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The OSCE and Roma
Friday, July 13, 2018

Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and are present in most of the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  Concentrated in post-communist Central and Southern Europe, the Romani population is estimated at over 12 million in EU countries, with significant numbers in former Soviet republics, the Balkans, and Turkey. Roma have been part of every wave of European immigration to North American since the colonial period.  There may be as many as one million Americans with Romani ancestry.

Roma have historically faced persecution in Europe and were the victims of genocide during World War II.  In post-communist countries, Roma suffered disproportionately in the transition from command- to market-economies, in part due to endemic racism and discrimination.

Over the past three decades, Helsinki Commissioners have led the effort in Washington to condemn racially motivated violence against Roma, including pogroms, murders, other violent attacks, and police abuse. The Helsinki Commission has also advocated for recognition of the enslavement and genocide of Roma and redress for sterilization without informed consent.  The Commission has addressed race-based expulsion of Roma, the denial of citizenship to Roma after the break-up of federative states, and the consequences of ethnic conflict and war in the Balkans. The Helsinki Commission strongly supported the first international agreement to specially recognize the human rights problems faced by Roma, adopted by OSCE participating States in 1990.

Download the full report to learn more.

Contributor: Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law

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  • The State of Human Rights in Romania: An Update

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  • The State of Human Rights in Turkey: An Update

    Since September 12, 1980, many governments, international bodies and nongovernmental organizations have taken an extreme­ly active interest in the human rights situation in Turkey. That date marked the third time in as many decades that the Turkish military had taken power, this time in the wake of governmental paralysis, political polarization, and an uncontrolled wave of vio­lence and terrorism which even civilian-imposed martial law could not stem. Still in power in 1982, the ruling generals had made it clear that power would not be returned to civilian hands until, in their view, the causes of the previous unrest had been eliminated. Political activities remained restricted, and large numbers of Turkish citizens were in prison awaiting trial on a variety of politically related charges. Allegations of serious human rights abuses were wide­spread. The Commission had been urged by nongovernmental organiza­tions, by Members of Congress, and by parliamentarians in other NATO countries, to investigate the charges of abuse. A staff delegation visited Turkey from August 22-29, 1982, and its report repre­sented one of the first open expressions of concern about the Turkish situation by official representatives of the United States. Since the October 1982 report, the Commission, Members of Con­gress, various international bodies, and a variety of private organi­zations have followed events there with great interest. In the past six years, certain sanctions have been applied by the international community, and have been rescinded as progress was made in im­ proving the human rights situation. In light of its ongoing interest m Turkey, and the concern which private organizations continue to express, the Commission felt it appropriate to visit Turkey again and to assess the situation once more. The Commission believes that, since the previous staff report, Turkey has made impressive strides toward a full restoration of human rights and the democratic process. The past six years have seen a renewal of the national commitment to achieving democrat­ic ideals for all Turkish citizens and patterns of tolerance have emerged. They are being strengthened by institutional reform, a citizenry largely committed to the democratic process, and by the activities of the press and various private organizations. The Commission also believes that certain human rights prob­lems, which often predate the 1980 military takeover, persist in Turkey. The report describes them and certain measures which are being undertaken in order to deal with them. This report by the staff, describing developments since the 1982 report and assessing the current state of affairs, is a product of the Commission's continuing interest in Turkey's progress toward full democratization. The hard-won national independence of 1923 en­ compassed a vision of the future which incorporated a proud histor­ical heritage in a Western framework. The profound changes that followed required great national will and commitment. It is the Commission's hope that the momentum of Turkish human rights improvements will be sustained. Turkey is a geographical and cul­tural bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and the Turkish experience may serve as a lesson for both worlds.

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  • The Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Compilation of Speeches (Jan-Apr 1987)

    On November 4, 1986, the 35 signatory nations to the Helsinki  Final  Act convened in Vienna for the third follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. During the six weeks that followed the opening of the Conference, there was a thorough exchange of views on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and the Madrid Concluding Document, along with discussion about the next phases of review of the Helsinki process. The United States delegation to the Vienna Review Meeting made significant contributions in detailing the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries in their many speeches in both the plenary sessions and in various subsidiary working groups.

  • Documents of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in the U.S.S.R. and Lithuania (1976-1986), Vol. 3 - Ukraine

    November 9, 1986, marked the 10th anniversary of the largest and, in terms of prison sentences, the most repressed of the Soviet Helsinki Groups--the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Founded by Ukrainian writer and World War II veteran Mykola Rudenko, the group produced extensive documentation on violations of the Helsinki Accords in Ukraine, such as persecution of individual dissent, suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture, and religious persecution. The Soviet Government was determined to deny this group any public voice. Of the 38 members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, all but one have been imprisoned at one time or another. Fourteen Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and one Estonian human rights activist who joined the group while in a labor camp, are currently serving lengthly sentences. Since May 1984, three members have died in camps. All three men had been ill and denied adequate medical care. Oleksa Tykhy, Yuriy Lytvyn and Vasyl Stus all died for their beliefs. Prior to his death, Stus had written "Moscow has given the camp authorities complete power, and anyone harboring the illusion that our relations with /the camp authorities/ are regulated by some sort of law is sadly mistaken." His words were tragically prophetic. We are concerned that the same fate awaits others, including Lev Lukianenko, Mykola Horbal, Ivan Kandyba, Vasyl Ovsienko and Vitaly Kalynychenko. It is vital that we remember the courageous members of the Ukrainian Monitoring Group and their eloquent call for compliance with the ideals of Helsinki. In fact, the Congress recently passed a resolution commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki group and honoring the members of all the Soviet Helsinki Monitoring Groups. At the ongoing Vienna CSCE Follow-up Meeting, the United States and other Western delegations are speaking out on behalf of the imprisoned members of the Ukrainian and other Helsinki Groups. We hope that the documents contained in this volume will help to ensure that the Ukrainian Group and its message are not forgotten.

  • Report: Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Phase I

    At the initial session of the third CSCE follow-up meeting held in Vienna from November 4 to December 20, 1986, the Soviet Union and a number of its Warsaw Pact allies came under the most concentrated and concerted attack for human rights abuses since the beginning of the Helsinki process in 1975. In some ways the barrage of criticism directed at the East during the implementation phase of the Vienna Conference was more remarkable for the fact that the Soviet Union for the first time offered a series of gestures, promises and public relations maneuvers specifically designed to soften or mute negative Western assessments of its performance. Partly out of underlying distrust for Soviet motives and partly because of Soviet bumbling or callousness in the death of imprisoned Helsinki Monitor Anatoly Marchenko and the agonizingly delayed departure of cancer patient Rimma Bravve, Western as well as neutral and nonaligned (NNa) participants joined together to mount an unprecedented indictment of Soviet and East European violations of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. As a result, the calculated Soviet effort under General Secretary Gorbachev to project a new, more open and humane image remained at best open to doubt and at worst suffered a serious loss in credibility.

  • The Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Compilation of Speeches, Nov-Dec 1986

    On November 4, 1986, the 35 signatory nations to the Helsinki  Final  Act convened in Vienna for the third follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. During the six weeks that followed the opening of the Conference, there was a thorough exchange of views on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and the Madrid Concluding Document, along with discussion about the next phases of review of the Helsinki process. The United States delegation to the Vienna Review Meeting made significant contributions in detailing the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries in their many speeches in both the plenary sessions and in various subsidiary working groups.  

  • List of Organizations Involved in Exchange Programs with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

    The Commission developed this report to help in­terested persons and organizations participate in exchange pro­grams with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It lists organizations which conduct exchange programs and other contacts with these countries. The parties to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe declared their intention to expand cooperation in security, economic, humanitarian, information, culture, and education affairs and to respect and put into practice certain basic principles, including those of human rights. The Final Act was signed in Helsinki on August 1, 1975, by 35 heads of state or govern­ment, including the United States, Canada, and every state in Europe except Albania. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsin­ki Commission) was created as an independent government agency in 1976 to monitor compliance with the Final Act and to encourage U.S. governmental and private programs to expand East-West eco­nomic and cultural cooperation and exchange of people and ideas. In the Final Act, the signatories express the view that cultural exchanges and development of relations in education and science contribute to the strengthening of peace, better mutual under­ standing, and enrichment of the human personality. In the Com­ mission's view, exchange programs with the Soviet bloc countries break down barriers and lessen distrust. They help Americans learn about the views and goals of these societies. Such programs help expose the peoples of these countries to the values and goals of our pluralistic society. Critical to such programs is that Americans are given the opportunity to tell the Soviets and their allies on a personal level about their concern for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE)

    In this hearing, which Rep. Steny H. Hoyer presided over, took place on the heels of the Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE). Concerning the conference, Chairman D’Amato stated, “This package of confidence- and security-building measures is designed to bring about greater openness with respect to European security and reduce the risk of war.” One of the main aspects of this “package” was the first inclusion of provisions for onsite inspection in an East-West agreement. The conference had large implications for the Helsinki process. For instance, one named concern was that security could overshadow human rights. The witness (Ambassador Barry) did say, though, that the conference could, if properly implemented, reduce the risk of war in Europe, contribute to greater security and openness, and lead to improved East-West relations. 

  • Vienna Follow-Up Meeting of the CSCE

    This hearing focused on the Vienna Meeting and narratives in previous meetings in Belgrade and Madrid. These meetings centered on the U.S.S.R.’s persistent publicity about the true nature of the Soviet system, in particular regarding the role it played in the reversal of the Soviet image in Western Europe in the early 1980's. Due to Soviet improper compliance with OSCE rules and statues, such as detaining Helsinki monitors, the Vienna Meeting focused on strengthening the relevance and effectiveness of the Helsinki process to improve efficacy on progress.

  • Transcript: Bern Human Contacts Experts Meeting, March 18 and June 18, 1986

    The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 428-A, of the Russell Senate Office Building, at 10 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato (chairman) and Representative Steny H. Hoyer (co-chairman) presiding. In attendance: Commissioners and Senators Gordon J. Humphrey and Dennis DeConcini; and Commissioner and Representative Don Ritter. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. This hearing took place before the Human Contacts Experts Meeting which was held in Bern, Switzerland beginning on April 15, 1986. Ambassador Michael Novak was head of the U.S. delegation to the Human Contacts Experts Meeting and testified in this hearing regarding U.S. goals for the meeting.

  • Transcripts: Restrictions on Artistic Freedoms in the Soviet Union, October 29, 1985; and the Budapest Cultural Forum, December 11, 1985

    * Public Hearing on Restrictions on Artistic Freedom in the Soviet Union The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 210, Cannon House Office Building, at 10 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, chairman, and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, cochairman, presiding. In attendance: Commissioners and Senators John Heinz, Gordon J. Humphrey, and Dennis DeConcini; Commissioners and Representatives Dante B. Fascell, Don Ritter, and Christopher H. Smith. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. This hearing concerned restrictions on creative freedom in the Soviet Union.   Public Hearing on the Budapest Cultural Forum The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 538, of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, at 11 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, chairman, and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, cochairman, presiding. In attendance: Senator Malcolm Wallop, Commissioner. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. In this hearing, the Helsinki Commission heard testimony on the most recent international meeting in the Helsinki process, the Budapest Cultural Forum.

  • THE OTTAWA HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS MEETING AND THE FUTURE OF THE HELSINKI PROCESS

    The commissioners gave testimony on the importance of the 35-nation conference which addressed "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," The discussion centered on inconsistencies between the rhetoric of the United States on the subject of human rights and its actions.  The focus of human rights covered the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and also Afghanistan. In response to human rights violations- recognizing the framework provided by the Helsinki accords- the witnesses discussed constructive measures to concentrate on human rights violations that could be corrected with relative ease and without effecting systemic change within the Soviet Union or the other states in the Soviet sphere.

  • GAO Report: Helsinki Commission: The First 8 Years

    This report, which describes and evaluates the work of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is in response to Chairman Fascell's request.  The report's conclusions: We believe that the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe has helped, through its hearings and reports, to focus public attention and to inform public opinion and has made itself a principal Western source of information on Soviet and East European violations of the Final Act; helped resolve numerous family reunification cases for Eastern victims of Communist repression; played a key role in planning and conducting U.S. Helsinki diplomacy.; and effectively promoted a strong U.S. human rights policy in the East-West dialogue about cooperation, detente, and international security. The Commission has put considerably less emphasis on implementing its second mandate--to monitor and encourage governmental and private programs aimed at expanding East-West economic and cultural cooperation. The Commission's unusual organizational arrangement has worked well, although there were some initial difficulties, and as some observers have pointed out, more orthodox arrangements could also have worked well. Commission-participation in the international conferences has enhanced its ability to carry out its mandate to monitor and report on implementation of the Helsinki accords, and it has increased the ability of the Commission's congressional members to influence U.S. policy in the Helsinki process. Yet it has invited criticism on constitutional grounds relating to the separation of powers because it has, in practice, given executive functions to staff personnel who report to members of Congress. No one we consulted has suggested that this arrangement should be changed with respect to the Helsinki Commission. Some, however, have cautioned against suggestions that such an arrangement might be applied to other areas of U.S. foreign relations.

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