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International Law

Principle X of the Helsinki Final Act Decalogue commits the participating States to fulfill “in good faith their obligations under international law.”  This core principle reflects the recognition that the willingness of countries to uphold legal commitments they have made to each other is a necessary component for predictability and stability in international relations. The Helsinki Commission has primarily focused on international law related to human rights, international humanitarian law (war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide) and military security obligations undertaken within the framework of the OSCE.

Staff Contact: Erika Schlager, counsel for international law

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  • Soviet Crackdown in the Baltic States

    This hearing, which Steny H. Hoyer presided over, came at a time during which the United States’ time was occupied elsewhere in the world (i.e. the Middle East). Therefore, the running time of this hearing was expected to be an hour, with a more in-depth hearing to follow later on. In any case, attendees discussed, from the view of the U.S., anyway, that the Baltic States (i.e. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) had all been illegally absorbed into what was then the Soviet Union. Likewise, the Baltic States had raised the issue that enforcement of conscription laws of the Soviet Union in these countries is in and of itself legal within the framework of the Geneva Convention. The consensus of the hearing was that the attempt by Moscow to crush democracy in the Baltic States must be met by the U.S. with the same resolve that the U.S. took in meeting similar attempts in other parts of the world, including collaboration with other countries.

  • The Miroslav Medvid Incident

    On October 24, 1985, Soviet Seaman Miroslav Medvid jumped from the Marshal Konev (a Soviet grain freighter) while it was docked in New Orleans, LA, and reportedly attempted to request political asylum in the United States. He was interviewed by U.S. Border Patrol agents on that same night and then ordered returned to his ship. U.S. officials from the INS and State Department subsequently boarded the ship, obtained an agreement from Soviet officials that Medvid would be re-interviewed concerning his desire for political asylum, and proceeded to question him over a period of 2 days. Mr. Medvid consistently held that he did not want political asylum during this second interview process, and was finally returned to his ship on October 29, 1985.  The Medvid case has raised many questions concerning the manner in which U.S. Government officials handled the incident and concerning U.S. asylum policy toward Communist-bloc nations in general. The Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Policy held a series of hearings and conducted a staff investigation on the matter. This report addresses the facts developed through that hearing and investigation process. This report is divided into 6 sections: (1) a brief summary of the events from the time of Medvid's desertion to his final return to the Soviet ship; (2) a summary of the hearings that the immigration subcommittee held on November 5, 1985, November 7, 1985, February 5, 1986, and March 7, 1986; (3) a review and discussion of the major issues and points of controversy concerning the incident; (4) a description of the roles played by the individuals who had the most contact with Medvid, and their perspectives on the case; (5) a review of the adequacy. of present INS asylum procedures; and (6) conclusions drawn by the subcommittee based on the hearing and investigation process.

  • Update on Raoul Wallenberg

    This hearing focused on the disappearance of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, distinguished diplomat who risked his life to help grant protection to Jewish refugees in Hungary during Nazis occupation. Wallenberg’s whereabouts became unknown when the Soviets liberated Hungary. Despite Soviet declarations that Mr. Wallenberg died in 1947, many witnesses have contested this claim and have reported that he is in fact in Soviet prison. The Commissioners and the witnesses discussed the U.S. response and what further actions may be needed.

  • Implementation Of The Helsinki Accords Vol. VIII – U.S. Compliance: Human Rights

    Commissioner Claiborne Pell and others in attendance, in this series of hearings, looked at their own country’s record on the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. This hearing signified the first time that a state belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or the “Conference,” had looked at its own record in such a manner, taking into account criticism by other signatories and private domestic monitoring groups, no less. This series of hearings’ purpose was to ascertain progress accomplished, learn what more needs to be achieved, and proclaim a reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to the Helsinki Final Act’s full implementation.

  • IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS VOL. IV - REPORTS ON SOVIET REPRESSION AND THE BELGRADE CONFERENCE

    In light of first anniversary of the creation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, this hearing focused on the work and the plight of courageous individuals who utilized the Helsinki accords as instruments for advancing international respect for human rights. In particular, the hearing delved into the case of Anatoly Shcharansky, one of the most courageous spokesmen of human rights in the U.S.S.R., faces treason charges as groundless as they are ominous. The Soviet decision to hold a show trial for Shcharansky with phony evidence and counterfeit witnesses combined with the earlier arrest of members of Helsinki monitoring groups in Russia, Ukraine, and most recently, in Georgia, were in violation of the Helsinki accords.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol I - Human Rights and Contacts

    This hearing focused on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords and explored proposals for advancing compliance.  The Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the accords could better East-West relations. They discussed how the framework of the Helsinki accords helps provide protection against armed intervention in internal affairs, or the threat of such intervention.  The Commissioners heard testimonies from those working on human rights in Warsaw Pact countries and from many American citizens seeking reunification with relatives in Warsaw Pact countries.

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