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Migration, Refugees, and Displaced Persons

The Commission has held several hearings and other events on refugees and migration, including a 2015 hearing on the refugee crisis in Europe, a 2013 hearing on Syrian refugees fleeing to the OSCE region, and a 1993 hearing on migrant farmworkers in the United States that preceded the 1994 CSCE Human Dimension Seminar on Migrant Workers.

Commission efforts have also focused on combating prejudice and bias-motivated crimes against refugees and migrants and ensuring that OSCE participating States keep their OSCE commitments regarding these populations. The Commission has consistently supported a strong role for the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in assisting participating States in this regard.

Staff Contacts: Nathaniel Hurd, senior policy advisor; Mischa Thompson, senior policy advisor

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  • Report on Georgia's Parliamentary Elections: October 1999

    On October 31, 1999, Georgia held its third parliamentary election since gaining independence in 1991. President Eduard Shevardnadze’s ruling party, the Citizens Union of Georgia, scored a convincing victory. According to the Central Election Commission, in the first round, the CUG won 41.85 percent of the party list voting, or 85 seats, along with 35 single districts. The opposition Batumi Alliance, led by Ajarian strongman Aslan Abashidze, came in second, with 25.65 percent of the vote and seven districts, gaining 51 seats. Industry Will Save Georgia was the only other party to break the sevenpercent threshold for parliamentary representation, managing 7.8 percent and 14 seats. In second-round voting on November 14, the CUG increased its lead, picking up ten more seats, and then won another two in a November 28 third round, for a total of 132. The Batumi Alliance’s final tally was 59. Overall, the CUG has an absolute majority in Georgia’s 235-seat legislature, improving on the position it held from 1995-1999. The outcome did not indicate how tense the race had been between the CUG and the leftist, proRussian Batumi Alliance. A win by the latter threatened to move Georgia into Russia’s orbit and away from market reforms. The election also offered a foretaste of next year’s presidential contest, when Abashidze runs against Shevardnazde. With such high stakes and relations so confrontational between the contending forces, charges of widespread fraud dogged the elections. Of the Central Election Commission’s 19 members, only 13 signed the document announcing the results. Nevertheless, OSCE’s observation mission called the first round of the election a “step towards” compliance with OSCE commitments, adding that most of the worst violations occurred in Ajaria. OSCE’s verdict after the November 14 second round was more critical, noting violence at some polling stations and vote rigging and intimidation at others. OSCE’s initial cautiously positive judgement, however, allowed Eduard Shevardnadze to claim that democratization is proceeding in Georgia and that the country’s admission to the Council of Europe was well deserved.

  • The Situation in Dagestan

    This briefing addressed the security challenge face by Russia in the Northern Caucasus in light of an outbreak of fighting in Dagestan in response to unemployment and rampant crime. The potential role of the OSCE in achieving peace in Dagestan in a similar manner to its mission in Chechnya was discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Robert Bruce Ware, a professor in the Department of Philosophical Studies at Southern Illinois University, and Dr. Zulfia Kisrieva-War a native from Dagestan – evaluated potential responses to several questions, including who the combatants in Dagestan are; their aims; why the region is such a volatile area; and whether Moscow has a coherent broad-based strategy for achieving peace and prosperity in the region. Historical background on the conflict and strategies for the international community to pursue moving forward were also topics of discussion.

  • Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo: The Views of Local Human Rights Advocates

    This briefing addressed the current situation of human rights in the former Yugoslavia and examined the role of the OSCE in bringing human rights to the forefront and attempting to hold governments accountable to their commitments in the post-Cold War era. Representatives from the Helsinki Committees in Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as the Director of the International Helsinki Foundation, were present at the briefing and spoke about the difficulties of raising awareness about human rights problem in each country with respect for the individual circumstances within the countries, and about the steps that might be taken in the future regarding increasing transparency within human rights.

  • Report on Azerbaijan's Presidential Election

    On October 11, 1998, Azerbaijan held presidential elections. The contest pitted incumbent President Heydar Aliev, the former Communist Party leader who returned to power in 1993, against moderate opposition leader Etibar Mamedov, political maverick Nizami Suleimanov, and three other candidates with little recognition or following. While no one seriously expected Aliev to lose, the opposition candidates were hoping for a second round. Five leading opposition politicians—Abulfaz Elchibey, Isa Gambar, Rasul Guliev, Ilyas Ismailov and Lala Shovket—boycotted the vote, unwilling to legitimize by their participation an election they believed would be unfair. Negotiations that took place in August between the government and the boycotting opposition over the most controversial aspect of the election—the composition of the Central Election Commission—proved unsuccessful, with the authorities rejecting the opposition’s demand for equal representation on the CEC. The five leaders, joined by numerous other parties and groups in the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections, urged voters not to go to the polls. The authorities minimized the boycott’s significance, arguing that the opposition leaders knew they had no chance in a fair election and therefore preferred to claim fraud and not participate. Beginning August 15, the boycotting parties organized a series of rallies and demonstrations to pressure the government and call for fair elections. These were the first mass street actions in Azerbaijan in years. The authorities refused to let the opposition hold a demonstration in Freedom Square, in the center of Baku, offering alternative venues instead. On September 12, protesters clashed with police, resulting in arrests and injuries. Afterwards, authorities and opposition tried to reach agreement on the demonstrators’ route, and most pre-election rallies, some of which drew big crowds, were largely peaceful. The increasingly tense relations between the government and boycotting opposition parties were one factor in the OSCE/ODIHR’s appraisal of the election.  In ODIHR’s view, these failings outweighed the positive aspects of the election, such as the election law, which all sides acknowledged as acceptable, the freedom for candidates to speak openly on television, the abolition of censorship and provisions for domestic observers. The OSCE/ODIHR assessment was that the election fell short of meeting international norms. With the OSCE assessment placing in question the official results, the CEC’s failure to publish election protocols until long after the stipulated time period heightens doubts about President Aliev’s standing. The election was largely a referendum on his five-year presidency. Since his return to power in 1993, he has not solved the major problems besetting the country. The NagornoKarabakh conflict remains unsettled; Azerbaijani territory is still under Armenian occupation and no refugees have returned to their homes. Living standards for the great majority of the population have declined precipitously, though it is widely known that a tiny stratum of corrupt officials and businessmen have become rich. Moreover, the predominance of people from Nakhichevan - Aliev’s home region - in positions of power exacerbates general discontent.

  • Repression and Violence in Kosovo and Hearing on Kosovo: The Humanitarian Perspective

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Alfonse D’Amato, discussed the dire circumstances in Kosovo, specifically Serbian repression of the Kosovar Albanian majority population. In this hearing, D’Amato called for the U.S. to step up and prevent another outbreak of ethnic cleansing and achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. More specifically, to facilitate a lasting peace, the Commissioner called on U.S. leadership to make Slobodan Milosevic believe that the world would not stand by while the atrocities in Kosovo and Serbia continued. In addition, any settlement reached between Milosevic and the Kosovo Albanian leadership, D’Amato, continued, must be respected and protect the human rights of all individuals in Kosovo, without preconditions. Witnesses in this hearing discussed these human rights violations and the predicament of the Kosovar Albanians.

  • Bosnia

    During this briefing, Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia has slow and challenging due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations. The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall - have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republica Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, they state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords.

  • The Present Situation in Albania

    This briefing, moderated by the Honorable Eliot Engel, Co-Chairman of the Albanian Issues Caucus, examined the international response to the crisis in Albania since the collapse of the pyramid schemes in the beginning of the year, which led to protests, rebellion, and political stalemate.  The need for free and fair elections was emphasized in light of a political impasse over the holding of elections in June. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Julius Varallyay, Principle Country Officer for East Central Europe for the World Bank, Stefano Stefanini from the Italian Embassy, and Avni Mustafaj, former Director of Open Society Foundation for Albania – discussed the previous efforts that had been made to encourage political reforms and steps that needed to be taken in the future. The need for a comprehensive donor assistance program to complement international assistance was specifically address, as was the political reform on which this program would depend.

  • Rebuilding Bosnia-Herzegovina: Strategies and the U.S. Role

    The Helsinki Commission addressed the status of the ongoing rehabilitation efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina following the conclusion of the war that took place between 1992 and 1995. Amidst lasting tensions, the Commission emphasized the need for reconciliation and for civilians to actively participate in this process. The primary witness, J. Brian Atwood, administrator of the Agency for International Development, emphasized several goals for moving forward in Bosnia-Herzegovina such as addressing the issue of displaced persons by repairing housing infrastructure, encouraging economic activity through international cooperation with the central bank, and initiating elections under free and fair conditions. 

  • Mass Graves and Other Atrocities in Bosnia

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and others discussed the atrocities committed against women, men, and children in the former Yugoslavian country of Bosnia. These atrocities exemplified Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the former Yugoslavia at large, as areas where internecine violence and strife seemed to be constant phenomena.

  • The Latest Crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina

    With Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) presiding, this hearing focused on the continuing ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavian country of Bosnia. This hearing was held with the events of the two weeks that preceded it in mind. More specifically, militants from Serbia had attacked UN outposts and, subsequently, had taken peacekeepers hostage.  In spite of the atrocities being committed against the Bosnian people, Rep. Smith stated that the international community viewed the conflict in Bosnia as more of a crisis than the Bosnians themselves. Unfortunately, though, as this hearing sought to address, the international community could have better responded to the crisis in the former Yugoslav country. As a witness, Dr. Haris Silajdzic was also in attendance.

  • Genocide in Bosnia

    This hearing focused on determinig if the recent ethnic cleansing, the destruction of cultural sites, and war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia constituted genocide.  In particular, the witnesses and Commissioners discussed  how many of the war crimes were committed on orders from the military and the political leadership.

  • The Crisis of Chechnya

    Apart from horrendous human rights violations, the war in Chechnya has brought to the fore all the underlying fissures in Russia’s political and economic structures, as well as highlighted the tensions in Russia’s relations with its neighbors and the rest of the international community. Chechnya confronts Russia’s Government, and by extension, all OSCE governments with the key issue of self-determination. Though Principle VIII of the Helsinki Final Act guarantees the equal right of all peoples to self-determination, the international community has never worked out rules and mechanisms for pursuing that right. Since many countries face actual or potential separatist movements based on demands for self-determination, governments have tended to side-step the issue.

  • Nagorno-Karabakh

    In this briefing, which CSCE Staff Director Samuel G. Wise chaired, the focus was on the conflict that had then recently transpired between the countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan. More specifically, the two countries had had a territorial dispute regarding the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. This dispute had manifested itself into all-out violence that had claimed around 15 million lives at the time of the briefing, as well as creating well over a million refugees. The briefing was the fifth in a series of briefings and hearings that the Helsinki Commission had held since 1988 regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. Fortunately, also at the time of this briefing, there had been very few armed clashes for a couple of months, and the warring factions had observed an informal cease fire. Actually, just three days prior to the briefing, the Defense Ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh jointly noted the success of the cease fire and looked forward to a more comprehensive resolution of the conflict. With this decrease in violence, attention had shifted to the international diplomatic plane. The CSCE and the Russians had put forward at least somewhat similar cease fire plans, albeit with competition for adherence. The ultimate end of both approaches was a broader agreement about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and making peace in the region. The purpose of the briefing, then, was to discuss the possible framework of a political settlement.

  • THE FATE OF THE PEOPLE OF BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA - PART 3

    President of Intertect Relief and Reconstruction Corp, Frederick Cuny, and former special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, José Maria Mendiluce, gave testimony in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in regards to the civilian populations of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In their testimony, each witness covered the humanitarian efforts on the ground and its effects on the civilian population, obstacles created by the mafia, and the effects of the Bosnian arms embargo. Also the Commissioners and witnesses discussed the different perspectives of sanction use- employ sanctions to deter the foreign government to follow a desired goal or that the use of such particular sanctions only adds fuel to the survival of the regime via nationalism.The hearing concludes with possible U.S. responses with findings and reports to support prospective actions.

  • THE FATE OF THE PEOPLE OF BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA- PART 2

    President of Intertect Relief and Reconstruction Corp, Frederick Cuny, and former special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, José Maria Mendiluce, gave testimony in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in regards to the civilian populations of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In their testimony, each witness covered the humanitarian efforts on the ground and its effects on the civilian population, obstacles created by the mafia, and the effects of the Bosnian arms embargo. Also the Commissioners and witnesses discussed the different perspectives of sanction use- employ sanctions to deter the foreign government to follow a desired goal or that the use of such particular sanctions only adds fuel to the survival of the regime via nationalism.

  • CSCE Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues

    Against a backdrop of savage conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nagorno Karabakh, and Georgia, attendant refugee crises throughout the region, and a wave of sometimes violent racism and xenophobia even in long-established European democracies, the participating states of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) met in Warsaw, Poland in 1993 for the first biannual Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues As specified by the 1992 Helsinki Document, the meeting included a thorough exchange of views on the implementation of Human Dimension commitments, consideration of ways and means of improving implementation, and an evaluation of the procedures for monitoring compliance with commitments. The dramatic unfolding over the course of the meeting of the showdown within the Russian government-- culminating in the shelling of the Russian Parliament building by government troops-- served as a sober reminder to participants of the vulnerability of democracy in transition and the importance of shoring up Human Dimension compliance.

  • Situations of Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey

    This briefing focused on the Kurdish minority, the fourth largest nationality in the Middle East primarily concentrated in the States of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, a CSCE signatory state. The lack of institutional protection of human rights and individual freedoms that the Kurdish minority suffers from in each of these states was addressed. Additionally, the principles of territorial integrity, self-determination, and respect of human rights were explored in the context of the Middle East. Witnesses at the briefing – including Ahmet Turk, Chairman of the People’s Labor Party and Barham Salih, a Representative of the Iraqi Kurds – offered descriptions of the historical context and the political framework in which the issue of violations of the human rights of the Kurdish minority has arisen. Mr. Salih presented his personal experience as the evidence of the process of forced assimilation that Kurds were enduring in Turkey at the time.

  • Migrant Farmworkers in the United States

    Sam Wise, staff director at the Commission, was joined by Maria Echaveste, Mike Hancock, and Linda Diane Mull in discussing the issue of migrant workers in the United States. They compared the treatment of migrant workers in Europe to the laws in the United States and mentioned that the United States focused greatly on illegal workers, as opposed to Europe. The briefing drew from the recent seminar in Warsaw on migrant workers and included members of the United States Delegation to the meeting, such as Maria Echavestee, who spoke of their observations.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation to Romania, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Vienna

    The Commissions Delegation's visit to Romania, the first since April 1990, had two main objectives. The first was to assess, though meetings with a broad spectrum of non-governmental and official actors, Romania's current level of democratic and market reform. The second was in recognition of Romania's critical role in the effort to enforce U.N. sanctions against Serbia and Macedonia, and the broader political strategic role of Romania in the Balkans. The delegation also traveled to Macedonia to complete the itinerary of a visit to the area in November 1992, which had to be cut short because of inclement weather conditions. Indeed, the signs of the oncoming winter which the Commission saw at that time led it to raise concern over the deteriorating condition which Macedonia and the tens of thousands of Bosnian refugees residing there faced. The April 1993 visit afforded a useful opportunity to see firsthand the extent to which the country had satisfactorily coped with these deteriorating conditions and the prospects generally for the stability and democratization of an independent Macedonia. The delegation then visited Kosovo to observe firsthand the volatile situation there. The situation is a matter of considerable international concern given the chances for the war in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina to have a spillover effect in which the tension exist between the Serbian authorities and th majority Albanian population could erupt into violence, either by intent or by spontaneous incident. The delegation wanted to hear the views of the authorities as well as of the leaders of the Albanian community, and to raise its concerns, particularly to the authorities regarding human rights. Finally, the delegation wanted to learn about the activities of the CSCE mission of Long-Duration based in Kosovo to monitor developments in the area and to ease tension in society. The delegation finished its trip in Vienna, Austria to meet with the U.S. delegation to the CSCE. Vienna is becoming the CSCE's operational center, with the Conflict Prevention Center, which provided logistical support to the missions as well as the ongoing arms control and security forum, the Forum on Security Cooperation (FSC), and regular meeting of the participating States.  

  • The Crisis In Bosnia-Herzegovina

    Sen. Dennis DeConcini presided over this hearing that was held with the state of violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina in mind. The unfortunate former Yugoslavian country had just emerged from a bloody internecine conflict, which resulted in thousands of refugees. The purpose of this hearing was to discuss post-conflict negotiations, and yet, unfortunately, violence started again and escalated after the civil war earlier in the 1990s. The Commissioners, then, asked how the U.S., UN, European Community, and other individual actors, which had been criticized for inaction regarding the crisis, should respond.

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