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Scars of 1974 Invasion Abound as Leaders Seek to Reunite Cyprus
Monday, August 24, 2009

By Ronald J. McNamara,
Policy Advisor

Cyprus’ unique location at the cultural crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean and important trade routes between Europe and the Middle East and beyond has shaped the island nation’s rich history. I recently returned to Cyprus to assess developments as the 35th commemoration of the Turkish invasion approaches and a significant portion of the country remains under occupation. Virtually every conversation during my visit, whether with officials or private citizens, touched on some aspect of the ongoing occupation of the country, the legacy of the 1974 invasion, or the prospects for a resolution of “the Cyprus issue.”

In a country with slightly less than a million people covering an area slightly more than half the size of Connecticut, one is hard-pressed to find a Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot family that has not been affected in one way or another by the conflict and its lingering impact.

While the Cyprus conflict predated the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act, many of the principles found in that historic document have particular applicability to the situation in Cyprus, including: territorial integrity of states; peaceful settlement of disputes; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; and fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law. Cyprus and Turkey were both original signatories to the Final Act.

Traveling to the remote Karpas peninsula, in northeastern Cyprus, I was able to speak with an elderly pensioner in Rizokarpaso, a town where thousands of Greek Cypriots once thrived.Today they number scarcely more than 200, the largest concentration of Greek Cypriots in the Turkish occupied north. A short distance from the main square, featuring a large statue of modern Turkey’s founder Kemal Atatürk on horseback, the gentleman described his existence amid a burgeoning population of newcomers from mainland Turkey. He explained that as elderly Greek Cypriots pass away in the area, their homes are occupied, often by “settlers.” The aged man, deeply rooted in the town, showed a fierce determination to remain despite the hardships, making clear that he would not be complicit with the effective cleansing of Greek Cypriots from the region. Within minutes after we sat down at a nearby cafe, a couple of young men sat conspicuously nearby, within easy listening distance from us, an action that seemed designed to intimidate.

The man pointed to a building across the street that serves as the school for the small number of Greek Cypriot children a short distance from the Orthodox Church, mainly used for funerals conducted by the lone cleric permitted to conduct such services in the region. According to the May 15 “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus,” humanitarian assistance was provided to 367 Greek Cypriots and 133 Maronites living in the northern part of the island.

While numerous mixed towns and villages existed throughout the country prior to 1974, today, the town of Pyla, partly located in the UN-monitored buffer zone, is the sole surviving bi-communal village, with around 500 Turkish Cypriots and 1,500 Greek-Cypriots. While local leaders from the communities described a generally harmonious and cooperative atmosphere, the reality is that interaction between the two remains limited, with separate schools, sports teams, municipal budgets, and police forces, among others.

Many of the people I met touched in one way or another on the ongoing talks between Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Talat. In his February 28, 2008 inauguration, Christofias reiterated the requirements for a negotiated resolution of the Cyprus conflict and reunification of the country as a federal bi-zonal, bi-communal, with a single sovereignty, international personality and citizenship. Christofias and Talat have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to such a formula based on UN Security Council resolutions dating back to the 1970s.

The current talks, initiated by Christofias shortly after his 2008 election, focus on six main chapters, or themes, with corresponding working groups: governance and power sharing, European Union matters, security and guarantees, territory, property, and economic matters. Technical committees have also been established to consider crime, economic and commercial matters, cultural heritage, crisis management, humanitarian matters, health, and environmental matters. While formally conducted under the auspices of the UN, the talks are mainly being conducted directly between Christofias and Talat, with teams of experts focused on specific aspects of each topic.

A meeting with George Iacovou, President Christofias’ top aide on the current direct talks, helped put the negotiations in context against the backdrop of prior efforts to reunite the country, including the Annan plan, which the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected in a 2004 referendum. Officials, including government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou repeatedly emphasized that negotiations on a resolution of the conflict be by the Cypriots, for the Cypriots. That said, such an outcome depends in large measure on Turkey playing a constructive role as the leaders of the two communities seek to hammer out a comprehensive agreement.

Briefings by Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and other senior officials focused largely on the international dimension of the Cyprus issue. Central to the discussions was Turkey’s longstanding aspiration to join the European Union. Accession talks with Turkey began in October 2005.

In July of that year, the EU welcomed the country’s decision to sign a protocol adapting the Ankara Agreement to expand the existing customs union between Turkey and the EU to include all member states, including Cyprus. Simultaneously to the signing, Ankara issued a unilateral declaration, noting that its signature did not amount to recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. In response, the EU issued its own declaration on September 21, 2005 making clear that “this declaration by Turkey is unilateral, does not form part of the Protocol and has no legal effect on Turkey’s obligations under the Protocol.” Despite signing the adapted agreement, Turkish ports remain closed to Cypriot ships and airplanes. Cypriot government officials suggested that the status quo has cost the island nation millions in lost business.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on December 11, 2006 partially froze membership talks with Turkey over the impasse, suspending eight of the 35 chapters on the agenda of the accession negotiations, a step endorsed by the European Council on December 15. The Turkey 2008 Progress Report issued by the EU Commission reiterated the call for Turkey “to remove all remaining restrictions on the free movement of goods, including restrictions on means of transport regarding Cyprus.” Turkey's accession to the EU would also require Ankara to work toward recognizing the Republic of Cyprus, including establishment of diplomatic relations.

The next periodic report on Turkey’s implementation of the Ankara Protocol is expected later this year. While Cyprus supports Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU, the passage of time has brought potential opposition to the surface, notably from France and Germany.

Property

Property, another chapter heading under active discussion, has enormous implications. According to government officials, the vast majority of properties in the occupied north were owned by Greek Cypriots. Upholding the property rights of the owners as they were prior to the invasion remains a major priority for the government, with restitution the preferred end result. Considerable real estate development in the north and the continued occupancy of their homes by strangers, has led many Greek Cypriot property owners to file cases with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) claiming their property rights were violated. In the case of Loizidou v. Turkey, the court held that “denial of access to property in northern Cyprus was imputable to Turkey” and awarded damages, finding that the applicant had “effectively lost all control over, as well as all possibilities to use and enjoy, her property.”

More recently, a judgment issued by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the case of Meletis Apostolides v. David Charles Orams and Linda Elizabeth Orams could have a chilling effect on foreigners purchasing property in the occupied territory. The ECJ affirmed that courts in other EU countries must recognize and enforce Cypriot court judgments. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004.

Since the partial lifting, in 2003, of restrictions imposed by authorities in the north on freedom of movement, Greek Cypriots for the first time in large numbers have been able to cross into the northern part of the country – visiting their homes and villages many had not seen since 1974. Increased movement in both directions followed, with over 15 million incident-free crossings.

A Greek Cypriot shared his experience of visiting his home for the first time since being forced to flee during the invasion. He discovered that a Turkish Cypriot family was living in the house. To his surprise, the father had meticulously collected and stored all of the owner’s family photos and presented him with the box at that first visit. Similarly, the occupant had placed crosses and other religious articles in the attic for safekeeping. A Turkish Cypriot expressed relief at the fact that some Greek Cypriot friends from his home village were living in his house and maintaining his lands in the southwestern part of the country. Unfortunately, these stories appear to be the exception rather than the rule.

Missing Persons

Of the many painful consequences of the 1974 invasion, perhaps none is as heartrending as that of missing persons. According to The Committee on Missing Persons, a total of 1493 Greek Cypriots, including five Americans, were officially reported missing in the aftermath of the conflict. Five hundred and two Turkish Cypriots had already been missing, mainly victims of inter-communal violence that erupted in the early 1960s. The remains of one of the Americans, Andrew Kassapis, were eventually recovered and returned. The cases of the other four remain open.

The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, established in 1981, facilitates the exhuming, indentifying and returning of remains of missing persons. The CMP mandate is limited in that it does not extend to Turkey. The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities each have one member on the committee. A third member is selected by the International Committee of the Red Cross and appointed by the UN Secretary-General. While in Nicosia, I had an opportunity to be briefed separately by Elias Georgiades, the Greek Cypriot representative and Christophe Girod, the UN representative.

Operating on the basis of consensus, the committee does not attempt to establish the cause of death or attribute responsibility for the death of missing persons. Since becoming operational in 2006, an anthropological laboratory has analyzed the remains of several hundred individuals. According to the committee, remains of 530 individuals have been exhumed from more than 273 burial sites throughout the country. Of remains examined at the forensic facility, the youngest individual was 10 months old and the oldest 86 years old. Walking though the lab I noted that most of the remains under examination had visible signs of gun wounds to the head. The remains of over 160 individuals have been returned to family members as a result of the bi-communal field teams and forensic work undertaken at the lab. The U.S. contributed funds for a family viewing facility which opened in 2008.

Land Mines

A briefing at the Mine Action Center in Cyprus provided insight into another legacy of the 1974 conflict, the presence of thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. Established in 2004, the center has assisted in planning, coordinating and monitoring of demining operations, including land surveys as well as the actual clearance and disposal of mines. While thousands of landmines have been cleared to date, thousands more remain. The center’s goal is a mine-free buffer zone by the end of 2010. In addition to efforts undertaken within the framework of the UN, Cyprus’ National Guard has worked to clear anti-personnel mines. Of the 101 known or suspected minefields in the country about half are in the UN monitored buffer zone, with most of the remainder nearby. Briefers underscored the continued threat posed by minefields adjacent to the buffer zone, recounting incidents of migrants trying to cross from the northern part of the country to the government-controlled south finding themselves surrounded by mines.

Farmers on either side of the buffer zone are also at risk as they seek to cultivate the arable farming lands bordering the area. The experts described the clearing operations involved in the opening of the Ledras Street pedestrian crossing point in the middle of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, in April 2008. The Mine Action Center is assisting in clearing operations paving the way for the opening of additional crossing points. In late June, President Christofias and Mr. Talat reached agreement on the opening of the Limnitis crossing point with access to and from Kokkina in the remote northwest, offering an opportunity for development and integration by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

The United Nations has maintained an operational force on Cyprus since the establishment of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in March 1964, following the outbreak of intercommunal violence. The force, one of the longest existing UN peacekeeping missions, consists of 858 troops, 68 police, and 160 civilians. UNFICYP is responsible for maintaining the status quo along the de facto ceasefire lines of the Cyprus National Guard, to the south, and Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces to the north and a buffer zone between the two. The buffer zone stretches 111 miles from east to west, with 214 square miles of land between the lines, constituting about three percent of the country’s territory. The distance of separation varies from barely more than an arm’s span in some places to about four miles. Numerous villages, including Pyla, mentioned above, are located in partially or entirely in the buffer zone.

The once bustling seaside city of Famagusta along the east coast remains deserted, a veritable ghost town, as it has since the mainly Greek Cypriot population was forced to flee during the second phase of the Turkish invasion in August 1974. A center for commerce and tourism, the city and surrounding region was the second largest in the country prior to the evacuation. It is home to nearly half of the people uprooted by the conflict. Standing on the beachhead just north of the city in the Turkish-controlled area the unpopulated city stretched as far down the coast as I could see. Abandoned hotels and high-rise apartment buildings rise from the sandy shore standing as a collection of steel skeletal frames liberated of their contents by plunder and the passage of time since their occupants were forced to flee.

Religious Cultural Heritage

The ancient Roman city of Salamis, located a short distance from Famagusta on the east coast, was the arrival point for St. Paul on his first missionary journey, accompanied by St. Barnabas, a native son of that city. Paul eventually made his way to Paphos, on the opposite side of the island, where his preaching led to the conversion of the Roman Proconsul, making Cyprus the first country governed by a Christian. A short distance from Salamis is the village of Enkomi, where according to tradition, Barnabas’ remains were buried following his martyrdom.

Among minorities throughout the country recognized by the 1960 constitution are: Maronite Christians number approximately 5,000; Armenians 2,500; and Latins (Catholics) 1,000. The overwhelming majority of Cypriots are Orthodox, with Muslims comprising the next largest faith community.

His Beatitude Chrysostomos II has served as Archbishop of New Justiniana and All Cyprus since November 2006. During our meeting he underscored the long history of harmony among faith communities in Cyprus. The archbishop voiced particular concern for those displaced by the 1974 invasion and stressed the importance of upholding human rights, including the rights of individuals to return to their homes. He contrasted the efforts taken by the authorities with the support of the Church to preserve mosques in the government-controlled area with the destruction of religious cultural heritage, including churches, monasteries and chapels in the north. Archbishop Chrysostomos II, who was joined by the Bishop of Karpasia, described the challenges faced by clergy seeking to travel to the occupied north, including those seeking to participate in religious services. The rare Orthodox services that are allowed to be conducted in the north are mainly for feast days of several saints, notably St. Mamas and St. Barnabas. Even such exceptional occasions have occasionally been marred by security forces preventing worshipers from crossing into the area. The Archbishop said that the Church would soon file a formal case with the European Court of Human Rights regarding its religious sites and other property in the occupied north.

In the aftermath of Turkey’s 1974 military invasion and ongoing occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, a precious piece of the country’s cultural heritage is at risk of collapse – Orthodox churches, chapels and monasteries as well as those of other Christian communities. According to Archbishop Chrysostomos II, over 500 religious sites in the area have been seriously damaged or destroyed. During my travels throughout the region, I visited a score of churches – each in various stages of deterioration, all plundered. In Lapithos, in the Keryneia region, the Agia Anastasia complex is now a tourist resort. I found the Monastery of Ayios Panteleemon, in Myrtou, reduced to little more than a pigeon coup, with bird droppings everywhere – a scene I encountered repeatedly. In each church visited the interiors were stripped of religious objects, including altars, iconostasis, icons, and fonts. In some, it was clear how frescos had been chiseled out of walls and ceilings. It was a surprise to see a single bell still hanging in one of the many bell towers I saw. The main church in Rizokarpaso and a few elsewhere in the Karpas region were noteworthy for the fact that they even had doors; most others I visited did not. One of the countryside churches I visited was being used for storage, with heavy farm equipment in the yard and plastic crates and large tractor ties filling the interior space. In Keryneia, I found that a small chapel in the port was being used by the authorities as a tourist information center and snack bar. According to Church sources, others have been converted into stables, shops, and night clubs.

In the village of Kythrea, a small Catholic chapel was reduced to a shell with no roof. Most of the main church had been converted into a mosque, along with a couple of others in the town, but for some reason a quarter of the structure remained in ruins. Another church, Agios Andronikos, located nearby was heavily damaged, with the rubble of the collapsed roof strewn about the interior space, with traces of frescoes still visible on the exposed walls. In the village of Stylloi, in the Famagusta region, the Profitis Ilias Church yard also serves as a cemetery. There I found desecrated ruins of graves with all of the crosses broken off of their bases and smashed. A shed in the corner of the yard was stacked with broken crosses and headstones. Another cemetery a short distance away was similarly in shambles. An adjacent Muslim cemetery was in meticulous condition.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has supported a number of restoration projects in the occupied north, including work at the Agios Mamas Church in Morfou, operated mainly as an icon museum. In Keryneia, the prominent belfry of the Archangelos Mikhael Church disguises the fact that the once venerated site has likewise been converted into an icon museum. Such collections reportedly contain a small fraction of the thousands of icons, sacred vessels, vestments, manuscripts, frescos, and mosaics looted from churches, chapels and monasteries in the north. Many stolen icons and other antiquities are placed on the auction block for sale on the international market, some making their way into U.S. collections. The Byzantine Museum, in Nicosia, featured an exhibit: “Hostages in Germany: The Plundered Ecclesiastical Treasures of the Turkish-occupied Cyprus.” In a recent case, two icons from the early 1600s taken from a church in the northern village of Trikomo, were seized in Zurich by Swiss police.

In stark contrast to the situation in the occupied area, in Nicosia I visited the Ömerge Mosque housed in the 13th century Church of St. Mary built by the Augustinian religious order. The recently refurbished mosque is a functioning place of worship. A short distance away in the old walled city is Bayraktar Mosque. When I visited the site there were large pallets of stone to be used to renovate the plaza in the mosque complex. Another example is the Mosque of Umm Haram, or Hala Sultan Tekke, a mosque and prominent Muslim shrine, located in Larnaca, southeast of the capital. According to Cyprus government sources, scores of other mosques and other Islamic places of worship are maintained in the south.

A visitor to Cyprus need not look far to discover the scars left by the artificial division of the country following the 1974 invasion and ongoing occupation. Since my earlier trip to that island nation eleven years ago, there has been progress on some fronts, most noticeably in terms of freedom of movement since the partial lifting, in 2003, of restrictions imposed by authorities in the north. According to officials, the majority of Turkish Cypriots hold Cyprus-issued EU passports, affording them free movement throughout the EU area, employment opportunities in member countries and other benefits. In addition, thousands of Turkish Cypriots cross into the south daily for work. Other steps have come about as a direct result of the talks between the leaders of the two communities initiated last year. It remains to be seen, however, if the current negotiations will produce a comprehensive and durable resolution to the challenges in Cyprus. Beyond practical steps to ease the day-to-day lives of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, key principles such as sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are also at stake, with implications for conflicts elsewhere.

Numerous earlier diplomatic initiatives were launched, but in the end failed. A particular challenge remains the thorny issues of the tens of thousands of Turkish troops and settlers from mainland Turkey still in Cyprus today, outnumbering Turkish Cypriots. Other factors, especially Turkey’s stated desire to join the EU, should not be discounted and could prove decisive to the ultimate success or failure of the current process. Meanwhile, Christofias and Talat and their teams grapple with an array of tough issues as they seek to overcome the legacy of the past 35 years and build a brighter future for all Cypriots.

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To address dangerous overcrowding, governments should work first and foremost to release those imprisoned for exercising their internationally recognized rights or those wrongly imprisoned contrary to international commitments.  I regret Turkey's decision in particular to approve a plan to release 90,000 prisoners that excluded relief for any of the thousands of political prisoners, including opposition politicians, civil society activists, employees of U.S. diplomatic missions, and many more. Which brings me back to the important work of Special Representative Kauma.  Civil society is not a luxury, it is essential.  If anything, it becomes even more important during an emergency when governments may legitimately exercise powers, but those powers may not be unlimited, unchecked, or unending.  A vibrant civil society plays a critical role in holding governments to account, particularly at times of great social stress.  Those human rights groups, the parent-teacher organizations, book clubs, or food banks— all enrich our societies. Colleagues, this pandemic has upended elections across the OSCE region.  According to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s factsheet, forty OSCE participating States — including my own — have elections scheduled for this year. As we all rise to meet the challenge of conducting elections safely, we must maintain transparency regarding the entire electoral process, especially any changes to the timing of elections, methods of voting, or measures that impact campaigning.  The United States is already debating these issues in preparation for November. Even in a pandemic, international and domestic election observation remains vital.  We must find a solution to ensure that they are engaged and included even now. 

  • Statement at the Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Bureau

    Mr. President, Secretary General Montella, thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this Bureau meeting. I commend you for your efforts to ensure that the work of the Assembly continues and that this body responds to the urgent challenges all of our countries face. I particularly welcome the information you have put online about the participating States’ responses to the covid-19 pandemic and the role of legislative bodies in formulating those responses. Parliamentary oversight is essential, not expendable, in an emergency. Since my last report in Luxembourg, I have focused on the profound threat of rising and increasingly deadly intolerance. Anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic attacks in my own country, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the targeted killings of Latin Americans in El Paso, Texas, underscore the urgency of this threat.  Obviously, the pandemic creates new and additional challenges.  But it is precisely at this moment that we cannot afford to lower our guard against discrimination and bigotry, when pandemic fears may fan the flames of intolerance. Minority and immigrant communities are already more vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic because of past inequalities. Those disparities may be compounded without appropriately targeted healthcare and economic responses. Covid-caused disruptions in education may also have long-term disproportionate consequences for those already impacted by discriminatory schooling. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to ensure that the measures we introduce and which our governments implement are consistent with OSCE standards on human rights and democracy, including the 1991 Moscow Document’s commitments regarding states of emergency. It is also vital that our parliamentary oversight extends to the use of military authorities and policing, which may have the potential to exacerbate relations with minority communities and erode public confidence in government at a time when that trust is critical for the effective implementation of responses to this virus. Disciplinary and punitive policies by national or local authorities run the risk of backfiring. As this body’s special representative on anti-Semitism and racism, I am alarmed by attacks on people who are being scapegoated for this virus. Parliamentarians should lead by example in countering disinformation, conspiracy theories, and other propaganda that stokes anti-Asian bigotry, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of racism. In the face of an extraordinary threat, people may feel that ordinary constraints on governments do not apply. But too often, temporary changes introduced for emergencies have a way of becoming permanent. I welcome the statements by my Third Committee colleagues that have called for the participating States’ responses to meet the basic tests of necessity, transparency, and proportionality. It is also crucial that they include sunset provisions and subject to periodic review. When democratic norms erode, protections against hate crimes do too. Mr. President, I will be reporting more fully on my activities later this year at a more opportune time, when we will all be able to assess the very fluid, unfolding challenges.  Covid-19 will undoubtedly lead to profound changes in all our countries for a long time to come. I thank you and my colleagues here today for the work you are doing to ensure that we meet a global crisis with global cooperation faithful to the commitments we have undertaken in the OSCE.  

  • Hastings, Wicker, Moore, and Hudson Mark the Third Anniversary of Joseph Stone’s Death in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—Three years after the death of Joseph Stone, a U.S. paramedic serving with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) recalled Stone’s tragic death in the Russia-driven conflict and lamented the suffering of civilians who remain the chief victims of Kremlin aggression.  Stone was killed on April 23, 2017, when his vehicle struck a landmine in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. “Another year has passed since Joseph Stone lost his life, and still Moscow’s war in eastern Ukraine rages on,” said Chairman Hastings. “Stone was killed as he helped document the senseless human suffering inflicted by the Kremlin’s assault on Ukraine. Even amidst a global pandemic, we must not forget the civilians with courage like Stone, who remain on the frontlines of conflict zones globally.” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) underlined the Russian Government’s responsibility for the war’s ongoing toll and affirmed that the Kremlin would continue to face consequences for its aggression. “The Kremlin continues to fuel this war while denying its direct involvement,” said Co-Chairman Wicker. “Joseph Stone’s death three years ago was a direct result of Russian aggression, which is only part of Vladimir Putin’s broader campaign against Ukraine. Our sanctions will remain in place until Moscow changes course and Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored.” Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) celebrated Stone’s contributions to regional security and condemned the threats OSCE monitors continue to face in the field. “Born in my district in Milwaukee, Joseph Stone was a courageous young man whose life tragically ended much too soon.  All OSCE states, including Russia, must do everything possible to support the OSCE monitors who, to this day, face unacceptable threats and restrictions as they shine a light on the daily cost of this needless war,” said Rep. Moore. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), who also chairs the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Political Affairs and Security, called for the immediate lifting of new, baseless restrictions imposed by Russian-led forces under the pretext of COVID-19. “Even as OSCE monitors seek to report on the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on vulnerable populations, Russian-controlled forces are using so-called quarantine restrictions to deny them access,” Rep. Hudson said.  “The increasing limitations by Moscow-led forces also stall crucial humanitarian shipments and services by international organizations. This obstruction and harassment must cease immediately.” The SMM was established in 2014 to monitor implementation of the Minsk agreements, which were designed to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. It is an unarmed, civilian mission that serves as the international community’s eyes and ears on the security and humanitarian situation in the conflict zone. The SMM operates under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. It currently fields roughly 750 monitors, approximately 600 of whom are in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. The United States supports the SMM by providing 54 monitors (the largest contingent) and has contributed more than $140 million to the mission since its inception.

  • Chairman Hastings Marks International Roma Day, Notes Consequences of Systemic Racism Exposed by Pandemic

    WASHINGTON—To mark the occasion of International Roma Day on April 8, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) issued the following statement: “This year, we sadly must put aside many of the annual celebrations of Romani art, culture, music, and heritage that usually mark International Roma Day, and instead address the urgent concerns exposed by a global pandemic. “This health crisis has spotlighted many of the consequences of systemic racism long faced by Romani communities. Unequal access to care—or in some cases even basic sanitation and clean running water—puts not only Roma but also other socially excluded groups in great danger of infection. Now more than ever, governments must ensure that all members of society have permanent access to healthcare, functioning sanitation facilities, and clean water. “In addition, around the world—even in our own country—there are those who seek to use this crisis to fan the flames of bigotry. We must not tolerate or excuse such discrimination on the basis of fear. Stoking racism and xenophobia will not make us healthier or stronger. It will only divide and weaken us at a time when unity is most needed. “To successfully counter COVID-19, OSCE participating States must work with local community representatives to build trust, enhance the transparency of national initiatives, and bolster participation in critical public health efforts. Roma and other marginalized groups must not be forgotten. To quote from the OSCE Action Plan, ‘for Roma, with Roma.’” In the April 2020 episode of the Helsinki Commission’s “Helsinki on the Hill” podcast, Romani scholar and activist Dr. Margareta Matache discussed the state of Roma rights in Europe, as well as resolutions introduced by Helsinki Commission leaders to celebrate Romani American heritage.   In April 2019,  Chairman Hastings, Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Rep. Steve Watkins (KS-02), and Ranking Helsinki Commissioner Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) introduced resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.Res.292) and the U.S. Senate (S.Res.141) celebrating Romani American heritage.  In 2003, OSCE participating States adopted an “Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area.” These guidelines—recommendations for participating States and OSCE institutions—are intended to combat racism and discrimination; ensure equal access and opportunities in education, employment, housing, and health services; enhance Romani participation in public and political life; and address issues relating to Roma in conflict and post-conflict situations.

  • Reflecting on Chechnya

    By Mia Speier, Max Kampelman Fellow On December 11, 1994, Russian forces advanced into Chechnya, a republic in the North Caucasus near Georgia and Azerbaijan, to stop an attempt at secession. A Chechen separatist movement started to gain momentum following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Russians refused to allow any chance at separation. This marked the start of the First Chechen War, a conflict that erupted after decades of hostilities between the former Soviet government and the Chechen forces. The war dragged on for nearly two years, destroying the capital city of Grozny and killing tens of thousands of people—mostly civilians. The conflict, which started as an internal national movement, was complicated by flows of foreign money and foreign fighters. Militant Islamists joined the fight against Russia during the latter half of the war as part of a declared global jihad. Officials in Russia feared a repetition of the violence that occurred during the Soviet war in Afghanistan nearly a decade prior. Though Russia withdrew from Chechnya for a short time after the first war, the Second Chechen War broke out in 1999. This second war began after Putin blamed Chechen secessionists for bombings that killed Russian civilians, although there was no evidence of Chechen involvement in the bombings. Russian forces were sent into the republic again, and the Russian government succeeded in putting Chechnya under its control. Since then, the region has been a republic of Russia and is governed by Putin-appointed president Ramzan Kadyrov. Amid the conflict, however, the international community took steps to confront Russian aggression and violence in the region. On March 13, 1997, the U.S. Helsinki Commission convened a hearing called “The Future of Chechnya,” to discuss the efforts of Chechen citizens to free themselves from Russia’s painful yoke and fight back against Moscow’s defiance of international principles and the rule of law. The Helsinki Commission hearing focused on the 1994 Organization for Security and Cooperation Budapest Document that requires all participating States, including Russia, to ensure that their armed forces are commanded in a way that is consistent with international law. At the time of the hearing, an estimated 30,000 to 80,000 people had died in the territory, and tens of thousands of citizens had been displaced. The violence against and displacement of citizens in Chechnya was a clear violation of the Budapest Document. Then-Chairman Rep. Alfonse M. D’Amato chaired the hearing and noted that though many people were paying attention to the ongoing conflict in Bosnia at the time, it was important to also pay attention to the conflict in Chechnya and, more specifically, to think about the role of the OSCE in the region. “The world watched, horrified, as the Russian military used massive firepower against the Chechen guerrillas,” D’Amato said. “While the international community recognizes the principles of territorial integrity, there can be no doubt that in its effort to keep the Chechens in the Russian Federation, the Russian Government violated recognized international principles.” Since 1997, the Helsinki Commission has held several other public events related to human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests, abductions, and disappearances and the plight of Chechen refugees. In 2003, the commission penned a letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to express concern over reported rights violations in Chechnya. Though it has been nearly 30 years since the First Chechen War, the situation in Chechnya remains bleak. In 2017, Congress passed a bipartisan resolution condemning widespread anti-LGBT persecution and violence in Chechnya after it was revealed that state law enforcement officials beat, imprisoned, and murdered hundreds of men perceived to be gay or bisexual. In June 2018, then-Chairman (and current Co-Chairman) Sen. Roger Wicker and Sen. Benjamin Cardin penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the United State to invoke the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism in response to escalating human rights abuses in Chechnya. The Moscow Mechanism allows for the establishment of a short-term fact-finding mission to address a specific human rights concern in the OSCE region. In November 2018, the 16 of the 57 OSCE participating States invoked the Moscow Mechanism to investigate the alleged disappearances, killings, and torture taking place in Chechnya—all of which were concerns raised at a Helsinki Commission hearing just months prior.  Though Russia failed to cooperate with the fact-finding mission, the resulting report concluded that the evidence clearly confirmed the allegations of very serious human rights violations and abuses in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. Today, multiple reports of journalists and bloggers in Chechnya being beaten or murdered calls for even more concern for individual freedom and civil liberties in the region. In early February, Yelena Milashina, a prominent Russian journalist and lawyer who exposed the cruelty against gay Chechen men, was beaten in Grozny. Imran Aliev, an outspoken Chechen blogger who criticized President Ramzan Kadyrov, was found murdered in France earlier this year. Aliev’s death is one of many deaths and disappearances in recent years of Chechen dissidents throughout Europe, sparking heightened fears of Chechen death squads hunting down those seeking asylum outside of the republic.

  • Chairman Hastings Introduces LITE Act to Strengthen Ties with U.S. Allies, Support Visionary Leadership on Both Sides of the Atlantic

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) yesterday introduced the Leadership Institute for Transatlantic Engagement (LITE) Act (H.R.6239) to strengthen ties with U.S. allies, protect democratic institutions, and support visionary leadership on both sides of the Atlantic. “Numerous challenges are putting western democracies and the transatlantic partnership at risk, including disparities in wealth, health, employment, education, and justice that lead citizens to question whether democracy can deliver on its promise of freedom and opportunity for all,” said Chairman Hastings. “We must find new and better ways to help democratic leaders ensure that laws are equitable, transparent, and enforced; elections are free and fair; and the same protections, rights, and laws are extended to all in their constituencies.”  LITE would further codify transatlantic leadership exchanges and knowledge-building activities to equip western policymakers with legislative, communications, conflict resolution, and other leadership tools to strengthen democratic institutions in their societies as well as the transatlantic relationship.  Recognizing the rapid and ongoing demographic change on both sides of the Atlantic, LITE focuses on inclusive and intergenerational solutions to current challenges and would empower individuals across generations and from diverse backgrounds with the knowledge, tools, opportunity, and access to fully participate in their democracies. In addition, LITE would assist in community reunification by helping leaders develop strategies to build resilience against the exploitation of community grievances that can lead to dangerous divisions in society. For more than a decade, the Helsinki Commission has convened U.S. and European policymakers with the State Department and other partners under the banner of the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference and Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network to support increased political representation in western democracies.  In 2019, Helsinki Commission held hearings featuring European lawmakers, and focusing on global leadership, democracy, and public diplomacy.  In February 2020, the Helsinki Commission hosted more than 30 young legislators from OSCE participating States and partner countries to discuss the role of young people in peace and security efforts and forge a transatlantic network for political action to address emerging human rights and security challenges.

  • Chairman Hastings Introduces Bill to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) yesterday introduced H.R.6240, a bill to establish a government-wide diversity and inclusion plan to ensure fair access and opportunity to federal jobs for all Americans.  “Estimates indicate that by 2050, more than half of the U.S. workforce will be made up of Americans from diverse populations,” said Chairman Hastings. “Effectively governing our nation will require that we fill federal jobs—whether they are in the military, intelligence, foreign service, health, or education sectors—with an equally diverse federal workforce who can meet the needs of our country.” The bill would require the development of a government-wide diversity and inclusion plan to ensure that all branches of the federal government are engaged in multi-year strategic planning to recruit, hire, promote, retain, and support workers representing America’s diverse talent pool. It also calls for a review of diversity in government contracting and grant-making. “Diversity and inclusion are the underpinnings of democratic societies,” said Chairman Hastings. “It is time to ensure that those from all segments of our society have an equal opportunity to contribute to the future of our nation as part of the vibrant workforce that is at the heart of our democracy.” The introduction of the bill follows the February 2020 GAO report highlighting problems in the State Department and legislative initiatives to increase diversity in the national security workforce.  Advancing societies that are safe, inclusive, and equitable is central to the work of the Helsinki Commission. The commission supports programs to address inequities in employment, political participation, and other sectors for women and minorities and strives to empower communities to unite against bias and discrimination to foster truly democratic, inclusive, and free societies.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Condemns Russian-backed Syrian Government Offensive in Idlib

    WASHINGTON—In response to mounting casualties from clashes between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces in northwestern Syria and the Turkish government’s decision to open its borders to refugee flows toward mainland Europe, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) issued the following statement: “A vicious Russian and Syrian government offensive in Idlib province is responsible for the unacceptable military escalation, civilian suffering, and displacement crisis we have witnessed in recent days and weeks,” said Chairman Hastings. “Presidents Putin and Assad must stop this assault immediately and comply with international humanitarian law requiring them to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. I further urge the Trump administration to deploy appropriate resources to address these pressing security and humanitarian challenges, which will undoubtedly impact the OSCE region. We must sustainably meet the needs of the most vulnerable and the countless refugees resulting from Russian and Syrian aggression.” On February 27, Russian-backed Syrian forces killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers in the northwestern Idlib province of Syria. Following this incident, the Turkish government announced the opening of Turkey’s borders for refugees and migrants to go westward to European Union member countries, despite the March 2016 EU-Turkey agreement “to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU.” That agreement is founded on the multi-billion euro EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey established in 2015. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in a March 2 statement, the daily rate of refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in Greece from Turkey has increased in March.     Since early December, fighting in northwestern Syria has displaced more than 948,000 people, including 569,000 children and 195,000 women, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees. Along with the United States, Tukey is a NATO ally. The United States, Russian Federation and Turkey, are  participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

  • Restrictions on Civil Society in Hungary

    Since returning to power in 2010, Viktor Orban has systematically dismantled a system of checks and balances, facilitating the consolidation of control by the Fidesz government, which is now in its fourth (third consecutive) term. This has included introducing significant changes to the legal framework for parliamentary elections; stripping hundreds of faiths of their state recognition in 2011 and then channeling money to religious groups that do not challenge government positions (increasing dependence of those groups on the state); overseeing the consolidation of most Hungarian media, first into the hands of government-tied oligarchy and then into a single foundation exempt from anti-trust regulation; and eroding judicial independence by, for example, expanding and packing the constitutional court. In light of restrictions imposed on political opposition, faith organizations, the media and the judiciary, the role of Hungarian civil society in holding the government to account (by, for example, suing the government for non-compliance with the Hungarian constitution or Hungary’s international legal commitments) has taken on heightened importance. At the same time, civil society organizations have become the targets of escalating rhetorical attacks and legislative restrictions, including laws that significantly lower the bar for what it takes to jail people who seek to exercise their freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. Download the full report to learn more. Contributors: Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law and Daniela Ondraskova, Max Kampelman Fellow

  • Chairman Hastings on Anniversaries of Sumgait Pogrom and Khojaly Massacre

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) yesterday issued a floor statement on the anniversaries of the Sumgait Pogrom and the Khojaly Massacre, two pivotal tragedies in the in the decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh. The statement reads in part: “Although separated by four years and 200 miles, the Sumgait Pogrom in 1988 and Khojaly Massacre in 1992 both demonstrated the heinous potential of interethnic hatreds to tear apart communities and trample human dignity. The commemoration of these horrific events is an opportunity to reflect on the innocent lives lost in this ongoing conflict as well as a chance to affirm the need for urgent steps to heal these wounds and sue for peace once and for all… “I strongly encourage the political leadership in Yerevan and Baku to use these solemn commemorations of Sumgait and Khojaly this week to turn a new page in this terrible conflict. The most fitting way to honor the lives of those lost would be through words of reconciliation and steps toward peace. Together, the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan can ensure such atrocities are never be repeated and that future generations will know a life of secure and prosperous coexistence.” Download the full statement.  

  • Congressional Delegation Led by Chairman Hastings Champions U.S. Leadership in Transatlantic Security, Human Rights

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) last week led a bicameral, bipartisan congressional delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s (OSCE PA) 19th Winter Meeting in Vienna, Austria. At the meeting, Chairman Hastings and other members of the delegation engaged with OSCE officials, delegations from other OSCE participating States, and diplomats to advance U.S. interests while assuring friends, allies, and potential adversaries of the U.S. commitment to security and cooperation in Europe.   The 11-member delegation was among the largest U.S. delegations ever to attend the annual gathering, which attracted more than 300 parliamentarians from 53 OSCE participating States. Chairman Hastings, a former president of the OSCE PA, was joined in Austria by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Helsinki Commissioners Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), and Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08). Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-05), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), and Rep. Andy Harris (MD-01) also joined the delegation, which benefited from the active support of Ambassador James Gilmore, the U.S. Representative to the OSCE.  In the Standing Committee, which oversees the OSCE PA’s work, Chairman Hastings highlighted recommendations resulting from a seminar for young parliamentarians on “Future Leadership for Political Inclusion in the OSCE Region,” hosted in Washington in early February by the Helsinki Commission and the OSCE PA. “We brought together some 35 young parliamentarians from 19 OSCE participating States and three partner States to learn from each other and incubate the solutions of the future,” Chairman Hastings said. “As I called on all of you at our last meeting in Marrakech, we must counter the economic and social despair afflicting our youth and we all have a role.”  At the same committee, Co-Chairman Wicker, who serves as a vice president of the assembly, shared his recent experience at the Munich Security Conference.  The committee also reviewed a written report submitted by former Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), OSCE PA Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues. In the committee focused on security issues, Rep. Hudson condemned Russia’s violations of Helsinki principles related to its aggression against Ukraine, while in the committee focusing on economic issues Rep. Harris cautioned Europe regarding the growing Chinese presence in the region.   During a special debate on confronting anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance in the OSCE region, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), who serves as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance, delivered introductory remarks by video. “It is our responsibility to safeguard our democracies by speaking out and using our tools and voices as legislators against those who would divide our societies,” Sen. Cardin said. Later in the debate, Rep. Cohen urged participating States “to teach Holocaust history, which a fourth of the people in Europe or more don't understand or remember, and teach it so that the most horrific crime against humanity will be remembered so that it will not be repeated.” Rep. Cleaver linked anti-Semitism to broader trends of intolerance in society, and called OSCE participating States to action, stating, “There are many scary things in our world, but there is nothing quite able to generate fright like prejudice inspired by ignorance and nationalism manufactured by fear.” Rep. Hudson chaired a meeting of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, and Rep. Moore participated in a similar meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration. On the margins of the Winter Meeting’s official sessions, members of Congress met with the Ukrainian delegation to the OSCE PA to discuss U.S. support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in the face of unrelenting Russian aggression. Delegation members also met with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings Valiant Richey, and High Commissioner for National Minorities Lamberto Zannier.

  • The Power and Purpose of Parliamentary Diplomacy

    While diplomats largely drive a nation’s foreign policy, elected members of national parliaments, including the U.S. Congress, also play a crucial role in influencing policy priorities, holding governments accountable, and providing a firmer democratic foundation to the advancement of peace, cooperation, and human rights across the globe. Through the parliamentary assemblies of organizations that play a critical role in international peace and security—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—parliamentarians can advance national interests on the international stage. The U.S. Helsinki Commission convened the hearing to encourage inter-parliamentary dialogue and examine the role parliamentary diplomacy can play in responding to current challenges facing the OSCE and NATO. The hearing also demonstrated bipartisan U.S. support for multilateral engagement based on shared principles and common goals.  Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) chaired the hearing and was joined by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Commissioner Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Rep. Filemon Vela (TX-34), a member of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Chairman Hastings’ opening statement highlighted the value of effective parliamentary forums in contributing to security cooperation in Europe and around the world. Co-Chairman Wicker’s opening remarks emphasized that transatlantic dialogue has become even more important given continued Russian aggression.  “If diplomacy is war by other means, we should no more abandon the plenary hall than the battlefield,” he stated.”  George Tsereteli, a member of the parliament of the Republic of Georgia and President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Attila Mesterhazy, a member of the parliament of Hungary and the Acting President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, both testified at the hearing Tsereteli discussed the necessity of active and visible international cooperation. He specifically acknowledged the advantages of parliamentary diplomacy in facilitating “public discussions,” “additional communication channels between conflict parties,” and “fact-finding missions.” Tsereteli also addressed Russia’s rogue actions in Russian-occupied territories. While he voiced support for maintaining pressure on the Putin regime, he upheld the importance of continued dialogue and compromise. Mesterhazy’s testimony focused on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s recent achievements and its role in shaping the future of NATO. He contended that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is a powerful complement to NATO because of the Assembly’s broad mandate, diverse membership, and utilization of majority voting. Mesterhazy also discussed Russian aggression in the region, asserting that “[the Ukraine War] is not a frozen conflict, it’s boiling” and commending the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for expelling the Russian delegation in 2014, following the illegal annexation of Crimea. The hearing provided insight on the parallels of multilateral engagement within the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Commissioners and panelists were able to address various issues facing transatlantic security and remain hopeful for the future of parliamentary diplomacy and cooperation.

  • Human Rights and Democracy

    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. Although best known for international election observation, ODIHR has also been instrumental in countering various forms of intolerance, helping governments combat human trafficking, protecting human rights defenders, and implementing OSCE commitments to fundamental freedoms. The U.S. Helsinki Commission convened the hearing to demonstrate bipartisan support for ODIHR, to reinforce the U.S.’s support related OSCE initiatives, and to hear about the ongoing work of ODIHR.  Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) chaired the hearing and was joined by Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. Wilson’s opening remarks highlighted the historic achievements of ODIHR, which include assisting countries to “transition from communism to democracy,” supporting “civil society participation in OSCE events,” and facilitating “strong cooperation with the Parliamentary Assembly.”  In her first appearance before Congress, ODIHR Director Ambassador Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir addressed multiple challenges that have impeded the effectiveness of ODIHR activities. She then outlined ODIHR’s role in offering proactive solutions.  In particular, Ambassador Gísladóttir stressed the importance of dialogue and asserted that democracy is about “respect and trust, an acceptance of differing opinions, an exchange of views, and the willingness to share power and seek compromise.” She concluded on an optimistic note, emphasizing unity within the OSCE and its “commitment to democracy and to the wellbeing of its people.” Although conscious of ODIHR’s efforts, commissioners voiced concerns that some OSCE participating States are not complying with their commitments to uphold basic human rights standards. Commissioners specifically acknowledged restrictions on religious freedom in Russia, poor conditions for activists and journalists, and rising anti-Semitism and discrimination against the Roma people across the region. This hearing continued the Helsinki Commission practice of regularly engaging with senior OSCE officials.The Commission typically holds hearing with the foreign minister of the country holding the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE. The Commission has also held hearings with previous ODIHR directors as well as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

  • Life Under Occupation

    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 U.S. Helsinki Commission convened the hearing to explore Russia’s ongoing assault on Crimea’s vulnerable minorities, as well as its blatant disregard for human rights. As an occupying power, Russia bears the full weight of responsibility for the abuses being inflicted on the population of Crimea. Panelists discussed Russia’s repression of basic freedoms in Crimea and persecution of those who don’t recognize Russian authority. Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) chaired the hearing and was joined by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and commissioners Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Chairman Hastings’ opening remarks addressed Russia’s attempts to stymie Ukraine’s relationship with the European community and the brutal tactics used throughout Crimea’s occupation. Hastings shed a light on the harsh reality of Russia’s continued occupation, which is “aimed at forcing a proud people into submission, whether they be civil society activists, community or religious leaders, artists, journalists, or simply those whose religion and ethnicity are viewed with distrust and fear.”   This hearing featured testimony from 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 was released in September 2019. Tamila Tasheva, Deputy Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and Melinda Haring, Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, also served as witnesses. Sentsov addressed Russia’s “fabricated legal cases” and “long-term imprisonment” against those who simply think differently. He also testified about the various forms of torture he endured in a Russian prison. Sentsov voiced his appreciation for the United States’ continued efforts to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine and asked that Congress maintain pressure on the Putin regime. Tasheva focused her testimony on Russia’s persecution and internal displacement of “disloyal” groups, specifically the Crimean Tatars. Tasheva also called for the creation of an “international platform for negotiations on the return of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to sovereign Ukrainian jurisdiction.” Haring addressed the lack of free press in Crimea, asserting that “the media is controlled by the government.” She praised Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Crimea service, which tracks developments in Crimea and broadcasts them in three languages to the Crimean population. Haring also warned that the situation in Crimea is worsening, and that Russia has “effectively turned Crimea into a Russian military base.”  Throughout the hearing, commissioners expressed their concerns for freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and freedom of the press in Crimea. Commissioners also assured witnesses that support for President Zelensky and the fight for freedom in Ukraine is bipartisan and resolute.

  • Power of Parliamentary Diplomacy to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: THE POWER AND PURPOSE OF PARLIAMENTARY DIPLOMACY Inter-Parliamentary Initiatives and the U.S. Contribution Wednesday, February 5, 2020 9:30 a.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 210 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission While diplomats largely drive a nation’s foreign policy, elected members of national parliaments, including the U.S. Congress, also play a crucial role in influencing policy priorities, holding governments accountable, and providing a firmer democratic foundation to the advancement of peace, cooperation, and human rights across the globe. Through the parliamentary assemblies of organizations that play a critical role in international peace and security—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—parliamentarians can advance national interests on the international stage. This hearing will examine the concept of parliamentary diplomacy, review the activities of both the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and assess the ways in which they parallel and support the multilateral diplomatic efforts of governments to follow shared principles and reach common goals. Witnesses also will discuss the many current challenges facing the NATO alliance and the OSCE region, the role played by the United States Congress, and possibilities for similar parliamentary initiatives elsewhere. The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: George Tsereteli, a member of the parliament of the Republic of Georgia and President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Attila Mesterhazy, a member of the parliament of Hungary and President (Acting) of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

  • 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.  

  • AI, UAVS, Hypersonics, and Autonomous Systems

    If you reach a login page when attempting to view the video, please hit the "back" button and try the link again. On January 22, 2019, the Helsinki Commission held a field hearing on the development of emerging technologies and transatlantic security at the University of Texas at Arlington. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33) convened the hearing, where two additional members of Congress and expert witnesses discussed the policy, legal, and ethical implications of rapidly changing defense developments. “New threats that we are concerned with range from hypersonic weapons to drones to autonomous weapons platforms, artificial intelligence, directed energy and others,” Rep. Veasey said. “These technologies have the potential to unlock some very important capabilities in the defense of our homeland and support our allies and friends abroad. However, these same technologies [are] under development from some of our strategic competitors, Russia chief among them.” Alongside Rep. Veasey, Rep. Colin Allred (TX-33) and Rep. Ron Wright (TX-06) were joined by Executive Director at the Clements Center for National Security William Inboden, Congressional Research Service Advanced Technology and Global Security Analyst Kelley Sayler, and Southern Methodist University Criminal Clinic Director Chris Jenks to discuss the potential for these technologies to threaten security and home and abroad. Rep. Allred, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed the importance of considering the legal and ethical dilemmas that the development of new technologies present to the United States. Rep. Allred hoped that the U.S. can strike a balance between maintaining security readiness and American values. “Obviously we are in a moment in which there is conflict popping up around the world and we have a complicated threat stream that we are trying to look to,” Rep. Allred said. “But as we turn to the great power competition as we have seen emerging now as the focus of our own foreign policy and of our own strategic opponents, I think it is important that we look at these emerging technologies and how this is going to impact it.” Sayler provided an overview of three major emerging technologies: artificial intelligence, lethal autonomous weapons, and hypersonics. She discussed the potential capabilities of all three technologies; their current state of development in the United States, China, and Russia; and the role of international and regional institutions in governing their use. Sayler also offered predictions for how technology will shape future wars between states, including accelerating the pace of conflict, replacing humans with AI, and shifting the offensive-defensive balance. Inboden elaborated on the idea of hybrid warfare and shifting strategies with the example of the 2007 cyberattack on Estonia by Russia, which shut down the country’s banking system, media, hospitals, and government. “From our vantage point 13 years later, I think we should look back on Russia’s cyber attack on Estonia and see it for what it was: the first wave in what would become a cascade of Russian aggression and hybrid warfare,” Inboden said. Inboden further illustrated the changing nature of conflict by highlighting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and interference in the 2016 election. He also noted that Russia is the OSCE participating State most involved in researching, developing, and employing emerging weapons systems. Inboden’s recommendations moving forward included combining “strength with diplomacy” and continuing the development of emerging technologies within the United States and other OSCE democracies. The final witness to testify, Jenks urged the U.S. Congress to direct change within the military to increase understanding of how to set boundaries on scientific development and military operation conduct in the future. Jenks also pointed out that while moral panic might accompany the idea of using new technology on the battlefield, these capabilities may also serve to better protect servicemembers. “In my view there can be no question that the U.S. and our European allies must continue to leverage emerging technologies and weapons systems – we would be derelict in our duties if we didn’t,” Jenks said. “But we need to halt the demonization of technologization in the context of weapons.” The members of Congress asked the experts about the potential threat of new technology to advance great power conflict, the ethical and human rights considerations when discussing the implications of efficient technology, and how to use diplomacy to negotiate with strategic adversaries. “These topics and many others that are discussed are really now, more than ever, need to be something that the American public takes a closer look at,” Rep. Veasey said.

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