North Macedonia's Leadership of the OSCE in a time of warTuesday, February 28, 2023
North Macedonia has taken up leadership of the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—a year into Putin’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Much of the OSCE’s focus over the past year has revolved around responses to the war, including using the organization to condemn Russian aggression and hold the government of the Russian Federation to account, to launch international investigations on Russian war crimes, and to reestablish an OSCE mission on the ground in Ukraine. The OSCE has remained at the forefront despite Russian efforts to block consensus and undermine the Organization and its work. Other challenges in the region include spillover effects of Putin’s war in Ukraine, the extension of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and backsliding in some countries on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Anti-Semitic attacks and rhetoric continue to be on the rise, and vulnerable communities are targets of discrimination and violence. Combating human trafficking has taken on a renewed urgency as millions of vulnerable women and children have fled Ukraine. Attacks on independent media continues in some OSCE participating States, including Russia, Belarus and most recently, Kyrgyzstan. At this hearing, North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Bujar Osmani discussed North Macedonia’s priorities in the OSCE and how it will address Russia’s war on Ukraine and other regional challenges. For more information, please contact Janice Helwig of the Commission staff at 202-225-1901.
U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA presents Joint Statement on Russia’s War in UkraineFriday, February 24, 2023
WASHINGTON— Today, the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) endorsed the “Joint Statement of Action on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine and the International Legal Order,” which was endorsed by the OSCE PA Bureau and published today at the conclusion of the 2023 OSCE PA Winter Meeting. Members of the U.S. Delegation include Head of Delegation and Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-37) also participated in the delegation. Following a dedicated debate marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Assembly issued the statement to condemn Russia’s years-long clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of its commitments under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE commitments. Click here to read the Joint Statement
HEARING: NORTH MACEDONIA’S LEADERSHIP OF THE OSCE IN A TIME OF WARFriday, February 24, 2023
Tuesday, February 28, 2023 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Streaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNgAOyC9f5g North Macedonia has taken up leadership of the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—a year into Putin’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Much of the OSCE’s focus over the past year has revolved around responses to the war, including using the organization to condemn Russian aggression and hold the government of the Russian Federation to account, to launch international investigations on Russian war crimes, and to reestablish an OSCE mission on the ground in Ukraine. The OSCE has remained at the forefront despite Russian efforts to block consensus and undermine the Organization and its work. Other challenges in the region include spillover effects of Putin’s war in Ukraine, the extension of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and backsliding in some countries on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Anti-Semitic attacks and rhetoric continue to be on the rise, and vulnerable communities are targets of discrimination and violence. Combating human trafficking has taken on a renewed urgency as millions of vulnerable women and children have fled Ukraine. Attacks on independent media continues in some OSCE participating States, including Russia, Belarus and most recently, Kyrgyzstan. At this hearing, North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Bujar Osmani will discuss North Macedonia’s priorities in the OSCE and how it will address Russia’s war on Ukraine and other regional challenges.
Helsinki Commissioners re-introduce Ukrainian Genocide Resolution in the House and SenateFriday, February 24, 2023
Today, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (MO-05) along with Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Bill Keating (MA-09), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Bill Pascrell (NJ-09), André Carson (IN-07), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), introduced a resolution condemning Russian actions in Ukraine as a genocide under applicable international laws in the 118th Congress. The resolution was also re-introduced in the U.S. Senate on February 16th by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Senator Jim Risch (ID). Commissioners Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) as well as Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Michael Crapo (ID), Tim Kaine (VA), Rick Scott (FL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Joe Manchin (WV), John Barrasso (WY), Patty Murray (WA), Marco Rubio (FL), and Todd Young (IN) joined Sens. Cardin and Risch as original co-sponsors. The resolution calls on the United States, along with NATO and EU allies, to support the government of Ukraine, support tribunals and investigations on Russian war crimes, use the Global Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible, and describes the substantial and significant evidence of Russia’s systemic actions to eliminate Ukrainians. The Commission applauds this vital resolution to hold Russia accountable for their atrocities. For more information click here. The resolution was first introduced in the 117th Congress in the House of Representatives by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson, along with Commissioners Marc Veasey, Richard Hudson, and Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick and Marcy Kaptur, along with companion legislation in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Jim Risch.
Steadfast Support for Ukraine: United States Delegation Hosts Ukrainian and Partner Country Parliamentarians on the Margins of the OSCE Parliamentary AssemblyThursday, February 23, 2023
WASHINGTON – Today, the United States Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), led by Senator Ben Cardin (MD), met with Mykyta Poturaiev, Ukraine’s Head of Delegation and additional representatives of the Ukrainian Rada in Vienna, Austria, along with the Heads of Delegation of Canada, Estonia, France, Latvia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the parliamentary leaders in attendance pledged their sustained and steadfast support for Ukraine to counter Russian aggression: “We will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over its 1991 borders. A year after Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we recommit to combining our efforts to redress this injustice and hold Russia to account for its crimes, including by seeking its suspension from the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). We further urge the PA to host annual sessions and meetings in OSCE participating States prepared to block the participation of Russia’s representatives. We will not allow Russia’s reprehensible propaganda to go unchallenged at the OSCE PA or any other international forum. The world must hold Russia accountable for its aggression and for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide it is committing against the people of Ukraine. All of us are committed to the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and seek restitution from Russia to this end. “To the people of Ukraine: as you suffer Russia’s attacks on your cities and fight the aggressor in the battlefield, know that you are never alone in your courageous struggle for a secure and democratic future. As missiles rain down and the lights go out, and as you mourn all those you have lost, we mourn with you and share your fight for Ukrainian victory. You have our admiration and above all, our gratitude, as we remain resolutely at your side in solidarity and partnership.” Joining U.S. Head of DelegationSenator Ben Cardin were delegation members Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-37). The Ukrainian delegation consisted of Mr. Mykyta Poturaiev, Head of Delegation; Mr. Artur Gerasymov, Deputy Head of Delegation, Mr. Pavlo Frolov, Ms. Irina Gerashchenko, Ms. Evgeniia Kravchuk, and Ms. Nataliia Pipa. Heads of delegations present included Dr. Hedy Fry (Canada), Mr. Sven Sester (Estonia), Mr. Didier Paris (France), Mr. Rihards Kols (Latvia), Ms. Barbara Bartuś (Poland), and Sir John Whittingdale (United Kingdom).
Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on Bakhtiyar HajiyevMonday, February 20, 2023
WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and is facing a precipitous decline in his health as he continues his hunger strike. His sentencing by the Azerbaijani regime is not only completely disproportionate to the allegations raised against him, but also not the first time he has been harassed, detained, and subjected to abuse as a result of his justifiable activism. “Azerbaijan has been an important U.S. partner and crucial for energy opportunities in the world, but our international relationships rely in no small part on the mutual recognition of basic principles of human rights. This is true for Mr. Hajiyev as well as numerous other political prisoners. “We join our colleagues in the Administration and in Europe in urging Azerbaijani authorities to ensure Mr. Hajiyev’s humane treatment and human rights, and return to its internal and external obligations under the Helsinki Principles."
Helsinki Commissioners Urge Austria to Deny Visas to Russian Delegation Ahead of OSCE PA Winter MeetingWednesday, February 15, 2023
WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission leadership, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Steve Cohen, on February 10, sent a letter to Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg to reconsider granting visas to the Russian delegation to the Winter Meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, taking place in Vienna next week. The Winter Meeting will coincide with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, February 24th, 2022, and is set to be the first in-person gathering of the Parliamentary Assembly with Russian and Belarusian participation since the start of the war. The United States and European Union have sanctioned every member of the Russian delegation for having explicitly endorsed Vladimir Putin's war of aggression on Ukraine and his claim to have annexed vast swathes of Ukrainian territory. Read the letter in PDF form above.
Helsinki Commissioners Announce Re-Introduction of HARM ActWednesday, January 25, 2023
Today, Helsinki Commissioners Steve Cohen, Joe Wilson, Marc Veasey, Richard Hudson, Ruben Gallego and Brian Fitzpatrick along with Representatives Ted Lieu, Maria Salazar and Marcy Kaptur, re-introduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act in the House of Representatives, bipartisan legislation that would require the Secretary of State to designate the Russian-based mercenary Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The Commission applauds this vital piece of legislation to hold Wagner accountable for the terror it inflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere. For more information click here. The HARM Act was first introduced in the last Congress by Helsinki Commission Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Roger Wicker (MI), along with companion legislation in the House of Representatives led by Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, Richard Hudson, and Marc Veasey.
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Bipartisan reps introduce bill to designate Russia’s Wagner Group as foreign terroristsWednesday, January 25, 2023
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday to designate Russian mercenary company Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act, sponsored by nine members of the lower chamber, would require the State Department to designate the Wagner Group an FTO within 90 days of becoming law. The lawmakers cited the paramilitary company’s history of human rights violations in Africa and ongoing deployment of private soldiers in Ukraine to fight with Russia, adding that the Wagner Group has received weapons from North Korea, a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism. “Where the Wagner Group operates, atrocities follow,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in a statement. “The HARM Act will identify Putin’s private mercenary group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and let the world know that its activities are both malign and illegal.” The Biden administration designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization last week and announced countries and entities supporting it would run afoul of the U.S. government. But an FTO designation would authorize the U.S. to slap criminal penalties on entities supporting Wagner Group, according to the lawmakers sponsoring the HARM Act. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said in a statement the Biden administration’s designation “does not go far enough” against Wagner, adding it should use the FTO label to “expose them in their true state as a murderous, criminal enterprise.” “The Wagner Group has been engaging in nefarious atrocities around the globe, all at the behest of war criminal Putin and his cronies,” Wilson said. Legislation to designate the Wagner Group an FTO was also introduced last year in both the House and Senate. There was a standoff between the Biden administration and some U.S. lawmakers last year over designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The administration said the designation, which comes with a raft of restrictions and penalties, could do more harm than good for Ukraine. Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, formed the Wagner Group in 2014. The mercenary outfit has since meddled in conflicts across the world, from Africa to Syria and now Ukraine, where Wagner forces are fighting alongside Russian soldiers in the eastern Donetsk region. DOJ disrupts global ransomware gangTop FDA safety official resigns In November, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging the European Council to adopt a measure that would place Wagner Group on an EU terrorist list. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who is vying for a Senate seat in 2024, also sponsored the HARM Act and called for “rebuking mercenary terrorist organizations like the Wagner Group.” “While Ukrainians stand up for freedom and democracy, the Wagner Group stands with authoritarian regimes like Russia,” Gallego said in a statement. “Declaring them a Foreign Terrorist Organization is a commonsense step to hold them accountable for their atrocities in Ukraine and across the globe.”
Helsinki Commissioners Announce Re-introduction of Combatting Global Corruption ActTuesday, January 24, 2023
On Tuesday, Helsinki Commissioners Rep. Steve Cohen, Rep. Joe Wilson, and Senator Ben Cardin re-introduced the Combatting Global Corruption Act in both the House and Senate, along with Rep. Bill Keating, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar and Senator Todd Young. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation formally designates combatting global corruption as a key U.S. national security concern. It would require the State Department to identify corruption in countries around the world and publicly rank their levels of corruption in a three-tiered system. For more information click here. The Combatting Global Corruption Act was first introduced in the 117th Congress. Commission Chairman Senator Ben Cardin and Senator Todd Young introduced the Act in the Senate, along with companion legislation in the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Tom Malinowski and Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen, Commissioner Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Rep. Dean Phillips are original co-sponsors of the legislation.
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The Crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh Highlights Russia’s Waning Global InfluenceWednesday, January 18, 2023
Mariam Abrahamyan is a hard woman to get in touch with. She appears on the screen for just a few moments before the picture freezes and she drops off the video call. “Sorry,” she says after phoning back a minute later, “our power went out again and the internet went down.” For more than a month now, the 30-year-old Armenian mother of three has been cut off from the rest of the world by a near-total blockade on the only road in or out of Nagorno-Karabakh—a disputed territory nestled between Armenia and Azerbaijan—that she and her family call home. Regular supplies of food and medicine have been stopped by Azerbaijan, and locals say supermarket shelves are empty and pharmacies are running out of essential prescriptions, while officials warn a famine could now be on the cards. “We didn’t think it would last this long,” Abrahamyan says. “But what’s really frightening is not knowing when it will end. We made the decision to stay here, and I dread the day one of my children might turn around and ask why we chose to live in a place like this.” Nagorno-Karabakh has already seen two wars within Abrahamyan’s lifetime. In the 1990s, as the Soviet Union unraveled, erstwhile members Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a series of fierce battles over the mountainous region, with hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azeris displaced from the region, and thousands killed on both sides. Nagorno-Karabakh is located inside Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized borders, but locked behind a line of landmines and defensive positions, and for three decades it was accessible only from Armenia. Governed as the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, its officials point to two referendums held in 1991 and 2006 as proof that those living there have chosen independence. But in 2020, Azerbaijani troops launched an offensive to retake Nagorno-Karabakh, conquering swathes of territory and leaving Karabakh Armenians in control of just their de facto capital, Stepanakert, and the surrounding area. Only a Moscow-brokered ceasefire ended the war, putting the sole highway linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia—known as the Lachin Corridor—under the control of a 1,500-strong Russian peacekeeping contingent, with Azerbaijani troops stationed behind the wire fence on both sides of the road. Yet with Russia bogged down in Ukraine, there are fears the battle-scarred Nagorno-Karabakh could see conflict once again as Moscow fails to step in. Road to nowhere On the morning of Dec. 12, a group of self-described Azerbaijani eco-protesters pushed past the Russian peacekeepers and set up camp on the Lachin Corridor, stopping traffic. They allege Karabakh-Armenians have been using the road to export illegally-mined gold at the expense of the environment, while importing landmines and other military hardware as the Russians watch on. Now, officials say the Russian peacekeeping convoys and a smattering of Red Cross relief vehicles are the only ones that are able to pass—nowhere near enough to replace the 400 tons of goods that used to arrive daily from Armenia. “We don’t see much of the Russians,” Adnan Huseyn, one of the Azerbaijani organizers of the sit-in says. “During the first few days, we had eye-to-eye contact with the peacekeepers, but there were no problems. We watched the World Cup together, which was actually nice. Most of the time they kept quiet.” While Huseyn’s group insists it is moving aside for humanitarian convoys and denies it is staging a blockade, Armenia alleges they were sent by Azerbaijan in order to spark a crisis and lay the ground for “ethnic cleansing” of the region. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, whose government has repeatedly cracked down on political protests at home, has described the demonstrators as the pride of the nation, while observers have been quick to point out few have any prior record of environmental activism. Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and author of several books on the conflict, has argued that the protesters had “evidently been sent there by the government in Baku,” and Western nations including the U.S. have called on Azerbaijan to unblock the road. Now, anger is building as the humanitarian situation grows dire and Russia appears reluctant to force a reopening of the road. “Armenia is a firm supporter of the Russian peacekeepers,” the country’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in December, as it became clear the protesters were there to stay. “But it is unacceptable for us that they are becoming a silent witness to the depopulation of Nagorno-Karabakh.” Broken promises In Stepanakert, propaganda posters of the Russian peacekeepers hang in shop windows, looking out over the rows of empty shelves. “Karabakh, live in peace,” one reads. For many ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region, Russian is a native language on par with Armenian, and Moscow has long been seen as a close ally. But since the 2020 war, many locals say their existence feels more precarious than ever and that Azerbaijan is intent on asserting control over their unrecognized state. In a poll published by the Caucasus Research Resource Center in January, fewer than half of 400 Karabakh-Armenian respondents said independence would help settle the conflict in the disputed territory. Almost one in four said they would prefer to be annexed by Moscow and given special status as part of the Russian Federation—slightly more than the number that back unification with Armenia. “I’m not political,” says Abrahamyan. “I only know that the Russians have a duty to protect us, and they’re not doing that.” On Dec. 24, a delegation of Karabakh-Armenians marched to the peacekeepers’ checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor, where the Azerbaijanis have been staging their sit-in, to demand the road be reopened. “The Russian officer there told us to go home and not to worry,” says Marut Vanyan, a 39-year-old blogger from Stepanakert who joined the group. “He told us the road would be reopened within two days, like it was before. That never happened.” According to Vanyan, one of the protest organizers told the peacekeepers that locals were losing trust in them and, if the worst comes to the worst, they would take their families and leave—with Moscow losing its foothold in the region. Three days later, dozens of men, women, and children walked to the gates of the peacekeeping headquarters to demand answers. “Putin, keep your word,” read one sign carried by a young boy. Guards told the crowd that they were unable to get hold of their commander, Major General Andrey Volkov, and he was the only one who could answer their questions. Many Karabakh-Armenians now fear a protracted blockade or another Azerbaijani military offensive could see them forced to flee their homes for good. Man from Moscow? Azerbaijan has long accused Armenia of being a Russian puppet state, pointing to Yerevan’s membership of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and the close economic ties between the two countries. At the same time, just two days before Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Aliyev himself traveled to meet with President Vladimir Putin and sign a deal upgrading their relations to alliance level. But the standoff between the two sides has only worsened in recent weeks after an enigmatic Russian-Armenian oligarch, Ruben Vardanyan, announced he was moving to Nagorno-Karabakh in September. The Yerevan-born billionaire was initially coy about seeking political office but, two months later, was suddenly appointed State Minister of the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, making him effectively the most powerful man in Stepanakert overnight. Since then, talks with Azerbaijan have broken down, with Aliyev accusing Vardanyan of having been “sent from Moscow with a very clear agenda.” Officials in Baku point to the fact that he has been sanctioned by Ukraine as proof of his close ties to the Russian state. Kyiv says his business interests “undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine.” Speaking via video link from his office in the blockaded region, Vardanyan rejects those charges. “People don’t understand when someone like me decides to give up his family and his lifestyle,” he says with a half-smile. “I decided it is the right time to be with my people and [the Armenian] nation.” The 54-year-old banking magnate is careful to avoid directly criticizing the role of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, but firmly denies Moscow has any undue influence over the region. “I can’t just pick up the phone and call Vladimir Putin,” he laughs, “the peacekeepers are only 2,000 people standing between the Armenian population and the sizable Azerbaijani army. It’s tough, and it’s clear Russia’s attention isn’t here—it’s in the West, given Ukraine.” Crisis in the Kremlin “For Putin, conquering Ukraine has become an all-encompassing issue and there’s little interest at the top for anything else,” says Jade McGlynn, a researcher at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. “Moscow’s quest to increase its influence has left it a diminished and less formidable power in the South Caucasus. Putin may not see that, but the Foreign Ministry does—it’s just being sidelined. Junior diplomats are in despair.” While Karabakh-Armenians fear their calls for help are falling on deaf ears, others are questioning whether Moscow was ever a reliable security guarantor in the first place. “Russia is exploiting the conflict to further its own interests. Ultimately, its strategy is about maintaining an imperial grip on the region,” says Michael Cecire, a senior policy advisor at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a U.S. government agency. From Yerevan, Pashinyan is now calling on the international community as a whole to step up and put an end to the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing a U.N. peacekeeping mission should take over if the Russians cannot fulfill their commitments. The U.S., along with the U.K. and a number of European nations, have expressed concern over the situation, while France has emerged as a leading ally for Armenia, tabling an unsuccessful motion condemning Baku at the U.N. Security Council. On Tuesday, RFERL reported that the E.U. has now agreed to send a monitoring mission to Armenia for as long as two years, in a sign that Brussels is concerned about the prospect of new clashes along the internationally-recognized border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the civilian team will not enter Nagorno-Karabakh, the move has been interpreted as a sign that the West is stepping up to fill the power vacuum left by Russia. But Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Britain, says that no outside power will be able to impose a solution to the standoff over the region. “Armenia’s problem is structural dependency—and now they’re looking to the West and hoping France will be their big daddy.” For Vardanyan, confined to the blockaded region he moved to just months ago, the outside world feels a very long way away, and he warns the Karabakh-Armenians can’t expect to depend on anyone but themselves. “It’s like a Russian fairytale—there’s a hero standing in front of a crossroads,” he says. “One way, you lose your independence, another, you lose your home. The third way is to fight. We don’t want war, but of these three options we have to make a choice, even if it is dangerous and you can lose your life. We need to be ready for this.”
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Standing with Russia, or staying silent, protects genocideTuesday, December 20, 2022
This month, in a unanimous vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed Senate Resolution 713, which correctly identifies and designates Russian atrocities in Ukraine as genocide. Led by Ranking Member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the resolution looks poised to pass the Senate, sending a clear message to the world where the United States stands during this moment of supreme moral urgency. This resolution, and its companion in the House, brings clarity and attention to Russia’s genocide in Ukraine. Every day seems to bring fresh, compounding evidence of Russia’s genocidal intent and patterns of action — mass graves and torture chambers that seem to pockmark every liberated territory; homes, schools, hospitals and kindergartens repeatedly and deliberately targeted by Russian firepower; civilians, including children and infants, kidnapped and herded into Russian so-called “filtration” concentration camps, where they are sorted for either Russification or the gulag or worse; and flagrant attacks against refugee and humanitarian convoys. If you care to look, these images repeat themselves throughout Ukraine, and it is as safe a bet as any that newly liberated areas will bear the blistering scars of this genocide. Sure enough, mass graves and torture chambers have been identified in recently liberated Mykolaiv and Kherson, including an archipelago of torture sites specifically for children. This is the apogee of depravity. The physical evidence is shocking enough, but the Russian government’s very public embrace of a campaign of terror and genocide is incredible to behold. The summer before the invasion, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin penned, by his own hand, a 7,000-word ahistorical screed denying the existence of Ukraine as a state and a nation, highlighting his eliminationist agenda for all the world to see. And even since then, Russian government figures at every level have repeated this noxious and ridiculous denial of Ukrainian nationality, deliberately dehumanizing and mass violence-encouraging rhetoric about “denazification,” and outright, even gleeful, calls for mass killing and destruction. The official state mouthpiece, RIA Novosti, even published in April a detailed plan laying out the intended destruction of the Ukrainian nation. What is striking about this genocide is perhaps the clarity and openness by which it has been prosecuted. And the pattern of action is startlingly predictable; not just in Ukraine, but also in Russia’s past colonial wars in Syria, Georgia and Chechnya, where ethnic cleansing, deliberate and widespread targeting of civilians, torture and rape were employed widely and purposefully as rote tools of Russian warfare. So, what can we do about it? For one, we can and should give Ukraine every tool that it needs to win its war against Russia’s genocidal war of imperial conquest. The faster Russia loses — and lose it must — the faster its genocidal program is halted. But also crucially, Congress, the U.S. government, and the world must be willing to call this genocide for what it is. In June, our co-chairman, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced House Resolution 1205, which later would be introduced in the Senate as S. Res.713. Both resolutions draw on the definition of genocide in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, to which the U.S. and Russia are both parties and which is codified in U.S. law. The bill text illustrates how, as is well documented, Russia’s actions in Ukraine exhibits both genocidal intent and pattern of action along all of the Convention’s five acts in Article 2: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Only one must be in evidence for genocide to exist. But what can a nonbinding resolution do? In this case, speaking out is more than some mere symbol. Ukraine’s war for its homeland is being won not because of Ukrainian material superiority, but because of the justness of its cause and the morale of its people. For the United States to officially recognize the extent of Russia’s horrors is tremendously meaningful to Ukraine and Ukrainians who still, despite their victories, endure the unendurable. Around the world, such a designation also demonstrates that we do not tolerate such heinous crimes. Calling out Russia’s genocide demonstrates the gravity of the stakes not only for Ukraine and Europe, but for global peace and stability. It can marshal further support for Kyiv, help sap Moscow’s fraying relationships, and further isolate this repugnant, totalitarian regime in the Kremlin. If you stand with Russia, or stand silent, you protect genocide. And here at home, these bipartisan, bicameral resolutions can help signal to the American people the true stakes in Ukraine. That Europe’s security, and the principles that undergird it, is a bulwark for freedom around the world and under great threat by a regime that purposefully and unflinchingly engages in genocide for its own imperial, corrupt ends. It is important to emphasize, too, that the 1948 Genocide Convention is about not only punishing genocide, but preventing it, and if we are to be true to our collective commitment to “never again,” we must act now. Of course, the ongoing legal investigations remain important and authoritative. But in the interest of prevention, a political declaration and congressional action is not only justifiable but essential. Congress, particularly Reps. Cohen and Wilson in the House, and Sens. Risch and Cardin in the Senate, should be applauded for their leadership. And the Senate, particularly Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), should be credited for bringing this resolution to fruition. Hopefully the House will do the same, in this Congress or the next, inspire the whole world to speak out as well — just as we were inspired by similar legislative actions in Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Canada and Ireland. Michael Hikari Cecire is a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Follow him on Twitter @mhikaric. https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/3780873-standing-with-russia-or-staying-silent-protects-genocide/
Saving Ukraine's ChildrenWednesday, December 14, 2022
Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of the country’s children have been displaced. Thousands have been injured and, although UNICEF has said more than 1,000 children have been killed, that number is likely much higher as there is no reliable way to verify how many civilians have been killed in the most decimated areas of Ukraine, like Mariupol, where, for example, Russian forces bombed a theater housing hundreds of civilians despite clear markings that children were present. And in addition to its immediate danger, the effects of war on children could have lasting consequences. Many Ukrainian children have witnessed unimaginable violence, including the murders of their own parents or family members. They have had to endure the stress of almost constant bombardment, in fear for their safety. Others have experienced hunger, cold, and weeks spent hiding in wet, frigid basements without daylight or fresh air and without sanitation or healthcare. Disruptions to education may never be fully recovered. Ukrainian children are also being forcibly taken to Russia and put up for adoption into Russian families in an apparent effort to assimilate them, a practice that genocide scholar Timothy Snyder has said could be considered genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The U.S. State Department has said Russian authorities have deliberately separated Ukrainian children from their parents during so-called “filtration” procedures and abducted others from orphanages before putting them up for adoption inside Russia and estimated that the number may be as high as 260,000. Unaccompanied minors are also vulnerable to falling prey to human trafficking.
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Congress Wants to Boot Russia From U.N. Security CouncilWednesday, December 14, 2022
Two U.S. lawmakers heading up an independent U.S. government human rights watchdog have introduced a resolution that calls on President Joe Biden to boot Russia from the United Nations Security Council, just days before the Kremlin’s flagging full-scale invasion of Ukraine is set to hit its 10-month mark. The bipartisan Helsinki Commission, which called on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to protest Russia’s standing as a permanent Security Council member in October, wants Congress to argue that Russia’s war has violated the “purposes and principles of the United Nations” and asks U.S. government agencies to take steps to limit Russia’s privileges at the U.N., though it gives the administration some free rein to determine how it might act. In the congressional resolution shared with Foreign Policy, Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson said that Russia had committed “flagrant violations” of the U.N. Charter that call into question its right to hold a Security Council seat, including the illegal annexation vote in four Ukrainian oblasts, the perpetration of atrocities in Ukrainian cities such as Bucha, nuclear saber-rattling, and creating risks to the world’s food supply. Ukraine has also advocated for Russia to be removed from the council, though experts remain skeptical that such efforts will work. The U.N.’s governing charter doesn’t contain any provisions for removing a permanent member of the Security Council. While countries can be removed from the United Nations altogether, doing so would require a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly, including the consent of the council itself. “Russia would have to agree to it, and it’s just not going to happen,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director with Human Rights Watch. China is also unlikely to agree to such a precedent. Though House resolutions are not binding law, the move solidifies thinking both on Capitol Hill and within the Biden administration about how to curb Russian influence in Turtle Bay. The resolution pushes forward a previous effort from the Helsinki Commission—which was created in 1975 as part of a U.S. law that solidified the brief detente between the United States and the Soviet Union—calling on the State Department to initiate a process to strip Russia’s seat on the top U.N. body. One idea, backed by the commission as well as some legal scholars, seeks to challenge Russia’s status as the heir of the Soviet Union’s seat at the Security Council. As one of the initial signatories of the treaty that founded the Soviet Union, alongside Russia and Belarus, Kyiv could make a convincing claim to be the only successor state of the Soviet Union not to have flagrantly violated the principles of the U.N. Charter and issue credentials for one of its own diplomats to take the seat. As deciding on credentials is a procedural matter, it would only require nine of the 15 members of the council to vote in support of Ukraine, Thomas Grant, a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, has noted. The feasibility of such a plan remains a subject of debate. And three decades after Russia took over the Soviet Union’s seat, challenging such precedent could also prove to be an uphill battle. “You’re looking at three decades of recognition of Russia in this place,” Charbonneau said. But Russia’s long-standing intransigence, along with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has gotten both the United States and Ukraine to begin thinking about alternatives to diminish Moscow’s influence. Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in September, Biden called for reforms of the Security Council, including the possibility of adding more permanent and nonpermanent members, such as for countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The United States also succeeded on Wednesday in ousting Iran from a United Nations panel on women’s rights.
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Ukrainian official rips Russia for ‘kidnapping’ more than 13,000 childrenWednesday, December 14, 2022
A Ukrainian official slammed Russia for “kidnapping” more than 13,000 Ukrainian children amid its invasion of the country “under the guise of an alleged evacuation,” during a hearing held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Wednesday. Nikolay Kuleba, the commissioner for children’s rights in the Ukrainian president’s office and co-founder of the Alliance for Ukraine Without Orphans, said Russia has deported 13,124 children during the war, citing a government portal. He also noted that Russian state media had reported a “horrifying number of 712,000 deported Ukranian children.” “The occupiers are kidnapping Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation,” he told lawmakers, accusing Russia of facilitating the deportations by simplifying their adoption process and bribing Russian citizens to adopt displaced Ukrainian children. “To encourage ordinary Russian to adopt forcibly removed children they offer a one-time payment of maternity capital and state aide,” Kuleba said, adding adoptive parents were paid $300 per year for each child, and about $2,000 a year for children with disabilities. He also noted the Ukrainian children were not being deported into border territories but to areas of Russia further away from the border. “The Russian authorities made a conscious decision to resettle deported children into the territories thousands of kilometers away from Ukraine,” he said. Kuleba also claimed that Russian adopters were allowed to change an adopted Ukrainian child’s name and date of birth. “This means that it will be very difficult for us to personally find and identify our children in the future,” he said. Kuleba said that there were several reasons Russia was stealing Ukrainian children, including making up for the demographic losses caused by Russian casualties in the invasion. He also said the Kremlin was pushing propaganda that Russians are saving the children from Ukrainian Nazis. James Gordon, founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, told the commission that roughly 60 percent of Ukrainian children had been displaced from their homes since the conflict with Russia began, and that these children were highly distressed. “Every child in Ukraine and all Ukrainian children who have left, are experiencing some level of distress,” Gordon said. In addition to kidnapping, Kuleba said he had recently received reports from the Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights that Russians were torturing Ukranian children, “and have even set up separate torture chambers for this.” The Hill reached out to the Russian Embassy for a response to Kuleba’s claims.
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Leaders warn social media ‘a ticking time bomb’ for antisemitismWednesday, December 14, 2022
U.S. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, who is special envoy to combat antisemitism, on Tuesday called the rise of anti-Jewish tropes on the internet and social media “a ticking time bomb,” during a hearing held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Lipstadt’s comments come just a day after President Biden’s announcement that his administration would establish a task force to coordinate government efforts to address antisemitism and other forms of religiously motivated bigotry. Her comments also come just a few weeks after rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, delivered an antisemitic rant on Infowars in which he stated that he liked Adolf Hitler. Witness Rabbi Andrew Baker, much like Lipstadt, emphasized the dangers of how easily antisemitism can spread online during the hearing. “Today antisemitism moves effortlessly around the world via the internet and social media. It infects groups and individuals who then carry out attacks on Jewish targets,” said Baker. Though Lipstadt said that it was important to recognize the dangers social media presents in making antisemitic content more easily accessible, she was cautious not to blame social media for the recent rise in antisemitism in the U.S. “I’m not sure we have an internet or social media problem, we have an antisemitism problem,” said Lipstadt. “I like to talk about or compare social media to a knife, a knife in the hands of a murderous person can take a life, a knife in the hands of a surgeon can save a life.” Lipstadt also made clear during the hearing that she wasn’t calling for more censorship or content moderation, but for more public condemnation of hate speech. “The United States will always uphold free protections of speech in our Constitution, but having said that, we also have to condemn hate speech,” said Lipstadt. “We cannot legislate it out of existence, but we can certainly condemn it. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean we have to sit idly by.” Baker also said that content moderation wouldn’t be able to solve the problem of antisemitism spreading online. “Content monitors are no match for algorithms designed to push grievance as the basic business model,” said Baker. “We must find new ways to bring this under control.” “We know that it spreads immediately, exhaustively, through social media, and that is a real fight we’re all up against.” Lipstadt said that one of the best ways to fight against the rise of antisemitism online and in general was for high-profile individuals to decry antisemitism whenever and wherever they see it. “Leaders have to speak out,” said Lipstadt. “Political leaders, religious leaders, celebrities, opinion makers, they have to speak out and say this is wrong.” “So, I think the public profile people speaking out and saying this is unacceptable, is extremely important.” Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.) reiterated this point and said that he was proud that so many of his colleagues denounced former President Trump’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes. “Leaders must put a spotlight on any type of antisemitic activities and be willing to condemn it. We saw just the opposite at Mar-a-Lago when the former president had dinner with Kanye West, a known antisemite, and Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist,” said Cardin.
THE ALARMING RISE IN ANTISEMITISM AND ITS THREAT TO DEMOCRACYTuesday, December 13, 2022
In response to a rise in antisemitism in the United States and abroad, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on December 13, 2022, featuring experts on preventing and combatting it. Witnesses testified about current development and how best to respond, as well as reinforced the important role of multilateral cooperation. In an increasingly global world where antisemitism can spread rapidly online, witnesses stressed that every country has a responsibility to combat anti-Semitism, as it has serious implications for democracy. Opening the hearing, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) expressed his alarm at the shocking rise of antisemitic speech and attacks in recent years in both the United States and Europe. Popular entertainers and public figures such as rapper and producer “Ye,” formerly Kanye West, have spread antisemitic tropes to their followers on social media or through public statements. Antisemitic disinformation and conspiracy theories proliferated in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that statements by public figures and online disinformation not only serve to normalize prejudice and discrimination, but they also can incite extremism and violent attacks. President Putin has even tried to justify Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine through perversely antisemitic statements claiming the invasion was an effort to “de-Nazify” the country, notwithstanding its Jewish president. He highlighted the destructive role of disinformation and the importance of educational programs, calling for a unified strategy to combat antisemitism across government and society: “We must speak out loudly and clearly against antisemitism when it occurs. As leaders, we must lead and fight against hate. We cannot allow antisemitism or any type of prejudice or intolerance to be normalized,” he said. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) raised questions about the cause of the recent increase in antisemitism. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) condemned the rise of antisemitism around the world, highlighted the important work the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the OSCE have done to combat it, and called on countries to take more action: “... it is clear what I stated last week, that antisemitism cannot be tolerated in any situation or under any circumstances. I’m very concerned by the rise of antisemitic incidents over the past several years, both in the United States and Europe.” Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-03) expressed his disgust at the alarming rise of antisemitism in the United States and Europe, raising concerns about Holocaust denial and securing places of worship: “It seems that every day and every week there’s another bomb threat at a Jewish day school, another discovery of antisemitic graffiti spraypainted on a college campus, or, at its worst, a shooting at a synagogue.” Rep. Marc Veasey (TX -33) inquired about what Congress should do in response to the rapid acceleration of antisemitism and extremism online: “We know that century-old antisemitic tropes are being increasingly mainstreamed and normalized due, in part, to social media and the amplification of problematic individuals.” Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT), discussed how to improve hate-crime legislation as well as how to come to terms with the history of antisemitism in the United States: “One of the innovations that we included in hate-crimes legislation was to give judges the option in sentencing to require that the convicted defendant, the perpetrator, perform acts of community service that put him or her in direct – in direct contact with the community who was the victim of the hate crime." Senator Rosen (NV) described how she co-led a bipartisan and bicameral letter signed by 126 members of Congress calling on President Biden to develop a unified national strategy to monitor and combat antisemitism: “I’m proud to say, just last night [Dec. 12, 2022] the White House heeded our call, announcing the formation of an interagency task force to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And its first order of business is to develop a national strategy to combat anti-Semitism." She also outlined specific actions that the United States must pursue including addressing online antisemitism, allocating increased resources to provide physical security for Jewish institutions, educating students about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, improving hate crimes data collection and reporting, and advancing a whole-of-government approach to combat this issue. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the U.S. State Department reiterated the importance of international coalition building and multilateral institutions in coordinating responses to antisemitism. She highlighted that antisemitism is often inextricably linked to prejudice and violence against other groups and religions: “Antisemitism is not a niche issue. It’s not just about helping or protecting Jews. As you entitled this hearing, it’s also a danger to democracy. Jews are the canary in the coal mine. If something is – if anti-Semitism is manifesting itself, other hatreds cannot be far behind." She also mentioned positive international developments, specifically in the Middle East such as Abraham Accords, and described how countries are starting to rethink their attitudes about antisemitism. Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Antisemitism as well as Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee (AJC), described the steps OSCE governments should take to better tackle this issue. He emphasized the importance of accurate data collection, securing Jewish community buildings, and expanding Holocaust education in Europe. He also described that preventing the spread of antisemitism online is perhaps the most difficult part of the problem to solve: “We are outnumbered and out-funded by the social media giants. Content monitors are no match for algorithms designed to push grievance as the basic business model.” Members brought several concerns and questions to witnesses about the source of the recent rise of antisemitism, the importance of Holocaust education, how best to allocate resources to secure religious and community spaces, the value of differentiatng among different types of hate crime, and how to halt the rapid spread of antisemitism online. For more information, please contact Janice Helwig, Senior Policy Advisor, at Janice.Helwig@mail.house.gov
No Safe Haven: Launching the US-Europe Coalition on Russia SanctionsTuesday, December 13, 2022
Since February 24, 2022, Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen, and public figures who support Russian aggression against Ukraine by financial or political means. Personal sanctions have been effective in creating tension between Putin’s proponents and continuing to help Ukraine fight for its independence. The biggest issue of personal sanctions policy is desynchronization among the countries imposing them. For example, when the United States enacts sanctions against politicians, public officials, and businessmen who support Russia’s war, the European Union and the United Kingdom do not. A similar dysfunction occurs when the European Union and Great Britain enforce sanctions on individuals without equal participation from the United States. The unity of the West in imposing sanctions on those driving Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is essential for Ukrainian victory. This public briefing united seven legislators from the United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. The panelists will announce the creation of the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions, which will synchronize the sanctions policy between the European Union, Ukraine, and the USA.
Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on US-Europe Coalition for Russia SanctionsMonday, December 12, 2022
WASHINGTON—At a virtual kickoff event on December 13, Co-Chairman Cohen and Ranking Member Wilson launched the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions. NO SAFE HAVEN Launching the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions Tuesday, December 13, 2022 8:30 a.m. EST Since February 24, 2022, Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen, and public figures who support Russian aggression against Ukraine by financial or political means. Personal sanctions have been effective in creating tension between Putin’s proponents and continuing to help Ukraine fight for its independence. The biggest issue of personal sanctions policy is desynchronization among the countries imposing them. For example, when the United States enacts sanctions against politicians, public officials, and businessmen who support Russia’s war, the European Union and the United Kingdom do not. A similar dysfunction occurs when the European Union and Great Britain enforce sanctions on individuals without equal participation from the United States. The unity of the West in imposing sanctions on those driving Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is essential for Ukrainian victory. This public briefing will unite seven legislators from the United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. The panelists will announce the creation of the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions, which will synchronize the sanctions policy between the European Union, Ukraine, and the USA. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Representative Steve Cohen — Member of Congress, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson — Member of Congress, Commissioner of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States Member of Parliament Oleksii Goncharenko — Chairman of the Ukrainian parliament caucuses "For free Caucasus" and "For democratic Belarus", Ukraine Member of Parliament Dr. Robert Seely, MBE — British Conservative Party politician who has served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Isle of Wight since June 2017. Member of Parliament Eerik Kross — head of the Estonian delegation in PACE, Estonia Member of the EU Parliament Petras Austrevicius — serves on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Lithuania Member of the Sejm Arkadius Mularczyk — Secretary of State for European Affairs, Leader of the Polish delegation to the Council of Europe, Poland
OSCE’s 2022 Ministerial Council in Lodz: Russia Isolated as States Demand Accountability and Reaffirm CommitmentsFriday, December 09, 2022
By Janice Helwig, Senior Policy Advisor, Demitra Pappas, Senior Advisor Department of State, Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to OSCE Foreign Ministers and senior officials from the 57 participating States and 11 Asian and Mediterranean partners of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened the OSCE Ministerial Council in Lodz, Poland on December 1-2. While the OSCE Ministerial is held annually, this year’s meeting was atypical, due to its taking place amid the greatest crisis in European security since World War II, namely Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. States Accuse Russia and Belarus of Violating Principles, Stand with Ukraine Polish-Chairman-in-Office, Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau in his opening remarks pointedly blamed Russia for destroying the security order and attempting to undermine the Organization. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, abetted by Belarus, violated each of the politico-military, democratic, human rights, and economic and environmental commitments enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, an agreement that underpinned European security for nearly 50 years. Most fundamentally, the Lodz Ministerial underscored participating States’ desire to return to the founding principles of the OSCE - the Helsinki Final Act – and to call out Russia’s violation of each. Participating State after participating State took the floor to reaffirm their OSCE commitments and to call Russia to account. Russia was entirely isolated, with only Belarus attempting, pathetically, to deflect blame on others for “corroding” the spirit of Helsinki. At each instance, participating States overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for OSCE principles and denounced Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine, declared solidarity with Ukraine, and demanded accountability for war crimes, the crime of aggression, and violations of international humanitarian law. Participating States also voiced strong support for the work of the OSCE’s autonomous institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Representative of the Freedom of the Media in particular, whose mandates and funding are often in Russia’s crosshairs. Many participating States also noted the importance of the three “Moscow Mechanism” reports issued this past year to document Russia’s violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine and its repression of human rights at home. A joint statement delivered by Finland on behalf of 42 other participating States condemned Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine and called for perpetrators to be held accountable. OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Margareta Cederfelt advocated establishing a high-level body to assess reparations from Russia. Two other aspects of the Ministerial were unique. Absent were the annual negotiations among participating States on decisions designed to enhance existing commitments on cooperative security, which the Polish Chair assessed as unfeasible due to Russian intransigence. Also absent was Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, against whom Poland took a principled stand to exclude from attending. OSCE Continued Work in 2022, Despite Russia’s Objections States also used their interventions to welcome OSCE’s development of new approaches in 2022 with regard to sustaining its human rights work and presence in Ukraine to overcome Russia’s attempts to undermine the Organization. In the years leading up to the Ministerial, Russia had increased its abuse of OSCE’s consensus-decision making to block the Organization’s budget, to close OSCE’s three field missions in Ukraine, and to prevent the convening of OSCE’s signature, annual human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). Yet despite its concerted efforts, Russia failed to block OSCE’s human rights work or eradicate its work in Ukraine. “On the contrary,” as U.S. delegation head, Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland observed in Lodz, the OSCE “has said no to Moscow’s efforts to divide it, to paralyze it, to destroy it.” Nuland added, the Organization has emerged “even stronger, more flexible, more resilient” under Poland’s stewardship and that of Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid. After Russia blocked the HDIM, the Polish Chairmanship convened the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference (WHDC) in September, conducting a full review of human rights commitments with the participation of more than one thousand governmental and civil society representatives in attendance. In November, the Secretariat stood up a donor-funded “Support Programme Ukraine” which reestablished an OSCE presence in the country. These are examples of how the OSCE has continued to promote Helsinki principles and deliver programming in spite of Russia’s attempts to undermine it. Side Events, Civil Society Parallel Conference Seek to Close Russia’s “Accountability Gap” A range of side events amplified concerns of participating States and civil society regarding the terrible human toll of Russia’s war and the need for accountability. The first side event explored the increased risk of human trafficking among Ukrainian citizens fleeing the conflict and the illegal abduction and forced adoption of Ukrainian children in Russia. The establishment of a Group of Friends on Children in Armed Conflict was also announced. A side event moderated by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba outlined various means to hold Russia accountable for atrocities committed in Ukraine, including providing support to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office and to the International Criminal Court through the collection evidence of crimes and aiding in investigations. Minister Kuleba strongly advocated for the establishment of a Special Tribunal to prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression and received broad support. An event featuring Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and other activists drew renewed attention to the plight of thousands of political prisoners in Belarus and called for the invocation of another Moscow Mechanism report to document ongoing human rights violations by the government of Belarus. Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), a regional association of human rights civil society organizations, hosted its annual Parallel Civil Society Conference on November 30 which likewise called on participating States to ensure accountability for perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. In response to CSP’s long-standing call for closer collaboration between the OSCE and civil society, North Macedonia, which assumes the Chairmanship of OSCE in 2023, committed to appoint a Special Representative on Civil Society Organizations. Looking Ahead to 2023: North Macedonia Despite Russia’s isolation, its war against Ukraine continues even as Poland plans to pass the leadership of the Organization to North Macedonia as of January 1, 2023. As the incoming Chairman-in-Office, Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani pledged that North Macedonia’s tenure “will be guided by strict observance of OSCE principles and commitments.” He further stressed the cooperative nature of regional security, noting, “Safeguarding OSCE values and respect for international law must be a shared priority. This is of utmost importance. Rebuilding trust and engaging in meaningful dialogue presupposes full compliance with the agreed OSCE commitments and principles. We all have to be accountable for our actions. This is the formula for the way forward.”
By Bob Hand,
Senior Policy Advisor
Approximately 270 parliamentarians from across the OSCE region gathered virtually from February 24 – 26 for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Winter Meeting, the first statutory meeting of the Assembly held since the COVID-19 pandemic limited inter-parliamentary diplomacy to online gatherings.
The ongoing impact of COVID-19 on security, the economy, the environment and the human rights and democratic development of the 57 OSCE States remained the focus of the annual gathering. Supported by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the U.S. Delegation remained actively engaged, fielding a bicameral, bipartisan delegation of 10 Members of Congress who participated remotely in the debates. Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) served as Head of the U.S. Delegation.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) is an independent institution of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) created in 1991 for parliamentarians to complement the inter-governmental work of the 57 participating States. Unlike other OSCE bodies, countries are represented based on population rather than each having a single seat at the table (the United States has the largest representation with 17 seats), and decision-making is based on a majority vote rather than consensus. The Annual Session each summer is the principal gathering, with a Winter Meeting in February and an Autumn Meeting in October to initiate and conclude the year’s work.
Despite a busy congressional schedule, the members of the U.S. Delegation successfully raised critical country, issue, and institutional concerns, including the attempted poisoning and incarceration of Alexei Navalny, Russian aggression in Ukraine, the brutal crackdown in Belarus and corruption and authoritarian tendencies elsewhere in the OSCE region. Active U.S. engagement demonstrates the depth of U.S. commitment to European security, and reflects the importance of the OSCE PA as a vehicle for advancing U.S. interests and building support on issues like human trafficking, attacks on the media, manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance, as well as country-specific concerns.
Such a large delegation of Members of Congress reflected the diversity of opinion in the United States, setting an example of openness and honesty for others to follow, deflecting accusations of double standards on U.S. performance, and strengthening the message on human rights concerns in other countries where the Members of Congress can and do express a united view.
Improvising Engagement Amid Pandemic
Since 2002, Winter Meetings have been held in Vienna, Austria to facilitate direct interaction among parliamentarians, OSCE officials, and diplomatic representatives of the OSCE participating States. The Winter Meeting also allows the Assembly’s general committees to discuss work for the coming year.
The outbreak of the COVID pandemic in early 2020 forced the cancellation of the Annual Session scheduled for July in Vancouver and the Autumn Meeting scheduled for October in San Marino. Without rules dealing with such situations, the OSCE PA Secretariat maintained inter-parliamentary engagement by organizing a dozen or more inter-parliamentary web dialogues from April into November to substitute for the traditional gatherings. While no replacement for traditional meetings, these unofficial events provided needed continuity and contact among delegates.
First the first time in the history of the OSCE PA, no annual declaration was adopted, but the then-Assembly President George Tsereteli provided summaries of the web debates on relevant issues, a record of dialogue even in the midst of pandemic. The OSCE PA resumed election observation where possible and responded to political impasse within the OSCE itself by issuing a “Call for Action” urging a reaffirmation of the organization’s once common purpose.
For 2021, the OSCE PA has been seeking to resume its regular meeting schedule, although conditions still required the Winter Meeting to be held remotely. Five sessions were scheduled during hours that best accommodated participants across some 16 time zones, from Vancouver to Ulaanbaatar.
At the meeting of the Heads of Delegation, known as the Standing Committee, it was announced that the 2021 Annual Session would be unable to be held in person as planned in Bucharest, Romania, in early July. As a result, the Standing Committee amended the Assembly’s rules of procedure to allow statutory meetings to go forward online, including permitting elections for OSCE PA officers and other decisions to be handled remotely.
Maintaining Focus on Substantive Issues and Concerns
Beyond scheduling and procedures, the Standing Committee also looked at substance. Following reports from current OSCE PA President Peter Lord Bowness (United Kingdom), Secretary General Roberto Montella (Italy), and OSCE PA Special Representatives appointed to address particular concerns, there were heated exchanges between Azerbaijan and Armenia regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as on Russian aggression against Ukraine and the brutal crackdown on protesting opposition in Belarus—issues that would be raised repeatedly throughout the meeting.
Sen. Cardin, attending not only as Head of Delegation but also as Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance, delivered a report on his activities, as did Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who serves as the Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues.
“The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented health crisis in the OSCE region, exacerbated by pre-existing inequities and disproportionately impacting people of color. Heightened anti-Asian discrimination, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and violent attacks targeting diverse populations have followed… My report details a response to these developments, as well as the global racial justice movement spurred by the tragic death of George Floyd.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Head of U.S. Delegation, U.S. Helsinki Commission
Rep. Smith noted, “Traffickers did not shut down during the pandemic—they simply adapted their methods. Meanwhile, vulnerable people were made even more vulnerable by both the virus and its deleterious impact on the global economy… As we worked to address these challenges, it was crucial to have information and recommendations based on real, concrete data.”
The Joint Session of the General Committees effectively served as the opening plenary. President Bowness opened the session with a defense of principled-based dialogue, and guest speakers included Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister and this year’s OSCE Chair-in-Office, as well as Helga Schmid (Germany), the OSCE’s new Secretary General.
The chairperson outlined plans for 2021, asserting that the she will “prioritize the comprehensive concept of security across all three dimensions,” namely the Security, Economic and Human Dimension, which she argued “contributes to making the OSCE truly unique.”
The Secretary General expressed her hopes to provide needed support for the organization and its mission, and she credited the OSCE PA for bringing emerging security issues into the OSCE debate.
Sen. Cardin thanked the Assembly and its parliamentarians for their expressions of concern and support for the United States in light of efforts to delegitimize the November 2020 presidential elections and the related violent mob attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. He also expressed support for the comments of Lord Bowness and the priorities announced by the Swedish Chair-in-Office, including to have the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in 2021.
“We must challenge those who are seeking to weaken the OSCE or aren’t living up to their commitments. That’s our priority as parliamentarians … and we must as parliamentarians support the mission of the OSCE and help strengthen it through our actions and our capitals,” he said.
Finally, speaking on behalf of Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL-20), who was unable to attend, Sen. Cardin asked the Swedish chair about how the OSCE can engage Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to address outstanding issues and encourage a return to the Minsk Group settlement process to achieve a sustainable resolution of the conflict.
Taking a Closer Look at the Security, Economic and Human Dimensions of OSCE
Following the Joint Session, each of the three General Committees heard from OSCE officials in their respective fields, or dimensions, of OSCE work. Presenters included the ambassadors serving as chairs of the counterpart committees of the OSCE’s Permanent Council and the head of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The three committees also heard from their respective rapporteurs on plans for drafting substantive reports that will be the basis of further activity at the Annual Session.
Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), who chairs the General (First) Committee on Political Affairs and Security, noted the myriad of security and political issues confronting the OSCE during the past year, including the war in Ukraine, conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and political turmoil in countries of concern like Russia, Belarus, and most recently Georgia.
“Our engagement with critical issues in the OSCE space has been consistent and impactful,” he concluded.
Speaking during the session, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Phil Reeker called the erosion of the European security environment the “biggest challenge we face today in the organization” and highlighted U.S. plans for the Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) during its four-month chairmanship. The Acting Permanent Representative of the United States to the OSCE and FSC chair, senior diplomat Courtney Austrian, was present for the discussion.
Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) took the floor during subsequent debate to condemn Russian violations of Helsinki Principles in its aggression in Ukraine. He said that “Moscow must withdraw proxies in eastern Ukraine” and “respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” asserting that relevant sanctions will remain in place until that happens.
Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) also responded to an intervention on youth and drugs by a delegate from Belarus, arguing that citizens need to be given greater freedom if young people are to feel a commitment to the country.
Three other Members of Congress participated in the session of the General (Second) Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment, which covered issues ranging from corruption to climate change.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) focused on addressing corruption.
“It should come as no surprise to anyone … that legislatures have one of the most important roles to play in combating corruption—that of establishing a transparent and accountable legal and financial framework that empowers law enforcement officials and is maximally resistant to fraud,” he said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) said that the United States “is back” in efforts to combat climate change and noted recent U.S. legislation designed to address shell companies that support a global dark economy by sheltering “assets of thieves.”
Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) spoke about the devastating impact of the pandemic on women in the healthcare industry as well as on small business, and she expressed concern about risks to supply chains and business ties to both China and Russia.
Three Members of Congress also participated in of the General (Third) Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions.
Rep. Cohen asserted that human rights has reclaimed its place in U.S. foreign policy, and emphasized human rights in concerns in Russia, Belarus, and Hungary. He expressed particular concern about the poisoning and recent arrest of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and called for Belarus to release political prisoners and to hold elections with OSCE observers.
Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33) took the floor in a later debate, responding to a report on the OSCE’s observation of the U.S. general elections in November 2020. He stressed the need for U.S. states that currently prohibit or restrict international observation to consider a more open approach and concluded that “our election officials and state legislators should read this report,” along with “any American who cares about his or her country. It is a broad snapshot of our entire electoral complex system that we have here.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) raised concerns about discriminatory restrictions on religious assembly during the pandemic, as well as on the diminishing free media environment in many participating States.
“Press freedom in the OSCE region has continued to decline as some governments are using economic, legal, and extra-legal tools to silence independent media and also to bolster loyal outlets and dozens of journalists are imprisoned in the OSCE region,” he said. “We’ve seen that in Russia, we’ve seen that in Belarus, we’ve seen that in Turkey, detaining scores of journalists in recent national protests.”
There was one side event held in conjunction with the Winter Meeting, organized by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in cooperation with the Lithuanian Mission to OSCE. Seven panelists in two sessions highlighted how international instruments—such as the Moscow Mechanism, Magnitsky-like legislation, the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and the promotion of a universal criminal jurisdiction—could increase accountability of state actors, support Belarus’ democracy movement, and deny financial safe havens to Russian kleptocrats. Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom chairman Vladimir Kara-Murza were among the event panelists.
Assessing the Effort
The virtual three-day, five-session Winter Meeting could not replace an in-person gathering in Vienna, a point frequently made by the parliamentarians themselves. However, it did allow for a resumption of constructive debate in the general committees and interaction among parliamentarians and other OSCE institutions, paving the way for a return to more traditional work as the year progresses. The need to cancel the Annual Session planned for July in Bucharest was a major disappointment, but the adoption of rules governing such emergency situations now permit some continuity of effort.