence of the Turkish minority. Issues such as arbitrary deprivation of citizenship, the election of muftis, job discrimination, and discrimination in providing public services were identified as obstacles faced by the Turkish minority.  

  • Summary of the OSCE Rule of Law Seminar

    From November 28 to December 1, 1995, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened a seminar on the rule of law. The meeting was organized by the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Thirty-eight of the 53 fully participating States attended, along with representatives from two Non-Participating Mediterranean States, six international organizations, and 25 non-governmental organizations. Over the course of two days, a number of emerging democracies described the constitutions and other legislative provisions that had been adopted in their countries to provide for the rule of law, at least on paper. Western participants, for their part, generally spoke of the specific and concrete challenges faced in their countries in actually implementing safeguards for the rule of law. In general, the participation of East-Central European and former Soviet countries—most of which attended this meeting—was more active than at the 1991 Oslo meeting, and Western participants, for their part, avoided the West-West bickering that marred the earlier seminar. At the end of the meeting, the rapporteurs produced summaries of the discussions.

  • Religious Liberty: The State Church and Minority Faiths

    Samuel G. Wise, Director for International Policy at the US Helsinki Commission, presented the second briefing in a series focusing on religious liberty in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This particular discussion was intended to evaluate the relationship between state churches or traditional religious and freedom of religion for minority faiths in the OSCE region through an analysis of the effects of certain historical legacies on individual states. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Father Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America; Father George Papaioannou, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church; Gerard Powers, Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. Catholic Conference; Lauren Homer, Founder of Law and Liberty Trust; and Lee Boothby, Vice President of the Council on Religious Freedom – focused on the issue of minority and majority in society as it relates to religion and the potential for this issue to result in conflict. The historical origins of these tensions, especially in Eastern Europe, were particularly emphasized. 

  • The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions - Part 3

    This two day briefing was a response to legislation that called for the CSCE to conduct an analysis of the OSCE’s strengths and weaknesses and to ascertain the feasibility of creating similar institutions in other geographic regions. The briefing was divided into six panels. This third section, entitled “Africa: Conflict, Compromise, and Managing Chaos”, was moderated by Ambassador Chester Crocker, former Secretary of State for Africa. Here, panelists identified corruption, weak governance, and ethnic strife as key challenges that could be addressed by an OSCE-like organization. Gabriel Negatu, director of the Federation of African Voluntary Development Organizations, stressed that African governments have to strike a balance between human rights concerns, economic development, and stability. He noted, however, that NGOs had largely been shut out of the multilateral problem solving process. Panelists envisaged a greater role for NGOs, civil society, and business associations in the problem solving process. One suggestion included persuading companies doing business in Africa to develop a code of conduct in conjunction with such organizations as the Africa Business Council.

  • The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions - Part 4

    This two day briefing was a response to legislation that called for the CSCE to conduct an analysis of the OSCE’s strengths and weaknesses and to ascertain the feasibility of creating similar institutions in other geographic regions. The briefing was divided into six panels. This fourth panel, entitled “Trade + Democracy = Security & Human Rights?” dealt with Latin America, and was introduced by Senator Bob Graham. Mr. Graham cited three aspects of the Helsinki process with particular relevance in Latin America: the role of NGOs in building civil societ, linkage between security, economics, and human rights; and multilateralization of issues. He believed an OSCE-like process could help counter threats to democratic governments including growing inequality within and between states, unchecked population growth, drug trafficking, and government repression.

  • The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions - Part 5

    This two day briefing was a response to legislation that called for the CSCE to conduct an analysis of the OSCE’s strengths and weaknesses and to ascertain the feasibility of creating similar institutions in other geographic regions. The briefing was divided into six panels. This fifth panel focused on the Middle East, and framed the discussion on Middle Eastern security as being closely tied to European security by virtue of their geographic proximity. Ambassador Basheer noted several qualitative differences between Europe and the Middle East in terms of the nature of grievances, which in the Middle East often include complicated territorial issues. He noted that NGOs might play a particularly useful role in mediating such conflicts, especially where parties refuse to engage on a government-to-government level. One notable example of this included Israel’s refusal to engage with regional governments on nuclear weapons proliferation. 

  • The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions - Part 6

    This two day briefing was a response to legislation that called for the CSCE to conduct an analysis of the OSCE’s strengths and weaknesses and to ascertain the feasibility of creating similar institutions in other geographic regions. The briefing was divided into six panels. This sixth panel dealt with future prospects for multilateralism. Drawing from conclusions in previous panels, Professor Zartman stressed that the CSCE model could not be a template imposed on other regions without consideration for regional mores and traditions. He argued that there was no “rich culture” of the respect for human rights outside of Europe. Professor Buergenthal, however, believed that multilateralism was in the interest of the vast majority of states, especially smaller ones. International law and consensus-based decision making procedures coupled with wide ranging membership acts as a hedge against power politics, he argued, which works to the benefit of many states. Ultimately, panelists were optimistic about the future of multilateralism, but conceded that the development of new international organizations across the world would have to develop in a manner that was attuned to the region’s specific resources and needs.  

  • The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions - Part 1

    This two day briefing was a response to legislation that called for the CSCE to conduct an analysis of the OSCE’s strengths and weaknesses and to ascertain the feasibility of creating similar institutions in other geographic regions. The briefing was divided into six panels. This first panel assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the OSCE model. Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith opened the discussion by pointing to the OSCE’s success in impacting upon multilateral processes in Africa and the Middle East. Most panelists believed that there was a large gap between what the OSCE could do and what its members would allow it to do, especially in areas related to security. As such, they felt that procedural mechanisms were vital to the OSCE because they allowed for the maintenance of equal footing among nations through, among other things, consensus based decision making and rotating chairpersons. An important achievement of the OSCE was, according to the panelists, the linkage between human rights, security, economic, and other issues. They also noted that a key element in the OSCE’s development was the cold war tension, which yielded self-enforcing agreements between states. In this regard, it was pointed out that similar models with non-legally binding provisions might be hard to develop in regions lacking such tension.

  • The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions - Part 2

    This two day briefing was a response to legislation that called for the CSCE to conduct an analysis of the OSCE’s strengths and weaknesses and to ascertain the feasibility of creating similar institutions in other geographic regions. The briefing was divided into six panels. This second panel, entitled “Asia: Market Driven Reform or Repression?” was introduced by Congressman Jim Lightfoot. Rep. Lightfoot believed an OSCE-like process should be considered in Asia and that an organization like the Helsinki commission be created to monitor such a process. Other panelists generally agreed that while the OSCE model held some insights for Asia, including an enhanced role for NGOs, it would be difficult to envision its effectiveness in the vast and varied Asia-Pacific region. Mr. T. Kumar of Amnesty International added that it would be helpful to have a more institutionalized role for NGOs, as they have often become victims themselves when confronting rights abuses. On security matters, the panelists agreed that further development of the ASEAN process would be beneficial in maintaining both bilateral and multilateral ties to the U.S. Finally, in the economic sphere, Mr. Kamm of Market Access Ltd. argued that the promotion of human rights has positive implications for productivity, and that it would thus be in the interest of businesses to establish a human rights protection regime.

  • Religious Liberty in the OSCE: Present and Future

    Speaking on behalf of Congressman Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, chairman and co-chairman of the Helsinki Committee, the Committee’s Director for International Policy, Samuel G. Wise, addressed the improvements made by the countries of the OSCE in religious liberty since the demise of communism. Observed deficits in this particular subject were also evaluated, including acts of OSCE governments perpetrating religious intolerance and discrimination against people of faith by passing laws favoring certain religions, turning a blind eye to harassment, and establishing bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent religious minorities from practicing their faith. Each panelist – including Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow of Political Theory for the Institute for Christian Studies; Dr. Khalid Duran, Senior Fellow for the Institute for International Studies; and Micah Naftalin, National Director for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke to the overall factors affecting religious freedom in the OSCE, including: respect for other freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, ethno-cultural tensions, and the relevance of old prejudices. These ideas were presented in the context of moving towards a more comprehensive respect for religious freedom among OSCE member states in the future.

  • Prosecuting War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia: an Update

    This memorandum is part of a continuing series of reports prepared by the staff of the Helsinki Commission on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In the summer of 1991, Members of Congress and representatives of non-governmental organizations began to call for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal that would hold those responsible for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia personally and individually accountable for their actions. As atrocities mounted over that summer and information about concentration camps became public, these calls began to reverberate at on-going meetings of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) then being held in Prague, Vienna and Helsinki.

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