By Robert Hand, Policy Advisor
Eleven Members of the U.S. Congress represented the United States at the Seventeenth Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), hosted by the Parliament of Kazakhstan from June 29 to July 3. This year’s Annual Session brought 227 parliamentarians from 50 of the 56 OSCE States together in Astana to discuss a variety of issues of importance. The designated theme for this year’s gathering was “Transparency in the OSCE.”
The U.S. Delegation was led by Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Helsinki Commission Chairman. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, served as the deputy head of delegation. Other Helsinki Commissioners who also participated include Representatives Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). They were joined by Representatives Zach Wamp (R-TN), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Diane Watson (D-CA), Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU) and Gwen S. Moore (D-WI).
OSCE PA Operations Reviewed
Prior to the Annual Session, the Standing Committee, which is the leadership body of the Assembly composed of the Heads of Delegations representing the OSCE participating States and the elected officers, met to review OSCE PA work from the past year and to pass a budget for the next. Chaired by the OSCE PA President, Swedish parliamentarian Goran Lennmarker, the committee heard reports from the Assembly’s Treasurer, German parliamentarian Hans Raidel, and from the Secretary General, R. Spencer Oliver of the United States. The Assembly continues to operate well within its overall budget guidelines and to receive positive assessments from auditors on financial management. The Standing Committee unanimously approved the proposed budget for 2008/2009, which provides for increased expenditures of just under seven percent to cover inflation and a small increase in secretariat staff.
The Standing Committee also heard reports from the Special Representatives of the OSCE PA on a variety of issues of concern. Chairman Hastings presented a summary of his activities as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, which included a recent Helsinki Commission hearing, a briefing on the plight of Iraqi refugees and a congressional visit to Israel in May, marking the country’s 60th anniversary.
Similarly, Rep. Solis spoke in her capacity as the Special Representative on Migration, highlighting recent Commission hearings on women migrants and on regional impacts and opportunities for migrants.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, the Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, was unable to be present in Astana and asked that his written report be circulated to delegations. It highlights visits to Bosnia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine as well as a recent Commission hearing on combating the sexual exploitation of children. Senator Cardin attended the Standing Committee in his capacity as an OSCE PA Vice President.
As Head of the U.S. Delegation at the Standing Committee, Chairman Hastings welcomed the decision of the Assembly to hold an event in Washington on the upcoming U.S. elections immediately following a September meeting of the OSCE PA in Toronto, Canada.
U.S. Delegation Active on Issues
With the Standing Committee’s business concluded, Assembly President Lennmarker opened the Inaugural Plenary Session, noting the importance of holding its first Annual Session in the Central Asian region. The delegates were, in turn, welcomed by Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who noted the importance of parliamentary diplomacy in democracy-building and further humanitarian and legal norms. The two Speakers of the Kazakhstan Parliament, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of the Senate and Aslan Mussin of the Mazhilis, also addressed the delegates. OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France reviewed the work of the OSCE and took questions from the parliamentarians.
Members of the U.S. Delegation actively participated in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Each committee considered a draft resolution as well as 18 supplementary items circulated by delegates prior to the opening of the Astana meeting. One additional supplementary item was considered during the opening plenary.
Five of the supplementary items were resolutions proposed by members of the U.S. Delegation: Encouraging Transparency in the Extractive Industries, by Co-Chairman Cardin; Recognizing the Economic, Civic and Social Contributions of Mirgrants, by Rep. Solis; Strengthening Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings and Addressing the Special Needs of Child Victims by Rep. Smith (and, in his absence, Rep. Wamp); Urging Adoption of the Paris Club Commitment Regarding Vulture Funds by Rep. Moore; and Expressing Concern Over the Security Environment in Georgia by Chairman Hastings. All were adopted with few if any amendments.
The Georgia resolution, while timely, was also controversial. Parliamentarians from Russia strongly opposed the resolution on Georgia, as did some European parliamentarians, but Chairman Hastings remained firm. He pointed to the moderately worded text and noted past willingness of U.S. delegates to consider and support as warranted resolutions critical of U.S. policies. Recent Russian action in the Caucasus was of sufficient concern to a majority of the delegates present that the resolution was ultimately adopted.
U.S. delegates were also instrumental in garnering support for Supplementary items by others, including a Canadian resolution on Afghanistan, a Ukrainian resolution on Holodomor (Ukrainian Famine-Genocide), and a Belgian resolution on Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children. In addition, the U.S. Delegation introduced 20 amendments to various resolutions, covering issues from pollinator decline to religious freedom. Virtually all of them were adopted, and by dividing its work almost every member of the U.S. Delegation managed at least one resolution or amendment in committee. Rep. Gwen Moore was especially active, with her own supplementary item and numerous amendments, including those calling for international action to reduce maternal mortality, which will serve as a basis for a resolution at next year’s Annual Session.
Belgian Senator Anne-Marie Lizin presented a report in committee on her latest activity as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Guantanamo Bay. Rep. Butterfield responded for the U.S. Delegation, expressing appreciation for her work and describing the latest Supreme Court, congressional and non-governmental efforts dealing with this stain on the U.S. human rights record.
Rep. Solis served as Acting Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions during the Annual Session, and she was subsequently elected to be the committee chair for the coming year. Rep. Solis is the first female Member of the U.S. Congress to hold a leadership position in the OSCE PA.
The OSCE PA Special Representative on Gender Issues, Tone Tingsgaard (Sweden), hosted a working lunch to discuss gender issues during which she presented her thoughts for future action in the OSCE PA on these issues. The U.S. Delegation was well represented at this event.
Declaration Adopted, Leadership Elected
The final Astana Declaration was adopted by the participants at the Assembly’s closing plenary and reflects the initiatives and input of the U.S. Delegation. In line with the theme for the session, it calls for greater transparency in numerous fields, such as political or historical archives and the use of private military contractors, as well as within the OSCE itself. The declaration also calls for concrete steps to address global climate change, improve waste management and prepare for potential nuclear accidents and natural disasters.
The full text of the Astana Declaration can be found here on the OSCE PA website.
Mr. Joao Soares, a parliamentarian from Portugal, was elected to serve as OSCE PA President for the coming year. Soares brings to the office extensive experience, having been a member of the Portuguese parliament from 1987 to 1990 and again since 2002, formerly a member of the European Parliament and of the Bureau of the European Parliament, and the mayor of Lisbon from 1995 to 2002. The delegates at the Annual Session also re-elected Pia Christmas-Moeller of Denmark as a Vice president of the Assembly along with three new Vice Presidents: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan; Wolfgang Grossruck of Austria and Oleh Bilorus of Ukraine. The Eighteenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held in July 2009 in Vilnius, Lithuania
Needed Focus on Kazakh Hosts
While the Delegation’s work focused heavily on OSCE PA matters, the venue presented an opportunity to advance U.S. interests and express U.S. concerns with our Kazakhstani hosts. The U.S. Delegation had meetings with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Prime Minister Karim Masimov and Secretary of State Kanat Saudabayev as well as with prominent Kazakh human rights activists and opposition leaders. Members of the delegation also visited Beit Rachel, the largest synagogue in Central Asia, and met with the chief rabbi and the deputy imam from the Islamic community to discuss inter-faith tolerance and protection of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, especially for religious minorities.
The U.S. delegation held a press conference in Astana, during which Members conveyed their willingness to work with Kazakhstan throughout its OSCE chairmanship in 2010. They strongly urged, however, greater progress regarding human rights and political reforms in keeping with the commitments Kazakhstan made at the Madrid OSCE Ministerial in November 2007, where the decision on the 2010 chairmanship was made.
Ongoing OSCE PA Activity
The Parliamentary Assembly does not surface once every July but remains continually active throughout the year. A Fall Meeting will be held in September in Toronto, Canada, which will include a special focus on Mediterranean issues and on trade, security and migration. President Emeritus Lennmarker, who has been selected by President Soares to serve as a OSCE PA Special Representative for Georgia, will address the delegates about his first-hand observations about the conflict in that country.
In February 2009, the Assembly will have its annual Winter Meeting in Vienna, Austria, to review OSCE work and debate selected topics of common concern. The OSCE PA leadership also meets in the Spring in Copenhagen and in conjunction with the annual OSCE Ministerial, held in the country currently chairing the organization. In between, the OSCE PA continues to play a leading role in election observation in the OSCE region and participates in numerous OSCE meetings, especially through its representation in Vienna, as well as in inter-parliamentary seminars and conferences throughout the year.