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.
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 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.
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
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.”
Decolonizing the Russian EmpireWednesday, September 28, 2022
Russia’s war of conquest in Ukraine has shocked the world for its brutality and aggression. But the Kremlin’s violent designs in Ukraine, and other military adventures in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, are part of a larger and longer legacy of Russian imperialism that directly threaten its neighbors and imprison a multitude of nations within its authoritarian empire. This side event explores the destructive effects of Russian imperialism and how the unfolding genocide in Ukraine is a natural outgrowth of these colonial policies. Drawing on regional perspectives of those victimized by Russia’s brutal empire, the panel will highlight the realities of Russian colonialism and what a process of decolonization—elevating marginalized voices and providing for their full political and civic self-expression—would mean for Russia and for its neighbors.
Co-Chairman Cohen Discusses Role as Special Representative for Political PrisonerWednesday, September 07, 2022
WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep Steve Cohen (TN-09) today spoke at a virtual hearing of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA)about his new role as the assembly’s special representative for political prisoners. Co-Chairman Cohen thanked OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt of Sweden for naming him to the special representative role and expressed his disappointment at the increased need to call attention to attacks on human rights as conditions around the world continue to deteriorate. He spoke in particular on the cases of Russian politicians Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexei Navalny, and the former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, as well as politicians, journalists and dissidents in Belarus, Egypt, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Co-Chairman Cohen said of Kara-Murza, arrested after returning home to Moscow: “I will not let him be forgotten.” He also said in part: “I appreciate President Cederfelt’s appointment and her faith in me to execute this position as special representative on political prisoners. I take it very seriously and have been working on it regularly, notifying through posts on social media, press releases and calling on governments to release political prisoners. Unfortunately, this role is becoming more and more significant as we have more and more political prisoners… “I’ve contacted Secretary Blinken to work with him and the State Department. We’ve brought attention to political prisoners not only in Russia and Belarus but also in Myanmar and Egypt and, unfortunately, in several of the OSCE countries there are political prisoners as well…Conditions all around the world are getting worse…and Russia is the worst.” See his entire remarks here.
NATO Refocused, Europe ReinforcedWednesday, August 10, 2022
By Jessika Nebrat, Max Kampelman Fellow Following the escalation of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is playing a role it has not filled in years. Forced to reconcentrate its attention to Europe’s defense, NATO allies are demonstrating persistent resolve in countering Moscow’s expansionist tendencies. In doing so, NATO returns to a core facet of its founding mission: the defense against Moscow’s militarism. While NATO represents just one facet of the Euro-Atlantic security infrastructure, it is perhaps the most robust organization bound by formal agreements, dedicated to peacekeeping, and capable of enforcement. Its mission to “guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means” echoes the first dimension principles outlined by the Helsinki Final Act, and aligns NATO with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In supporting each other’s work, these institutions mutually reinforce their shared values and bolster European security. History of NATO In the aftermath of the second World War, the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations sought to boost European economic reconstruction and protect themselves from Soviet domination. The 1947 Treaty of Dunkirk predated NATO in promoting Atlantic alliance and mutual assistance between France and the United Kingdom. The agreement was expanded in March 1948 as the Treaty of Brussels to engage Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in military, economic, social, and cultural cooperation. In the same month, the United States hosted talks intended to unite both North American and Western European allies; as a result, NATO was officially signed into existence on April 4, 1949. The 12 founding member nations derived their legitimacy from United Nations (UN) Charter Article 51, which affirmed the right to collective defense. The foundational NATO Treaty mentioned collective defense only after declaring the parties’ commitments to finding peaceful resolutions of disputes, upholding UN principles, strengthening free institutions, and promoting economic collaboration. The Alliance formally defined its principal objectives to deter Soviet expansionism, oppose nationalist militarism on the continent, and bolster European political integration. Though it sought to deter military aggression, NATO’s original treaty did not provide any means of enforcing the agreed-upon principles. It was not until after the USSR’s 1949 detonation of an atomic bomb and the 1950 start of the Korean War that NATO approved a military command structure. In response, the Soviet Union established the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Though neither of the two ideologically opposed organizations used force during the Cold War, they engaged in an arms race that persisted until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. NATO after the Cold War Once NATO no longer had to defend against Soviet expansionism, the Alliance broadened the scope of its peacekeeping and security enforcement missions. In the 1990s, NATO forces were deployed: to Turkey during the Gulf Crisis; upon request to Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States nations as part of a humanitarian mission after the fall of the USSR; to enforce a UN arms embargo and no-fly zone over former Yugoslavia; and in the Central Mediterranean during a period of tension with Libya. In the 21st century, NATO forces were also deployed during: the Second Gulf War; to the US and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the only Article 5 invocation in NATO history; to mitigate rising ethnic tensions in North Macedonia; to counter terrorist activity in the Mediterranean; as counter-piracy escorts to UN World Food Programme ships transiting the Gulf of Aden; to train Iraqi security forces; to enforce a no-fly zone after the popular uprising in Libya; for peacekeeping in Sudan; and to provide disaster relief throughout Europe, the Middle East, and in the United States. NATO currently maintains active operations in Kosovo, the Mediterranean, Iraq, and throughout the African Union; it recently ramped up air policing as part of a peace-keeping response to the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the escalation against Ukraine this past February. Kremlin Narrative against NATO Over the years, Moscow has repeatedly resisted NATO enlargement – especially for countries it claims within its sphere of influence. Putin asserts that during a 1990 summit between President George H. W. Bush and President Gorbachev, the United States promised no further expansion of NATO; civil servants present at that meeting have refuted this claim, as has Mr. Gorbachev himself. In his conversation with Bush, Gorbachev repeatedly affirmed that nations have the right to make their own alliances. Though internal U.S. analyses of the 1990s suggested that expansion eastward may not be politically expedient, such positions never became official policy. The United States has remained resolute in its recognition of sovereign choice, and expansion has been driven by requests from former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states wary of Russian revanchism. The Kremlin has deployed an opposing narrative to justify Russian military engagements in Georgia in the early 2000s, and more recently in Ukraine. Putin sees the inclusion of either nation in NATO, and the political and economic liberalization that go with it, as threats to his regime’s stability. NATO membership would limit Russian interference in the internal affairs of either state. Additionally, if Russia’s neighbors and fellow post-Soviet states can become true democracies, provide higher quality of living, and ensure the rule of law, then why can’t Putin’s Russia? Any argument that NATO expansion threatens Russia misrepresents the organization, which is a diverse coalition dedicated to mutual defense and development. Moreover, such an assertion overlooks the efforts NATO has made to include and collaborate with Russia in the pursuit of cooperative security. NATO Back to its Roots By illegally and brutally invading Ukraine in February 2022 – a dramatic escalation of the grinding conflict started in 2014 – Putin has galvanized European and Western unity. Hearkening to its origins and returning attention to Eastern Europe, NATO is recommitting itself to “counter Russia’s attempts to destroy the foundations of international security and stability.” The international community is largely on board. In its collective attention beyond security, NATO – alongside other organizations – highlights not only the potential for, but the responsibility of the international community to condemn human rights violations, uphold the rule of law, and pursue economic health, all efforts that further challenge the Kremlin’s narrative that it can lead (or that there even needs to exist) an opposing bloc. Alarmed by Moscow’s renewed expansionism, Sweden and Finland have abandoned decades of neutrality in favor of NATO membership. They are on track towards the fastest accession process in history, and anticipate a smooth integration. Both already engage in the wider European community through membership in such organizations as the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Their force structures are robust, and well-versed in NATO procedures following decades of partnership; their accession will secure northeast Europe, expand NATO’s border with Russia, and reinforce NATO presence in the Arctic and Baltic Sea. Although the Kremlin initially vowed “military and political repercussions” were Finland and Sweden to join NATO, such threats have dulled to warnings about the installation of NATO military infrastructure nearer Russia’s borders; as Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership neared finalization, Putin even expressed “no problem” with these states joining the Alliance. It remains to be seen how this change will play out. After decades of orientation towards international stabilization, humanitarian, and counterinsurgency mission sets, NATO has been refocused on European deterrence and defense following the Kremlin’s violent assault on Ukraine. In addition to condemning Russia’s invasion and supporting Ukraine via such measures as the Comprehensive Assistance Package, NATO plays a critical role in championing European collective defense and discouraging any expansion of conflict.
CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN CALLS FOR THE RELEASE OF ALAA ABD EL-FATTAHThursday, August 04, 2022
WASHINGTON— Concerning Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s imprisonment, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) released a letter calling for Secretary Blinken to prioritize “the swift release of Mr. Abd el-Fattah”. The letter read in part: “In 2011, the people of Egypt achieved something remarkable – they ousted a corrupt regime and brought about a change in government through largely peaceful protests. Alaa Abd el-Fattah was one of the leaders of the movement that advocated this change. Through his writings and public appearances, he provided an intellectual backbone for the disparate groups that shared in the vision for a more democratic Egypt. “Tragically for him, this very purpose led to his arrest and conviction. Mr. Abd el-Fattah was arrested, then released to only be arrested again. He has been in prison for eight years now. His family reports they have irregular contact with him, and his physical condition has reportedly deteriorated.” “Mr. Abd el-Fattah is one of the many political prisoners in Egypt; yet his release would bring hope to them all. As the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Representative for Political Prisoners – an organization to which Egypt is a Mediterranean Partner for Co-operation – I request that your department include among its immediate priorities in Egypt the swift release of Mr. Abd el-Fattah, and in the interim, urgently impress upon the Egyptian government the expectation of more humane conditions during his incarceration, including exercise time, freedom of movement outside of his cell, and reinstatement of half hour – if not longer – visits by his son and others.” “Alaa is not a danger to the Egyptian government and his only fault is being a true patriot of his country.”
Co-Chairman Cohen Deplores Arrest of Ilya Yashin in RussiaThursday, July 28, 2022
WASHINGTON—In response to the arrest of Ilya Yashin, a Russian politician critical of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Putin’s government has been engaged in a systematic assault on Russian citizens who dare speak the truth about Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine. Ilya Yashin, a Russian patriot and a fierce critic of the war in Ukraine, is one of the victims of this regime. “Ilya spoke out against the war despite the cynical law Russia has adopted that punishes people speaking the truth on this conflict with up to 15 years in prison. He was arrested on trumped-up charges and is facing a lengthy jail term for no crime other than publicly speaking out against Russia’s war in Ukraine. Ilya is a political prisoner and should be given all protections afforded by this status. The Russian government has a complete disregard for international law and customs but if they have an ounce of respect for their own laws, they will immediately release Ilya and other political prisoners.” Ilya Yashin, a co-founder of the Solidarity movement, is a member of a Moscow city district council. Throughout his career, he advocated for fair elections, rule of law, and democracy in Russia. Prior to his arrest, Mr. Yashin was one of the few Russian opposition activists who had not been killed, forced to flee, or imprisoned.
Co-Chairman Cohen Condemns Execution of Democracy Activists in MyanmarThursday, July 28, 2022
WASHINGTON—Following the execution of four democracy activists by Myanmar’s military junta, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “I strongly condemn the execution of these courageous activists by Myanmar’s unelected and illegitimate regime. These men—Kyaw Min Yu, Phyo Zeya Thaw, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw—were political prisoners who were deprived of their right to due process and a chance to defend themselves. The junta sentenced them to death in secret trials, once again demonstrating the complete lack of respect for human life and common decency as well as a total disregard for rules-based order by which countries should abide. “The regime has jailed thousands, including the Nobel Peace laureate and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, after seizing power in a coup in February 2021. Following a series of closed-door hearings and a string of trumped-up charges and convictions each carrying additional sentencing, she was sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison as of April 2022. In an obvious attempt to ensure she is jailed for life, she still faces added bogus charges that could see her imprisoned for more than 190 years by some reports. This is appalling and concerning as the recent executions confirm that the junta will not hesitate to murder political prisoners to further strengthen their rule of terror. “The world should unite to pressure Myanmar to release all political prisoners. At least 117 activists have been sentenced to death since the coup. We must do everything in our power to ensure that they do not face the grim fate of their four compatriots.”
Helsinki Commission Urges Administration to Work to Free Vladimir Kara-MurzaMonday, July 25, 2022
WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today released a letter urging the Biden Administration to “use every instrument in our toolbox” to free Russian political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza. The letter read in part: “The United States has a proud history of standing up for political prisoners and working relentlessly to help them return to freedom. We stared down the Soviet Union, Communist China, military regimes in Latin America and South-East Asia, and succeeded in helping secure the release of those who deserved freedom the most – innocent and peaceful activists and freedom fighters representing a vision for better governments in those countries. Mr. Kara-Murza represents a hope for a democratic Russia at peace with its neighbors and own citizens, and now is someone who the U.S. should advocate for his release… “The Helsinki Commission continues to raise the issue of political prisoners in Russia, Belarus, and other countries across the OSCE region, and specifically Vladimir Kara-Murza’s case…Now, we call on your Administration to use every instrument in our toolbox to secure the release of Mr. Kara-Murza. This is in the interest of our national security, his well-being, and importantly, the well-being of his incredibly brave children and spouse. Mrs. Kara-Murza and their three children reside in the U.S and despite the distance, the Kremlin has been poisoning – literally and figuratively – their lives for decades now. We should do everything in our power to help free Vladimir Kara-Murza and reunite him with his family.” On April 12, Vladimir Kara-Murza was arrested in Russia on charges of disobeying police orders when he allegedly “changed the trajectory of his movement” upon seeing Russian police officers at his home. This carried a 15-day sentence in jail. With five days remaining in his sentence, new charges were levied against him for spreading “deliberately false information” about Russia’s war on Ukraine. He now faces up to 15 years in prison. On March 29, he testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing examining Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war on truth, where witnesses discussed the Kremlin’s use of propaganda and censorship. “Those who speak out against this war are now liable for criminal prosecution,” he said. The Helsinki Commission has a long tradition of advocating on behalf of political prisoners worldwide. Earlier this month, Co-Chairman Cohen was appointed the first-ever OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Political Prisoners.
CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN APPOINTED AS OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ON POLITICAL PRISONERSThursday, July 21, 2022
WASHINGTON—Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), has appointed Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) as the first-ever OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners. “I welcome the chance to serve as the voice of political prisoners across the OSCE region,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Every day, we witness more political arrests of opposition politicians, journalists, activists and civilians in Russia, Belarus, and other participating States that are cracking down on free speech, freedom of the press, and free thought. Through this position, I am committed to working tirelessly to elevate the issue of political imprisonment as the egregious violation of human rights that it is.” In his new role, Co-Chairman Cohen will collect and share intelligence on political prisoners throughout the OSCE region; raise awareness of participating States with high rates of political prisoners; advocate for the release of political prisoners; and promote dialogue at the OSCE PA and OSCE executive structures about political imprisonment. Commission Chairman Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Chris Smith were reappointed as Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance, and Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, respectively.
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US Soldier Who Voluntarily Fought in Ukraine Says Hardest Days of War to ComeThursday, July 14, 2022
A U.S. Army veteran who independently and voluntarily fought in Ukraine warned on Thursday that the hardest days of fighting the war are still to come, as the Russian military tightens its control over territory in the eastern part of the country. Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Vasquez, who has returned from combat in the country but plans to go back, told the congressional Helsinki Commission during a briefing that while the Ukrainian military is better off now with increased foreign support, the most difficult fighting lay ahead for soldiers. “We have much more support now, and we have the weapons and gear that we need to be able to fight properly,” Vasquez said to the panel. “The fight’s harder than it was when I left. And that was hard fighting when I left.” Vasquez shared moving and oftentimes difficult details of his time in Ukraine at the hearing, alongside retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rip Rawlings, who is providing logistical support to the Ukrainian military through he and Vasquez’ foundation, Ripley’s Heroes. Vasquez, who has gained a social media following through the videos he shares from the battle’s front lines, said he has “pretty much sold everything I owned” so he can return to the fight in Ukraine. Vasquez explained the evolution of Ukrainian combatants that he witnessed, saying when he arrived the soldiers were fighting “primitively” but then saw them turn into battle-tested warriors. “I was fighting with guys who had a red T-shirt on and sneakers,” said Vasquez. “We were going into battle with white Toyota Camrys with Javelin (missiles) in the back.” But as the fighters have grown more sophisticated, and weapons and gear has rolled in from other countries, Vasquez and Rawlings both warned that the fighting situation was fragile and said Ukraine needs continued support from allies. “We need more, they need more (weapons),” Rawlings said. “We are at a very tenuous and fragile point. This war could go in any direction, very unfortunately.” Rawlings also urged lawmakers to amend export controls that do not allow Americans to send certain military equipment, including certain body armor, to Ukraine. “It is the largest single obstacle that we face,” Rawlings said. “The biggest issue that we have is that a U.S. citizen can go purchase a set of level three body armor, but you cannot purchase it and give it to a Ukrainian.” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) lauded the veterans for their decision to volunteer in the Ukrainian conflict at the briefing. “Foreign fighters have actually come in to heroically volunteer and are enduring intense combat conditions and witnessing the gross human rights violations perpetrated by (Vladimir) Putin.”
Shoulder to ShoulderThursday, July 14, 2022
Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson joined former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant James Vasquez and Lt. Colonel Ripley “Rip” Rawlings (USMC, Ret.) to discuss U.S. volunteers fighting for Ukraine. Mr. Vasquez is a volunteer soldier fighting in Ukraine who partnered with Lt. Col. Rawlings to provide on-the-ground support through an organization called Ripley’s Heroes. At the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Vasquez decided to travel to Ukraine and fight alongside Ukrainians. For three months, Vasquez armed and trained Ukrainian soldiers to “fight like gentlemen.” Vasquez noted that Ukrainians are “warriors in spirit and in heart,” but require training and supplies to be most effective. After fighting alongside Ukrainians, Vasquez developed a comradery with his unit, and is returning to Ukraine this month to deliver more supplies and continue fighting. Lt. Col. Rawlings met Vasquez in Ukraine in the early weeks of war and the two decided to launch Ripley’s Heroes, an organization providing essential military support to Ukrainian soldiers. Ripley’s Heroes has Ukrainian partners on the ground, including the Kiev-based NGO Come Back Alive, who help ensure that soldiers receive necessary supplies as quickly as possible. When asked by Rep. Cohen what the United States should do moving forward to support a Ukrainian victory, Lt. Col. Rawlings noted that a key obstacle to providing Ukrainians with warfighting supplies are U.S. commercial regulations on the export of military equipment, such as International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). According to Lt. Col. Rawlings, rather than simply keeping U.S. military technology out of the hands of nefarious actors, ITAR prevents private U.S. citizens from supporting the war effort by providing simple, effective, non-lethal equipment, like night-vision goggles. Mr. Vasquez agreed that changing U.S. laws to remove the regulations that prevent private citizens from helping Ukraine could help them win the war.
Helsinki Commission Delegation Convenes Historic Black Sea Security Summit, Demonstrates Bipartisan Support for European SecurityThursday, July 14, 2022
WASHINGTON—From June 29 – July 9, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) led a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation to Romania, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Sweden to consult with senior officials across Europe about Russia’s war on Ukraine, security in the Black Sea region, and Finland and Sweden’s plans to join NATO. On the shores of the Black Sea in Constanta, Romania, Sen. Wicker and Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu co-chaired the first-ever congressionally-organized Black Sea Security Summit to underscore the critical importance of the Black Sea region to European peace and security, and to establish a sustainable, collective approach to ending Russian aggression and enhancing mutual cooperation. “Given Russia’s monstrous war on Ukraine and its wider aggression in the region, it is not an exaggeration to say that the Black Sea is currently the epicenter of Euro-Atlantic security and global peace,” said Sen. Wicker. “Ukraine must be successful in this war…Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression against a neighbor cannot stand.” “Over the last 25 years, a key objective of our bilateral strategic partnership has been to act as partners in enhancing our joint security and promoting the democratic and economic development of the Black Sea region. The continuation of common decisive action in this regard at the bilateral and multilateral level is more relevant than ever,” said Minister Aurescu. “All along the Black Sea coast lies the first line of defense for the Euro-Atlantic community and the first line of support for our partners in Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia.” Prior to the summit, members of the Congressional delegation visited Romania’s Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base, where they received briefings from U.S., Romanian, and other NATO personnel and met with American troops. Delegation members then traveled to Birmingham, UK, for the Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) was Head of the U.S. Delegation to the PA and spearheaded U.S. efforts to forge a strong, unified response from international legislators to Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine and its people. “All OSCE parliamentarians must stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian colleagues as they battle the Kremlin’s vicious, intolerable war on Ukraine,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “We must do all in our power—through this forum and all others—to ensure that Ukraine is victorious against Russian aggression.” During the Annual Session, parliamentarians overwhelmingly approved a resolution introduced jointly by Sen. Wicker and the heads of the Ukrainian and Lithuanian delegations, responding to Russia’s war on the Ukrainian people and the greater Russian threat to European security. The document “condemns resolutely and unequivocally the ongoing, intensified, clear, gross and still uncorrected violations of Helsinki Principles as well as of fundamental principles of international law by the Government of the Russian Federation in its war of aggression against Ukraine, as well as the complicity of Belarus in this war of aggression, and calls on the governments of OSCE participating States to do the same.” Several members of the U.S. Delegation successfully introduced more than two dozen amendments, designed to keep the focus on Russia’s current aggression, to an array of other resolutions. In Birmingham, the delegation also co-hosted an event highlighting the growing problem of political repression in Russia and Belarus, especially in the context of protesting the war on Ukraine; met with Mikhail Khodorkovsky to discuss his organization’s work to support political prisoners and democracy in Russia; and held bilateral meetings with the UK’s parliamentary leadership, OSCE officials, parliamentarians from other OSCE countries. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) was re-elected to his post as chair of the OSCE PA’s Committee on Political Affairs and Security. Following the Annual Session, the congressional delegation stopped in Finland and Sweden to welcome the historic decision of both countries to join the NATO Alliance. In Finland, members met with President Sauli Niinistö, and Finnish parliamentarians including First Deputy Speaker Antti Rinne and OSCE PA Vice President Pia Kauma. In Sweden, they met with Foreign Minister Ann Linde, Deputy Defense Minister Jan Olof-Lin, and a group of members of the Swedish parliament, led by Speaker Andreas Norlén and OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt. In addition to Co-Chairman Cohen, Sen. Wicker, and Rep. Hudson, the Congressional delegation included Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), as well as Sen. John Cornyn (TX), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Rep. John Garamendi (CA-03), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. August Pfluger (TX-11) and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04).
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Highlight U.S. Volunteers Fighting for UkraineTuesday, July 12, 2022
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following online briefing: SHOULDER TO SHOULDER On the Front Lines with the Ukrainian Military’s Foreign Soldiers Thursday, July 14, 2022 2:00 p.m. Register: https://ushr.webex.com/ushr/j.php?RGID=r6604c3bdc74d6eb2ff6c8bfa86784358 In Russia’s war on Ukraine, an unprovoked attack, unspeakable atrocities, and genocidal intent is juxtaposed against a valiant defense of hearth and home, a spirit of national unity, and grassroots mobilization. Not since the 1930s has a foreign war between a larger aggressor and a smaller but tenacious underdog so captivated the imagination of freedom-loving people. Answering the call of conscience, many American combat veterans are now fighting alongside Ukrainian servicemembers, applying their experience in combined arms maneuver and decentralized command to help Ukraine win the war. This briefing will examine the war in Ukraine through the eyes of two American volunteers: former U.S. Army staff sergeant James Vasquez and Lt. Colonel Rip Rawlings (USMC, Ret.). Vasquez fought in Ukraine in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion and soon plans to return to the battlefield. Rawlings is providing logistical support to the Ukrainian military through Ripley’s Heroes, a foundation he co-founded with Vasquez.
By Alex T. Johnson, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission
Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel, U.S. Helsinki Commission
Troy C. Ware, Policy Advisor (CBCF Fellow), U.S. Helsinki Commission
Christian Sy, Legislative Assistant, Office of Congressman Alcee L. Hastings
United States Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Co-Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission (CSCE) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), recently convened the “CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement,” July 22 and 23 at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The seminar hosted more than 50 participants from the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as Members of the United States Congress, U.S. government officials, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, and special guests.
Delegations of the Mediterranean Partner States consisted of parliamentarians and representatives from their Washington-based diplomatic corps. Special guests included representatives of Greece, the current Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, and delegates from Kazakhstan which will chair the OSCE in 2010, staff representation of the OSCE and OSCE PA International Secretariats, as well as representation of the Swedish Presidency of the European Union.
Congressman Hastings opened the seminar with words of welcome for the Mediterranean Partners and special guests, and challenged them to use the event for a frank discussion and exchange of ideas on how to strengthen the OSCE’s partnership with its Mediterranean neighbors. He also chaired each session of the two-day event. Presentations were also given on the first day by OSCE PA President João Soares of Portugal, OSCE PA President Emeritus Göran Lennmarker of Sweden, OSCE PA Vice President Jerry Grafstein of Canada, Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General Paul Fritch, and Barry Pavel of the National Security Council. Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer hosted the delegation for a reception to conclude the first day of proceedings. The second day’s sessions included presentations by Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund, OSCE Personal Representative on Mediterranean Affairs Sotiris Roussos and additional contributions by OSCE PA President João Soares.
The opening session consisted of a panel discussion which began with remarks from Representative Alcee L. Hastings and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and OSCE PA Vice President. OSCE PA President João Soares, OSCE PA President Emeritus Göran Lennmarker, and OSCE PA Vice President Jerry Grafstein delivered keynote presentations for this panel. In sum, the presentations established a framework for the proceedings of the seminar by characterizing the historical developments of Mediterranean Partner engagement in the OSCE and identifying key priorities for enhanced engagement with the partners.
Representative Hastings stressed the importance of convening the seminar, specifically to return due prominence and functionality to the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension, which he has long advocated in the OSCE PA and during his recent tenure as its president. Hastings noted that similar goals have been recently prioritized by other multilateral institutions. Senator Cardin noted the considerable work of Helsinki Commissioners in the realm of OSCE Mediterranean Partner engagement through Congressional delegation visits to both current and potential partners as well as hearings in Washington. Cardin also emphasized what he sees as an opportunity to strengthen the OSCE’s relationship with its Partners for Cooperation by the addition of new regional partners in both the Mediterranean and in Asia, namely Lebanon, Syria, and Pakistan.
President Soares commended the emergence of several formal documents and proposals for empowering the partnership submitted by the Mediterranean Partners. Soares’ remarks centered around the importance of the OSCE as the most qualified international organization to address challenges within the OSCE region and its partners, proven through its successes in Central Asia and the Caucuses. He also emphasized the importance of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly which perpetuates that spirit of dialogue embodied in the Helsinki Final Act, whose principles he asserted will help achieve the goals of the countries of the Mediterranean region.
President Emeritus Lennmarker explored how the OSCE, as a key mechanism through which Europe engages its own persisting challenges, could serve as a powerful model for mitigating the tremendous economic, human, and political costs of conflicts in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. The President Emeritus cautioned against protectionism in the region and offered the enhancement of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension as a vehicle to promote prosperity. The Opening Session concluded with remarks by Vice President Grafstein who urged the creation of regional trade agreements to spur economic growth and promote political stability in the region.
Working Meeting on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement
OSCE Mediterranean Partner States continue to be actively engaged in the activities of the OSCE and send strong delegations to ministerial level gatherings and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly events. Mediterranean Partners also send delegations to OSCE election monitoring missions and participate in technical exchanges to build capacity. Recent years have seen an increase in opportunities for engagement by the Mediterranean Partners, but there are still a number of challenges to overcome. The working meeting of the seminar sought to explore methods to improve participation by the Mediterranean Partners and expand engagement in OSCE activities. Topics of discussion included prioritizing implementation of OSCE agreements related to the Mediterranean Partner States, identifying uses for the OSCE Partnership Fund, and procedures to increase engagement in the executive structures of the OSCE. Guiding questions for the discussion included:
- How can we prioritize implementation of the OSCE agreements and initiatives related to Mediterranean Partner States?
- What should be the priorities for the OSCE Partnership Fund?
- How can Mediterranean Partner States become more engaged in the executive structures of the OSCE and other tangible partnerships?
Paul Fritch of the OSCE Secretariat guided the working meeting by describing the mandate of the OSCE Partners for Cooperation and characterizing the current level of engagement by the Partner States. He identified key considerations and challenges that should be addressed, as well as the successes of Mediterranean Partner Engagement with the OSCE on matters of tolerance, anti-terrorism cooperation, and migration management.
Participants made the following recommendations:
- The Mediterranean Partners must translate their valued relationship with the OSCE into engagement across the entire span of work in all three dimensions of the OSCE – political-security, economic, and human – building on their successful contributions in anti-terrorism cooperation, migration management, and tolerance.
- The OSCE Partnership Fund should continue to be utilized to inspire ownership of the process of partnership. Specifically, the Fund should foster civil society engagement in the activities of the Mediterranean Partners and be used to promote Partner participation in all activities of the OSCE.
- The OSCE must build synergy with other regional cooperation mechanisms such as NATO, the European Union, and others, as well as promote cooperative initiatives affiliated with these institutions. The OSCE must clearly negotiate its role and articulate its contributions to the States engaged in the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Currently, extensively overlapping mandates with other international initiatives inhibits the potential for tangible achievements of the Partnership.
- Expectations of engagement from Mediterranean Partners States must be clearly defined, especially the role of parliamentarians. Appropriate measures should then be taken to facilitate further engagement. Inversely, the OSCE must clearly define what it gains from the engagement of the Mediterranean Partners States.
- Efforts should be made to promote appropriate diplomatic exchanges with the OSCE through a formalized mechanism, internship, or fellowship to offer training to the diplomatic corps and civil service of Mediterranean Partner States regarding the principles of the Helsinki Process, the organization and functions of the OSCE and the potential to use OSCE institutions and mechanisms to promote economic development and political stability.
- Opportunities for support and consultation from the various institutions and offices of the OSCE should continue to be explored. Such partnerships should include (but are not limited to) engagement with the Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, ODHIR, Strategic Police Matters Unit, Gender Unit, Office of the Coordinator for Environmental and Economic Activities, Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Office of the Special Representative on the Freedom of the Media.
- Increased Mediterranean Partner engagement in the Environmental and Economic Dimension of the OSCE should be further explored, particularly with respect to water security and water management, as well as trade enhancement. Mechanisms to promote regional food security should also be examined.
- Cooperation among the Mediterranean Partners must be strengthened prior to consideration of additional States for entry as partners of the OSCE; specifically, the Partnership could be utilized for the implementation of confidence building mechanisms.
- Efforts should be made to galvanize the potential of the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership as a forum to expand political will for reconciliation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Session 1: Expert Seminar on Security in the Mediterranean
The engagement of OSCE Mediterranean Partners in the activities of the OSCE has largely emphasized opportunities for cooperation and capacity development on hard and soft security matters. The most recent 2008 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Amman emphasized the importance of increased public diplomacy efforts, further cooperation with civil society in counter-terrorism efforts, and enhanced cooperation with other regional cooperation mechanisms. Barry Pavel of the National Security Council engaged participants on the regional security priorities of the Obama Administration and the outlook for regional initiatives. Points for this discussion included:
- What developing transnational trends (environmental, economic, demographic, energy/resource scarcity) are of most concern to Mediterranean Partner States from a broad security perspective?
- What particular challenges and opportunities arise from the blurring between clearly foreign and domestic policy security issues?
- How can engagement with other regional cooperation mechanisms, such as NATO and the European Union, increase the security of the Mediterranean Partner States?
Key recommendations and themes emanating from this session included:
- President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech was recognized as a noteworthy start to the United States’ relations with the countries of the Middle East. However, quick action is required for the momentum to be maintained. The speech expressed many concerns shared by people in the Arab world. More specifically, the time frame for peace talks is critical for a number of reasons. In January, 2010 the term of the current Palestinian Authority Chairman ends. Moreover, experience has shown that the first year of an American presidency is the time for action. Afterwards, other items on the President’s agenda will demand more attention.
- Food security, the financial crisis, immigration, and development are priority issues for the region that must not be neglected. Answers must be sought as to why people are risking their lives to leave their countries.
- The Obama Administration should not reverse course on free trade with the region. Prior U.S. leadership in free trade compelled other nations to engage the Middle East in trade.
- The OSCE should be used to assist in the peace process and economic development for the region. The U.S. must appoint an ambassador to the OSCE quickly.
- Europe has a critical role to play. Economic engagement must be stepped up and protectionist urges resisted. The rise of Islamophobia is also a problem Europe must address to promote mutual understanding and security in the Mediterranean Region and beyond.
Session 2: Expert Seminar on Current Issues in the Mediterranean: “Youth of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners: Assets, Challenges, and the Way Forward”
Youth throughout the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States are often seen as a demographic time bomb, making up a 40-60% of their nation’s population. This session of the seminar emphasized the solidarity of the Mediterranean Partners in addressing the current demographic needs. Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies helped the participants conceptualize the young men and women of the region as its greatest resource and defined strategies for harnessing their energy to promote prosperity. Questions addressed in this session:
- What are the main assets of this group on which to build?
- What challenges do they face in contributing to their society?
- What recommendations does the research suggest will best unleash their potential?
Key recommendations and themes emanating from this session included:
- Conduct studies throughout the OSCE Mediterranean Partner region to further investigate issues relevant to youth and identify challenges and country-specific solutions to providing a quality education, requisite job training, essential computer skills, access to capital for entrepreneurship, student exchanges, and opportunities for dialogue with government leaders while ensuring freedom and democracy.
- Strengthen the relationships between OSCE Mediterranean Partner States, the Arab League, and organizations that conduct these studies, e.g. the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, and share findings and recommendations in the Arab League’s Annual Report.
- Address the inadequacies of the education system in each of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States and make comprehensive reforms to ensure that all graduates have the education necessary to attain jobs that maximize their potential, utilize their assets, allow them to contribute to their societies, and help realize their personal and professional goals.
- Increase access to job training while reevaluating its role in respect to education.
- Consult and engage youth in the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States about issues important to them, especially concerning conflict, through youth councils and provide them with opportunities for continuing dialogues with government leaders.
- Listen to the concerns and recommendations of other countries within the OSCE and around the world concerning issues of mutual interest and share innovative ideas.
- Consider declaring 2010 a “world year” and hold a youth conference under the auspices of the United Nations to affirm global values.
- Invest in programs together with the private and public sectors to provide cell phones, computers, and Internet access to communities and schools to increase computer literacy and close the digital divide.
- Bring computers, computer skills, Internet connectivity, job training, and jobs to rural areas in the Mediterranean.
- Reduce government and market corruption, as well as nepotism in each of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States.
- Simplify the bureaucratic process for entrepreneurship and increase access to capital.
- Address different levels of freedom and democracy in each of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States.
- Continue to collect accurate and useful data that reflects the needs and desires of youth in the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States in order to drive effective policy development by governments and practical engagement with the private sector.
- Promote student exchange programs for students of all ages to foster understanding, solidarity, and the sharing of ideas between the youth of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner states and the world.
Session 3: Expert Seminar on Current Issues in the OSCE Region
In recent years, OSCE Mediterranean Partner States have had an opportunity to contribute to ministerial documents and proposals on reform of the OSCE. However, appropriate venues for the Mediterranean Partners to offer their perspectives on challenges, conflicts, and priorities within the OSCE region remain infrequent. Topics explored in this session included:
- What experiences in security cooperation among the Mediterranean Partners inform current initiatives in the OSCE region?
- What partnerships and exchanges within the OSCE and beyond can be prioritized to offer expertise from Mediterranean Partners to confront challenges within the OSCE region?
Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund of the United States facilitated this session to provide an opportunity for Mediterranean Partner delegations to offer their expertise and experience to assist in confronting challenges within the OSCE region. He specifically characterized shared challenges in security between the OSCE region (consistency of capitalization) and Mediterranean Partners, as well as the outlook for their combined geopolitical region. This outlook consisted of future challenges in maritime security, migration, resource conflicts, cascading nuclear and arms proliferation, as well as environmental degradation. The discussion evolved into further exploration of mechanisms for cooperation between the Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE participating States, building on the themes of the Working Meeting on the first day of the seminar.
Key recommendations from this session included:
- Capacity development for institutions facilitating cooperation must be prioritized. Frequent opportunities for dialogue exist within the multiplicity of “Mediterranean” frameworks affiliated with the European Union, NATO, and other international organizations. Capacity development for institutions affiliated with these international organizations should focus on avoiding a duplication of efforts and extensive competition over resources.
- New institutions for cooperation do not need to be developed. Existing institutions must be utilized in a more rational and effective manner throughout the OSCE region.
- Increased commercial activity and resource exchanges among the OSCE participating States and with their Mediterranean Partners would promote regional stability.
- The participating States of the OSCE should recognize the unique expertise of the Mediterranean Partners in thwarting challenges to maritime security and generate alliances and technical exchanges to address piracy and other security concerns.
Participants in the CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement synthesized their perceptions of the seminar during the final session of the seminar. Conclusions offered by the participants included:
- The success of cooperative initiatives between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners will require greater leadership and agenda development from the Mediterranean Partners.
- Distinguishing appropriate and distinct roles for the various regional cooperation mechanisms in the Mediterranean region will be contingent on robust participation from the Mediterranean Partner delegations in the meetings and planning discussions of the different entities.
- More tangible progress toward cooperation will be made between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners if events and conferences have a singular focus, rather than attempting to address all aspects of human security. Fewer priorities that are clearly articulated will make conferences more manageable and implementation more effective.
- A platform should be developed for closer OSCE institution interaction with regional cooperation mechanisms for the Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
- Micro-institutions or taskforces must be developed for the implementation of agreed upon initiatives and recommendations emanating from conferences.
U.S. Helsinki Commission Hearing - “Future of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation”
Following the CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement, an official hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe was convened. This hearing established an official record in the United States Congress for the proceedings of the seminar, with a particular emphasis on how participation mechanisms for OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation can be optimized and improved to promote greater regional cooperation. Ambassador William Hudson, Deputy Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Mr. Sotiris Roussos, Personal Representative on Mediterranean Affairs to the Greek Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, and the Honorable João Soares, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, all testified before the U.S. Helsinki Commission during this hearing. Commissioners participating included Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (FL-23), Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-4), Representative Darrel Issa (CA-49), and Representative Mike McIntyre (NC-7). Representative Gwen Moore (WI-4) of the Committee on Financial Services and Committee on Small Business also participated in the hearing.
The hearing reiterated the recommendations emanating from the CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement within the context of U.S. policy toward the region and priorities of the current leadership of the OSCE and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Witness recommendations included:
- Recognition of the role of the OSCE and its Mediterranean dimension for its potential to develop capacity for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. The activities and events of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation generate one of the few spaces in which Israeli and Arab officials can convene open dialogue and consistently cooperate.
- The United States government looks forward to engaging the Mediterranean Partners on the reintegration of Iraq into the community of nations and on ways to resolve tension over oil and gas supply and demand issues in Eastern Europe.
- The United States government looks forward to further partnership with the Mediterranean Partners on migration, counter-terrorism, economic cooperation, and regional security.
- The United States government has contributed to the OSCE Partnership Fund to support NGO involvement in Mediterranean Partner events and Mediterranean Partner delegation and government training on human rights work in Warsaw through the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Support for similar efforts should continue.
- The prospect of a separate Helsinki Process for the Middle East or an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East has been an idea circulated in recent years, but the use of a consensus process like that of the OSCE might not be optimal for the region.
- The Mediterranean Partners and other countries in the region have been involved in various regional organizations and processes revolving around similar core issues of the political military environment, the regional economy, and human development. More diverse priorities must be articulated by any division of labor that might be negotiated among international organizations and process.
- A mechanism or standing committee to facilitate coordination and collaboration among the principal international organization processes and dialogues in the Mediterranean region should be developed to prevent the duplication of initiatives and counter diminishing regional interest.
- A renewed focus on the environment and the economy in the Mediterranean region through the OSCE framework would help build capacity for cooperation and common ground for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and other Middle East security challenges.
- The expansion of markets, global communication infrastructure development, and improved educational access within the Mediterranean Partner States present greater opportunities for regional economic cooperation.
- The Arab-Israeli conflict greatly influences Mediterranean Partner engagement. Thus, regardless of outcome, a prompt response on the request of the Palestinian Authority’s request to join the OSCE Mediterranean Partner should be prioritized. Some believe that inclusion of the Palestinian Authority would expand a paradigm of confidence building and conflict resolution.
- The visibility of the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership should be enhanced and coupled with an expansion of initiatives to engage young leaders and young diplomats from the Mediterranean region.
- OSCE Partnership Fund initiatives should be coordinated for tangible results and mutual benefit of OSCE participating States and Mediterranean Partners.
- The flexibility and capacity for adaptation makes the OSCE one of the best international instruments for conflict resolution and it should be further utilized in the Mediterranean region.
- OSCE engagement can help advance the role of parliamentarians within Mediterranean Partner States.
- The OSCE Partnership Fund should be utilized for initiatives to empower women and promote entrepreneurship.
- Mediterranean Partner delegations should continue to be engaged in OSCE region election observation efforts and consider more frequent reciprocal exchanges.
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement achieved its intended purpose of generating a space in which the delegations of the Mediterranean Partner States could frankly engage the current and future leadership of the OSCE and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on ways to enhance participation in events, processes, and initiatives. The seminar also served as a forum for Partner State delegations to discuss potential collaborative opportunities with the U.S. Administration and Members of Congress. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the Helsinki Commission committed to working with the OSCE and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly leadership and international secretariats to implement the recommendations of the seminar. Congressman Hastings also committed to travelling once again in the coming year to the Mediterranean Partner States to follow up on the discussions of the seminar.