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Podcast: Seeking Justice in Serbia

Twenty years after U.S. citizens Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi were brutally murdered in Serbia in the aftermath of the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, their brother Ilir documents his family’s fight for justice in the face of inaction by Serbian authorities. Ilir is joined by family lawyer Praveen Madhiraju and Helsinki Commission senior policy advisor Robert Hand.


"Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America.

Transcript | Episode 2: Seeking Justice in Serbia | Helsinki on the Hill

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  • Hate in the Information Age

    The briefing provided an overview of hate crimes and hate propaganda in the OSCE region, focusing on the new challenges posed by the internet and other technology. Mischa Thompson led the panelists in a discussion of the nature and frequency of hate crimes in the OSCE region, including the role of the internet and other technologies in the training, recruiting, and funding of hate groups. Panelists - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Mark A. Potok, Christopher Wolf, Tad Stahnke – discussed how best to combat hate crimes and hate propaganda and highlighted internet governance issues in the United States and Europe and how the internet extensively contributes to hate propaganda. Issues such as free speech and content control were at the center of the discussion.

  • Uzbekistan: Three Years after Andijan

    This briefing examined the human rights situation and state of civil society in Uzbekistan three years after Andijan, when hundreds of demonstrators were killed by Uzbek security force, and in the subsequent crackdown, restrictions were imposed to further stifle dissent. While the human rights situation remains dire, the Government of Uzbekistan continues to pursue engagement with the EU and U.S., positioning itself as a key strategic ally in regional energy and security concerns.  Panelists testifying at the briefing explored prospects for democratization in Uzbekistan and the possibilities of improving U.S.-Uzbek relations.  Additionally, they discussed the need for reforms in cotton production, Uzbekistan's largest source of income. 

  • Clearing the Air, Feeding the Fuel Tank: Understanding the Link Between Energy and Environmental Security

    Congress has an obligation to work to ensure a healthy and safe environment for the benefit of current and future generations.  To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a healthier environment, we need a multi-faceted approach that addresses the tangled web of issues involved.  We need to foster both energy independence and clean energy. Given rising sea levels, the increasing severity of storm surges, and higher temperatures the world over, the impact of global climate change is undeniable.  Unless we act now, we will see greater and greater threats to our way of life on this planet.

  • Crossing Boarders, Keeping Connected: Women, Migration and Development in the OSCE Region

    The hearing will focus on the impact of migration on family and society, the special concerns of migrant women of color, and the economic contributions of women migrants to their home country through remittances. According to the United Nations, women are increasingly migrating on their own as main economic providers and heads of households. While the number of women migrants is on the rise, little is known about the economic and social impact of this migration on their home country.

  • The Future of Democracy in Serbia

    The briefing looked at the political situation in Serbia at this critical time in the country’s history as well as the long-term prospects for the country’s democratic institutions, including civic society. Concern was expressed about the direction Serbia is taking, especially since Kosovo's February 17 declaration of independence that was recognized by the United States and many other countries. The upcoming elections in May were identified as pivotal, as they would give the people of Serbia a choice between those political leaders advocating nationalism and isolation and those advocating democracy and integration. Panelists at the briefing reported on their recent visits to the region and the results of recently conducted public opinion polls indicating attitudes in Serbia regarding their political leaders and their country's future direction.  Various scenarios for the aftermath of the May elections were presented, ranging from the retention of the same government to the election of a new, democratic government.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Visits Prague and Bratislava

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Prior to participating in the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, led a Congressional delegation to Prague, the Czech Republic, from February 18-20. In Prague, he was joined by Chairman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY). Chairman Hastings also traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, for additional meetings on February 21, where he was joined by Commissioner Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). In the Czech Republic, the delegation met with representatives of the Jewish community and toured the historic Jewish quarter in Prague, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The delegation discussed recent anti-Semitic manifestations, most notably a large demonstration organized last November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and other planned demonstrations by extremists. Although Czech civil society has strongly countered these demonstrations, local officials have struggled to find the appropriate balance between respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and their desire to combat anti-Semitism and manifestations of other forms of intolerance. The delegation also held a round-table discussion with leading civil society and Romani activists. Their discussions touched on past instances of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent, and discrimination against Roma in education, housing and employment. It was noted that victims of wrongful sterilization practices have been advised by government officials to seek redress from the courts, even though most cases will be barred by statutes of limitations. The delegation held official meetings with the President of Senate, Premysl Sobotka, and other members of the Czech Senate; Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout; representatives of the Government Council for Human Rights; and Otakar Motejl, the Public Defender of Rights (also known as the Ombudsman). In these meetings, delegation members expressed concern about the unresolved property claims of Americans who were excluded by the legal framework for property restitution previously adopted by the Czech Republic. They urged Czech officials to protect freedom of speech and assembly, while demonstrating sensitivity for dates or sites of particular importance to the Jewish community. With respect to the situation of the Romani minority, the delegation expressed concern for the victims of past sterilization without informed consent. They urged the Czech Government to take concrete steps to improve the situation of Roma, including through the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Discussions with Czech officials also touched on bilateral or regional issues, including Kosovo’s declaration of independence and managing relations with Russia. While in Prague, the delegation also met with President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jeffrey Gedman, toured the broadcasting facility, and held a press conference at the RFE/RL headquarters. In Slovakia, Chairman Hastings and Commissioner Solis met with leading political analysts to hear a broad discussion of political developments and trends, including concerns regarding proposed legislation on non-governmental organizations and on the media. During a round-table discussion with Romani activists, participants discussed the need to translate the government’s program into concrete action, and the particular challenge of translating national policies into change at the local level. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, Deputy Prime Minister Dusan Caplovic (who has responsibility for, i.a., human rights issues), and a group of parliamentarians, including representatives of opposition parties. In their meeting with Minister Caplovic, Chairman Hastings urged the Slovak Government to acknowledge the past sterilization without informed consent of Romani women. In other meetings, the delegation also expressed concern about the adoption by the parliament of resolution honoring Andreij Hlinka, who died in 1938 but whose nationalist leadership set the stage for Slovakia’s WWII alliance with Nazi Germany and the deportation of its Jewish citizens.

  • NATO Enlargement and the Bucharest Summit

    This hearing was chaired by Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings and attended by commissioners Ben Cardin and Mike McIntyre. Witnesses included Dr. Michael Haltzel, senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University; Janusz Bugajski, director of the New European Democracies Project and senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Europe Program; and Steven Pifer, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and Senior Advisor at CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program Center. The hearing focused on the possible inclusion of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia in the upcoming NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania. It also discussed extending Membership Action Plans to Ukraine and Georgia. More broadly, the hearing focused on the degree to which these states had transformed their policies and institutions in order to join NATO.

  • Commission Staff Participates in Conference on Roma; Greece Slated to Serve as OSCE Chair in 2009

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law U.S. Embassy in Athens Organizes Conference on Romani Issues On February 29, Helsinki Commission staff participated in a conference on Romani issues organized by the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, primarily for human rights officers from U.S. Embassies in Europe. The conference was designed to improve understanding of Romani minority concerns, and to allow human rights officers to share information and ideas related to their congressionally mandated human rights reporting obligations. The conference underscored the strong interest of the United States in the situation of Romani minority communities throughout the OSCE region and provided a useful opportunity for human rights officers to improve their knowledge of this minority group’s history and experiences. Roma now constitute the largest ethnic minority in the European Union. The conference was opened by the United States Ambassador to Greece, Daniel Speckhard. Andrzej Mirga, the senior advisor for Romani issues with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (Warsaw) and Helsinki Commission staff served as speakers during the morning session. Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor spoke during a working lunch. In the afternoon, Embassy officials from various posts led “best practices” discussion groups – although it proved more difficult to identify such practices than one might have hoped. Commission Staff Visit Romani Shanty Towns On the margins of the conference, Commission staff held meetings on Romani issues with representatives of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Division for International Human Rights, Refugees, and Immigration; the Ombudsman for Human Rights; the Ministry of Interior; and the Ministry of Education. In addition, staff visited several Romani shanty towns in the Athens region, including the infamous Aspropyrgos camp. Greece does not recognize any groups as “minorities” other than those few formally recognized under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne (primarily the Muslims of Western Thrace). Accordingly, Roma are not considered an ethnic minority but a “socially vulnerable group.” It is estimated that there are roughly 150,000-300,000 Roma in Greece, out of a population of 11-million-plus. This population largely consists of indigenous Greek Roma, but also includes some Roma who have migrated from Albania in recent years. Greece does not count people according to ethnic affiliation or identity on its national census. Roma in Greece face problems similar to those faced by Roma in other countries. In recent years, Romani plaintiffs have successfully brought cases against Greece before the European Court of Human Rights, including for ill-treatment or excessive use of force by the police. Non-governmental organizations have also been particularly concerned by the deplorable conditions in some Romani shanty towns and the lack of equal access to education and the ability of Roma to obtain documents. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has also expressed concern about forced evictions of Roma. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin and Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter participated in a Helsinki Commission delegation to Greece in early 1998, and met with (among others) Romani representatives. Greece Slated to Serve as OSCE Chair Greece is slated to serve as Chair of the OSCE in 2009; Kazakhstan has been selected to serve in that position in 2010. Finland serves as the current OSCE Chair-in-Office. At his inaugural address to the OSCE Permanent Council in January, Finnish Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva stated, “More can be done also to fight discrimination against Roma and Sinti. I count on all participating States to renew their commitment to implementing the recommendations in the OSCE Action Plan of 2003.” Finland plans to schedule one of this year’s three Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings on Romani human rights issues.

  • The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West

    This briefing featured Edward Lucas, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent and former Moscow bureau chief for The Economist. During this briefing, Lucas shared his thoughts on current political events in Russia including the upcoming Presidential elections and Moscow’s relations with the international community during President Putin’s era and beyond. Several developments in Russia were highlighted, including the increasing tensions between Russia and the West in light of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia. The perspective provided by Lucas during this hearing emphasized the both positives and negatives of these developments, and of Russia’s relationship with other countries like the United States.

  • Finnish OSCE Chairman-in-Office Outlines Priorities, Challenges for 2008

    By Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director Making an appearance on February 13th before the Helsinki Commission, early in Finland’s 2008 chairmanship of the OSCE, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva addressed a wide range of issues facing the Vienna-based organization and its 56 participating States. Kanerva, having served in parliament since 1975, the year in which the Helsinki Final Act was signed in the Finnish capital, stressed the unique contribution of parliamentarians in their role embodying “the aspirations of our peoples and to voice their concerns in all OSCE countries.” Chairman Alcee L. Hastings, President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, expressed appreciation for recognition of the parliamentary dimension of the Helsinki Process. Minister Kanerva noted, “The starting point of the Finnish Chairmanship is that the OSCE is a value-based organization that actively promotes our common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We stress the full implementation of the human rights commitments by the participating States.” Chairman Hastings welcomed the emphasis on implementation especially given the mandate of the Helsinki Commission to monitor compliance with the common commitments accepted by all participating States regardless of when they joined the Helsinki Process. “We fully support and welcome Finland’s calls for greater effort by participating States to implement our common political commitments. Implementation is key, as the late President Gerald Ford underscored in his remarks in Finlandia Hall when he signed the Helsinki Accords on behalf of the United States. I am also mindful that all participating States, including this country, are obligated to translate words on paper into action and I welcome the scrutiny of others when our own policies and practices come up short,” said Hastings. Hastings and Kanerva had a lengthy exchange regarding developments in Kosovo and their implications for Balkans as well as the possibility of sustained OSCE engagement in the region. Kanerva, who had just returned from a visit to Belgrade and Priština, observed that the OSCE has played an important role in Kosovo -- in establishing and consolidating local institutions, in promoting democratization, the rule of law, as well as human and minority rights. “Because the OSCE has remained “status-neutral,” it has retained a unique ability to work with all ethnic communities in promoting stability and democratic development. It is my firm belief that the OSCE work in Kosovo is and will be beneficial to all Kosovars,” concluded the Minister. He continued, “The outcome of the status process could have a negative impact on the OSCE's engagement in Kosovo. You are well aware that the OSCE participating States remain deeply divided over the issue. This disagreement could lead to the current Mission’s termination. It would be a grave mistake for the OSCE and the entire international community if we were to leave it at that.” Chairman Hastings, who visited both Priština and the northern area around Mitrovitsa last June, remarked, “My overall concern comes again from personal experience. The OSCE mission in Kosovo complemented by the tremendous activities that the KFOR forces deployed to keep the peace there is one of, in my judgment, the most successful OSCE missions, capable of working with the various factions in that area. I always ask the question: if there was no OSCE mission or had not been there in recent years, what would be the situation on the ground there today? And how much closer would the parties be to arriving at a resolution of what is, by anybody's standards, a substantial conflict? Minister Kanerva stressed, “I am determined to ensure continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo regardless of the status process. I am aware of the fact that any participating State has the possibility to use a veto and to end the mandate of the present mission - the mission which at the moment comprises 800 people and which has an immense effect on the viability of the civil society. Should this happen, I am prepared to immediately start the negotiations on a revised mandate for the OSCE mission. I am convinced that all participating States agree on the need for continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo.” Regarding conflicts elsewhere in the OSCE region, Kanerva remarked, “The Finnish chairmanship has put the so-called frozen or protracted conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh at the top of our agenda. I will personally visit all of these regions. I have already nominated also a special envoy to survey the progress in the process. One of the first things I have already done was to visit Ukraine and Moldova, to examine possibilities to kick start the stalled negotiation on the Transdnistria conflict. The Government of Moldova and the leadership for Transdnistria indicate their willingness to reengage and I have tasked my special envoy to see what can be done to take the process forward. We have knowledge of the difficulties in front of us. But we can't give up.” Minister Kanerva announced his intention to visit the South Caucasus nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Chairman Hastings asked Kanerva to raise concerns relating to media freedom in Azerbaijan, the subject of a Commission hearing late last year, and provided a list of specific cases. Numerous other human rights concerns were also discussed from combating anti-Semitism and trafficking in humans as well as promoting democracy. In prepared remarks, Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin stressed the importance of sustained OSCE engagement in efforts to fight anti-Semitism. “In recent weeks we have convened a series of hearings to assess the ongoing work of the OSCE in this regard and have heard from experts. These sessions have confirmed the importance of maintaining a distinct focus on anti-Semitism, and resisting attempts by some to reduce the attention under some kinds of generic tolerance rubric. It has also become clear that the personal representatives need some form of meaningful support mechanism. Perhaps some arrangement could be put in place by the troika of past, present, and future OSCE chairs, to ensure continuity,” remarked Cardin. Similar concerns were echoed in a statement by Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith, “I appeal to you, in your term as Chairman-in-Office, not to allow the OSCE to give in to this fatigue and indifference! Anti-Semitism remains what it has always been, a unique evil, a distinct form of intolerance, the oldest form of religious bigotry, and a malignant disease of the heart that has often led to murder. It continues to threaten our Jewish brothers and sisters, and so the OSCE must redouble its efforts in the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism. Smith, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking welcomed the commitment of the Finnish chairmanship to give priority attention to OSCE efforts to prevent human trafficking, with particular attention to child victims. Russia’s troubling attempts to restrict the scope and size of OSCE election observations missions was also raised. Minister Kanerva expressed disappointment that, despite a concerted effort by OSCE, an acceptable solution could not be worked out to enable the deployment of an observation mission to Russia for the March 2nd presidential elections. He outlined his views regarding observation of the entire election process. “It means candidate and voter registration, electoral campaign, media coverage, complaints and appeals. The ODIHR must continue to be in a position to determine the length and size of observation missions on professional grounds in order to produce meaningful assessments and recommendations benefiting the observed country.” Having headed monitoring missions to Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, and most recently Georgia, Chairman Hastings called for a timely invitation for OSCE to observe the upcoming November U.S. elections. Kanerva thanked Hastings for his leadership of the mission to Georgia in early January and underscored the importance of close cooperation between ODIHR and the OSCE PA. Turning to Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation country, the Chairman welcomed the role played by Finnish forces in the northern part of that country. Minister Kanerva reported that active discussions were underway among OSCE countries regarding the kinds of initiatives that might be undertaken to assist Afghanistan pursuant to a general decision agreed to by the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council last November. Priority attention is being given to strengthening border security and management, including along the 750 mile border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. “At the same time we are discussing whether the OSCE might eventually become active on Afghan territory,” said Kanerva. Before concluding the hearing, the Chairman-in-Office and Chairman Hastings touched on ways to enhance cooperation among the OSCE participating States and strengthen the organization. Hastings acknowledged the complex task of managing the OSCE given the diversity of countries and diverging views among some on fundamental aspects of the organization and its mission. The two agreed on the importance of engagement with Russia. One possibility raised by Chairman Hastings was the assembling of a “Council of Elder Statesmen” along the lines proposed by the Hamburg-based Centre for OSCE Research in its working paper, “Identifying the Cutting Edge: The Future Impact of the OSCE.” In an innovative move, the Finnish chairmanship has expanded the Troika – past, present, and future chairs – to include others slated to assume leadership of OSCE in future years. At the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council agreement was reached on chairmanships for Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010 and Lithuania in 2011. “I have invited my colleagues from the future chairmanships of Kazakhstan and Lithuania,” Kanerva reported, “to meet with the current Troika countries Spain, Finland and Greece to develop ideas for longer-term priorities. I am convinced there are many issues where the "Quintet" can add value and lead to more coherent OSCE action in the next few years.” Minister Kanerva concluded, “The Helsinki Commission embodies the longstanding engagement of the United States with the OSCE and the values that underpin it. The OSCE can only work with the full engagement of its participating States. The United States has always played a key role, and must continue to do so, if we are to achieve the ambitious goals we have set for our Organization.”

  • Finland’s Leadership in the OSCE

    The hearing focused on Finland’s plans and priorities as well as challenges confronting the OSCE in 2008 and beyond. Additionally, the hearing addressed election observation activities by the OSCE; prospects for OSCE continued engagement in Kosovo; ongoing initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance; and the CFE Treaty.

  • Human Rights, Civil Society, and Democratic Governance in Russia: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future

    This hearing, chaired by Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Sam Brownback and Ranking Member the Hon. Benjamin Cardin, focused on the tumoltuous developement of human right in Russia. For the past few years, a series of events in Russia has given cause for concern about the fate of human rights, civil society, and democratic governance in that country. Of particular concern is the recent promulgation of a law establishing greater governmental control over NGOs and an attempt by the Russian secret services to link prominent Russian NGOs with foreign intelligence services. Newsweek International wrote in its February 6, 2006 issue: “The Russian secret service is acting more and more like the old KGB.” At the same time, the Russian Federation accedes this year to the chairmanship of the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8), and will chair the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers beginning in May 2006.  

  • The Madrid Ministerial Council

    By Janice Helwig and Winsome Packer, Staff Advisors The OSCE participating States concluded the year with a meeting of the Ministerial Council on November 29-30, 2007. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns headed the U.S. delegation. Helsinki Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings also participated. Overall Dynamics Tensions remained high within the OSCE in the lead up to the Madrid Ministerial, reducing expectations for any ambitious new initiatives which would need to garner the consensus of all 56 participating States. The high-level meeting in the Spanish capital capped off a year punctuated by fundamental disagreements in the security as well as human dimensions. Russia had made a concerted effort to gain control over OSCE election observation activities and reports, introducing a proposal to effectively subordinate every step of the observation process to consensus, including agreement by the country to be observed on the assessment. Along with Belarus and Turkmenistan, they similarly sought to institute burdensome bureaucratic obstacles to curtail NGO participation in OSCE activities. As in the past, the Russians insisted that there was a need for far reaching reform of the OSCE itself. Additionally, the Kremlin had threatened to “suspend” its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Other highly charged issues included Kazakhstan’s longstanding bid to chair the OSCE and the future of Kosovo and the expiring mandate for the OSCE Mission (OMIK) there. Several participating States, including the United States, were reticent about Astana’s leadership aspiration given gaps in its implementation of OSCE commitments, particularly those on democracy and human rights. Meanwhile, Serbia and Russia were threatening to close OMIK if the Kosovars were to unilaterally declare independence. Despite these potentials pitfalls, negotiations at the Ministerial overall proceeded constructively. Although consensus was not reached on some issues, decisions were ultimately taken on several priority issues following protracted debate, including the Kazakhstan chairmanship and an initiative to strengthen OSCE involvement with Afghanistan. As happened at the 2002 Porto Ministerial, the Madrid meeting had to be suspended while negotiations continued on the margins past the scheduled closing. Earlier in the day, Russia had reneged on its agreement to the decision on OSCE engagement with Afghanistan (which was important to the United States), most likely in retaliation to the U.S. blocking a Russian-sponsored draft decision on OSCE election monitoring. Because agreement on several other decisions was tied to the decision on Afghanistan, consensus on other decisions was at risk. In the end, the Afghanistan and the other decisions were agreed to in the late afternoon, almost five hours after the Ministerial had been scheduled to close. At the closing session at which the decisions were adopted, there was a flurry of interpretive statements as a result of the compromises made to reach consensus. Main issues Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship Bid – The decision on upcoming chairmanships of the OSCE was a focus of numerous bilateral meetings and negotiations. Since 2003, Kazakhstan had expressed its desire to lead the Vienna-based OSCE, possibly in 2009. Some – mainly countries belonging to the CIS – insisted that Kazakhstan deserved the leadership position simply based on its membership in the Organization and argued that Western countries were discriminating against a former Soviet State with their opposition. Others had hoped to prompt Kazakhstan to improve its rights record. In the end, an agreement was reached on future chairmanships: Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010, and Lithuania in 2011. Kazakhstan made it clear in its statement to the Ministerial that it would uphold long-held tenets of the human dimension such as the autonomy of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), as well as participation of NGOs in OSCE meetings. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe – During various CFE side meetings, the U.S. and Russia skirmished over the Russian Federation’s decision to suspend participation in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe on December 12, 2007. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Daniel Fried, led negotiations aimed at addressing Russian concerns and convincing Moscow not to suspend its participation in the Treaty, to no avail. In particular, the Russians had called for abolishment of flank restrictions, arguing that these requirements constrain their effectiveness in addressing terrorism within their territory. The lifting of the flank agreement would allow the Russians to increase their military forces in the Caucasus region of Russia without limits. Russia had also pressed for discarding the requirement in the original CFE agreement which set collective ceilings limiting the equipment/personnel each alliance (NATO/Warsaw PACT) could have in the "Atlantic to the Urals" area and in any given signatory country. Ratification of the Adaptation Agreement would do away with the collective ceilings, recognizing that the Warsaw Pact no longer exists, and permitting Russia to move personnel and equipment more freely in Russia. However, Russia wants assurance that the 20,000 tanks ceiling for the NATO in Europe will remain in place as new members join the alliance. Russia also took issue with the linkage of the allies’ ratification of the Adapted CFE to Russia’s fulfillment of the related Istanbul Commitments to withdraw its armed forces from Georgian and Moldovan territories. Russian Federation negotiator, Anatoly Antonov rejected calls to transfer of the Gadauta military base to Georgian control without agreement from Georgian authorities to permit Russia to maintain a “peacekeeping” force there. He also objected to U.S. demands for inspections at Gadauta and called for the Baltic States to ratify the Adapted CFE. Georgia emphatically objected to any consideration to “legitimize” the presence of Russian forces on Georgian territory. It became apparent that the Russians had presumed that their decision to suspend the CFE would gain them more leverage in negotiations with NATO allies. However, the allies remained united in their opposition to reopening the treaty to negotiations. Many present took Russia’s announcement of suspension of the CFE Treaty on the final day of the Ministerial to indicate that Russia had not been serious about trying to reach an agreement in Madrid. The future of Kosovo and the OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) was another focus, although more in statements by the Ministers than in negotiations. There was an attempt to get a declaration on Kosovo that would have included support for the continuation of OMIK regardless of the outcome of the status of Kosovo, but the proposed text was blocked by Russia and Serbia. Many countries, including the U.S., urged the unconditional continuation of OMIK in their statements to the Ministerial Council. NGOs were able to attend the Ministerial as at similar meetings in the past, although the invitation to do so came at a late date and so reduced the level of participation. Preserving this aspect of the Council meeting was particularly important as Russia, Belarus, and Turkmenistan had been questioning procedures for NGO participation in other OSCE meetings and blocked a draft Ministerial decision on Human Rights Defenders. Nonetheless, some NGOs did face access problems and had trouble getting into the conference center on the first day, although the opening plenary was supposed to be open to them. Helsinki Commission Chairman Congressman Alcee Hastings and Department of State Assistant Secretary for Europe Dan Fried held meetings with some NGOs in order to show their support. Increasing OSCE involvement with partner country Afghanistan was supported by the United States There also was wide support for the decision among countries at the Madrid meeting, though Russia and France were unconvinced that the OSCE should be working outside the territory of participating States. In the end, there was consensus on OSCE activities related to border management, with the caveat that most of the activities would take place in OSCE counties bordering Afghanistan. An effort to adopt a draft convention giving legal personality to the OSCE and providing privileges and immunities for OSCE personnel was, for the moment at least, scuttled by Russia. The idea of providing a legal framework for OSCE activities has kicked around for years, especially after the establishment of OSCE institutions and missions. Over the past year, negotiations had produced an arguably viable draft convention, which a number of participating States hoped would be adopted in Madrid and opened for signature. Although Russia ostensibly supports the draft treaty, it has now conditioned acceptance of the treaty on the simultaneous adoption of an OSCE “charter.” For the United States and some other countries, this linkage was a deal-breaker since drafting a charter opens the door to re-writing the fundamental principles of the OSCE.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 2

    Freedom of media is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and recognized as such under international human rights law and in numerous OSCE commitments.  Moreover, a free and independent media is not only an essential tool for holding governments accountable; the media can serve as an agent of change when it shines a light into the darkest crevices of the world (examining environmental degradation, corporate or government corruption, trafficking in children, and healthcare crises in the world's most vulnerable countries, etc.) Freedom of the media is closely connected to the broader right to freedom of speech and expression and other issues including public access to information and the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.  The hearing will attempt to illustrate the degree in which freedom of the media is obstructed in the greater OSCE region.

  • Ukraine’s Pre-Term Parliamentary Elections and Demonstrable Commitment to Democratic Standards Focus of Commission Initiatives

    By Orest Deychakiwsky and Ronald McNamara The Helsinki Commission undertook several initiatives this fall in connection with Ukraine’s September 30th pre-term parliamentary elections, including deploying staff to observe the elections, sponsoring a Congressional resolution on the elections, and convening a public briefing on their implications. The elections – the fifth national balloting in less than three years -- came on the heels of a political crisis that had engulfed Ukraine’s president, government and parliament for much of 2007. The elections to the 450-seat parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, were judged by the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) to have been conducted “mostly in line with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections and in an open and competitive environment.” The September elections were monitored by some 800 international observers under OSCE auspices, including Helsinki Commission staff members who observed the balloting in western Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk oblast and Kyiv’s Polilskiy District. Swedish parliamentarian Tone Tingsgård, the Special Coordinator of the short-term election observers for the IEOM and Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, stated that these elections were conducted “in a positive and professional manner.” While there were shortcomings, notably with respect to the quality of voter lists and delays in processing vote counts in a few districts, OSCE observers assessed the voting as good or very good in 98 percent of the nearly 3,000 polling stations visited, and the vote count was assessed as good or very good in 94 percent of the IEOM reports. Commission staff observations were consistent with other international observer assessments. The voting process was calm, orderly, and, with very few exceptions, conducted in an efficient, professional and transparent manner. Members of precinct commissions representing various political parties and blocs, as well as the presence of party observers, helped to ensure the integrity of the voting process. The most significant shortcomings witnessed by staff stemmed from inaccuracies in the voters lists which led to inconsistencies regarding the treatment of voters, including the disenfranchisement of some at polling stations visited on election day. The elections – with 60% voter turnout -- saw Prime Minister Viktory Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions come in first with 34.3% of the votes. The most substantial gains over previous elections, however, were garnered by the electoral bloc of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko (YTB), with 30.7%. President Victor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) placed third with 14.15%. Two other parties passed the 3 percent threshold required to enter the new parliament – the Communist Party with 5.4% and Bloc of former Rada Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn with 3.9 percent. The two electoral blocs associated with Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution -- YTB and NUNS -- have created a razor-thin majority coalition in the new Rada and on December 4, elected Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk as the new Chairman with a single vote to spare. On October 5, Helsinki Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings, together with 12 other House Members, including Commissioners Slaughter, Solis, Butterfield, Smith, Aderholt and Pitts, sponsored a resolution congratulating the Ukrainian people for the holding of free, fair, open and transparent parliamentary elections in a peaceful manner consistent with Ukraine’s democratic values and national interest and expressing continuing Congressional interest and support for Ukraine. The resolution, which has garnered bipartisan backing, expresses strong support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to build upon the democratic gains of the Orange Revolution. The resolution recognizes the link between the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law and the strengthening of Ukraine’s independence and integration with the West, and, importantly, serving as a positive role model for all too many post-Soviet countries caught in the vice of authoritarianism. In introducing the resolution, Chairman Hastings expressed the hope “that Ukraine’s political leaders will form a government reflecting the will of the Ukrainian people as expressed by the results of the elections” and “that the new parliament and government will focus on the constitutional framework, especially the question of separation of powers, in order to avoid the political uncertainty that we witnessed earlier this year.” On October 25, the Commission convened a public briefing: “The Ukrainian Elections: Implications for Ukraine’s Future Direction” with Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oleh Shamshur, as well as former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Miller, and Stephen Nix of the International Republican Institute, who had both been present at the elections as international observers. In his assessment of the elections, Ambassador Shamshur noted that “for the second time in a row, Ukraine succeeded in avoiding most of the electoral pitfalls. Aside from minor deficiencies, there was no harassment of political opponents, no media oppression, no so-called creative counting or use of forged absentee ballots…Ukraine has once again confirmed its democratic credentials. That’s the irreversibility of the democratic change spurred by the Orange Revolution.” Ambassador Miller, who observed in Ukraine as a member of the National Democratic Institute’s international observation delegation, called the elections “relatively free and fair.” He expressed the “hopeful possibility” that the two democratic (Orange) coalition partners, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Victor Yushchenko, “will fulfill finally the promises they made with their hands on their hearts” during the 2004 Orange Revolution. Mr. Nix, while noting that IRI’s election observation mission found that the elections “broadly met international standards,” nevertheless urged the Ukrainian parliament and election officials “to address the quality of the voter lists to ensure their accuracy for the next national election.” He also called upon Ukraine’s leadership to take steps “to resolve the constitutional issues that were the very reason these elections were called.”

  • The Future Belarus: Democracy or Dictatorship?

    This briefing, on the prospects for democratic change in Belarus, a country located in the heart of Europe, but which had the unfortunate distinction of having one of the worst human rights and democracy records in the European part of the OSCE region, was held by Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He was join by a delgation of courageous leaders of Belarus' democratic opposition and leading human rights and democracy activists: Aliaksandr Milinkevich, Anatoliy Lebedko, Sergey Kalyakin, Anatoliy Levkovich, and Dmitriy Fedaruk. The witnesses were commended for their courage to testify at the briefing and applauded for their commitment to the struggle for democracy, freedom, and human rights, even under very trying circumstances.

  • Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the CSCE, held a briefing on hate crimes and discrimination in the OSCE region.  Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA).  The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Congressman Hastings emphasized the discrimination against the Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, and south Asian descent when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, and get an education The panel of speakers – Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke of the rising popularity of right-wing extremist party, who espouse vicious anti-Semitic slogans and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity.  In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.  

  • Russia: Advancing in the War against Cancer, Retreating on Democratic Governance

    By Marlene Kaufmann General Counsel The first Russian Forum on Health or Tobacco convened in Moscow May 28-29, 2007, under the auspices of the State Duma and in collaboration with a broad array of international organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Union Against Cancer (UICC). United States support and participation was provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society, the American Russian Cancer Alliance (ARCA) and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, as well as Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland School of Law. Russia has the third highest per capita cigarette consumption in the world and some 375,000 Russians die every year from smoking-related diseases. Low cigarette taxes – which contribute to a selling price of approximately 50 cents per pack in Russia, as opposed to $5.00 in EU countries – combined with weak tobacco control legislation contribute to a growing burden on Russia’s health care system. One of the primary aims of the Forum was to educate the public, particularly young people, about the dangers and long-term effects of the use of tobacco products. The driving force in organizing this first ever forum on tobacco control is Dr. Nikolay F. Gerasimenko, Deputy Chairman of the Health Care Committee of the State Duma, who worked with the leadership of the renown N.N. Blokhin Russian Cancer Research Center and the Russian Research Institute of Pulmonology to bring the conference to fruition. The morning plenary of the Forum was chaired by Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov who expressed his strong support for the work of the Forum and efforts to curb tobacco-related diseases. Speaker Gryzlov was joined by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzkhov, United States Ambassador William Burns and an array of celebrities from the Russian music and film industries as well as national sports figures in an appeal to the public, especially young people, to quit tobacco. House Majority Leader Congressman Steny H. Hoyer also addressed the forum through a pre-recorded video presentation. Congressman Hoyer has supported the work of NCI and the American Russian Cancer Alliance (ARCA) in combating tobacco-related cancers, as well as ARCA’s cutting edge research in curing solid tumors. The Forum was well attended and well covered by Russian national media and its impact was immediate. During the conference the State Duma gave tentative approval to legislation aimed at restricting smoking in public places such as restaurants and waiting lounges in train stations and airports. A Russian Anti-Tobacco League was created to consolidate the efforts of anti-tobacco forces in the Russian Federation, and in July the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Russia will join the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Bending Swords In To Plowshares One of the sponsors of the anti-tobacco forum, the American Russian Cancer Alliance (ARCA), represents a unique partnership between scientists in the Russian Federation and their counterparts in the United States. The primary focus of ARCA activities is the use of isotopes derived from Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles in cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment. The Russian partners in the Alliance include the N.N. Blokhin Russian Cancer Research center in Moscow and the Russian Research Center at the Kurchatov Institute. On the U.S. side, the Alliance partners are the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore. In addition to these partners, ARCA has developed relationships with a number of other hospitals and research institutions in Russia and the U.S. Each member of the Alliance brings unique strengths and talents to what is a true intellectual and scientific partnership. These scientific strengths have been coupled with a strong commitment on the part of the two nations to work together on the peaceful use of nuclear technology. In conjunction with the Moscow Forum on Tobacco or Health, ARCA and NCI representatives met with senior members of the Russian Academy of Sciences to discuss possible joint nanohybrid studies dedicated to scientific projects and clinical trials to develop new methods of diagnosis and treatment for a broad range of cancers. The collaborative research projects that are being conducted as part of the ARCA partnership involving the use of Russian radioisotopes are yielding extremely promising results. Although these isotopes were created for more sinister purposes, they are now being utilized in research aimed at reducing the burden of cancer in both the U.S. and the Russian Federation – demonstrating that those who once were enemies can now work together for the common good. It is the hope of all associated with the ARCA effort that the collaboration can continue and that the Russian isotopes produced for weapons of mass destruction can be converted to instruments of mass benefit. Whither Democracy? Unfortunately, prospects for advancement in other areas of Russian society are not so bright. It is certainly true that, in Moscow at least, business is booming -- attributable in large part to growing energy revenues. New commercial construction and infrastructure projects abound, the retail sector is flourishing, and there is a rising middle class. These apparently liberalizing economic trends are, however, not accompanied by liberalizing democratic trends, in fact, quite the opposite. Many respected civil society and non-governmental organizations whose goal is to promote civic and political engagement and enhance democratic development and the rule of law have been harassed and intimidated by the tax police and other government entities. Some, like Open Russia, have been forced to shut down for alleged violations of finance controls. The three national TV networks are essentially controlled by the Kremlin and much of the print media is controlled by one or another level of government or business interests sympathetic to the government. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that since the year 2000, fourteen journalists have been murdered in the Russian Federation in retaliation for their professional activities, making Russia the third most dangerous country for journalists (after Iraq and Algeria). None of these killings have been solved, although authorities claim progress in some cases. Among the victims was renowned investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, murdered gangland-style in Moscow in November 2006. Commission Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin wrote to President Vladimir Putin in June expressing serious concern about the lack of media freedom in Russia. On August 2, 2007 the Commission convened a hearing on “Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region,” with a particular focus on developments in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkey. The rule of law is under assault in Russia as well. Recently the Prosecutor General in Moscow filed a request with the Moscow Bar Association to disbar Karinna Moskalenko, one of Russia’s most distinguished human rights lawyers. Moskalenko is a member of the International Commission of Jurists and through her Center for International Protection in Moscow has represented, among many others, the family of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, imprisoned Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky and political activist Gary Kasparov. In addition to the courts of the Russian Federation, Ms. Moskalenko pursues the interests of her clients before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, where she has had many successes – apparently sparking the Kremlin’s ire and, according to some observers, generating the pending disbarment procedure. Commission Chairman Hastings and Ranking Member Congressman Christopher H. Smith joined other members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in a May 24, 2007 letter to President Putin urging withdrawal of the disbarment request. Sadly, many observers of civil society and those in the NGO community in Russia see little hope of positive change in this situation in the near term notwithstanding upcoming Russian parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for December 2007 and March 2008 respectively. The good news is, it does not appear that those who support democratic development in Russia are throwing up their arms in defeat. Rather, they remain steadfast and appear to be girding themselves for the long haul.

  • Activists Present Mixed Assessment of Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in OSCE Region

    By Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director Nearly a hundred human rights advocates representing dozens of NGOs and national human rights institutions gathered in Vienna, July 12-13, 2007, for the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights convened by the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Discussions were organized around three main topics: the role of national courts in promoting and protecting human rights; the role of civil society in addressing human rights violations; and, the role of national human rights institutions in promoting and protecting human rights. Rooted in the fundamental right of individuals to know and act upon their rights, much of the discussion focused on the legal framework, access to effective remedies when violations occur, and the role of civil society and non-governmental organizations in fostering the protection and promotion of human rights. A recurring critical question throughout the meeting was whether courts, the judiciary, and national human rights institutions are truly independent. Keynote remarks by Professor Vojin Dimitrijevic, Director of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, revolved around institutional concerns, including the limited development of structures to address human rights violations, significant backlogs in the processing of human rights cases, and inadequate training of jurists and others. He suggested that universities could do much to address the current shortcomings of existing mechanisms. The Director of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Ambassador Christian Strohal, referred to a related resolution adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at its Annual Session held the prior week in Kyiv. A long-time rights advocate, he stressed the importance of prevention of violations, while underscoring the need for effective remedies when rights are violated. Professor Emmanuel Decaux opened the session of national courts by underscoring the fundamental importance of effective remedies and transparency in judicial proceedings. He pointed to the critical need for independent judges as well as protection and preservation of rights amid a heightened focus on counterterrorism. Legal advocates from Georgia and Azerbaijan addressed practical concerns such as transparency in judicial appointments, disciplinary actions against judges, public confidence in the courts, limits on televised coverage of courtroom proceedings, financial independence of the judiciary and combating corruption. Karinna Moskalenko, a leading human rights lawyer from the Russian Federation subjected to intense pressure because of her advocacy, including cases relating to Chechnya, noted the large number of cases from Russia being taken up in Strasbourg at the European Court of Human Rights. Nearly 30,000 complaints from individuals in Russia were submitted to the court between 1998 and 2006. Concern was also raised over the situation in Uzbekistan, where authorities frequently resort to use of Article 165 of the criminal code on extortion to imprison human rights defenders, including 10 members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. An activist from Kazakhstan said that it simply made no sense to speak of judicial independence in his country. Similarly, an NGO representative from Belarus asserted that whatever independence the judiciary had previously has evaporated under the regime. Others from Ukraine and Georgia bemoaned the slow pace of judicial reforms in their countries. Several speakers noted the failure of governments to change their laws or procedures following repeated judgments against them by the European Court of Human Rights. According to one, the budget of the Russian Federation now includes a line item specifically to cover fines stemming from rulings of the court, while the underlying deficiencies go unchanged. Liubov Vinogradova of the Russian Research Center for Human Rights opened the session devoted to human rights defenders, underscoring the difficult and often dangerous environment for activists in the post-Soviet space. She also pointed to attempts by government to manipulate NGOs, create GONGOs (government non-governmental organizations), and erect potemkin umbrella organizations or councils. Vinogradova cited the urgent need for meaningful judicial reform in her country. She decried efforts by some in Moscow to impede access by plaintiffs from Russia to the court in Strasbourg. She read off a lengthy list of areas where Russia’s 2,000 registered human rights NGOs are making a difference. Among the challenges are limited resources, harassment by the authorities and an often hostile media with close ties to the government. Vinogradova was skeptical about the intent of President Putin’s decree offering funds to NGOs in Russia, suggesting that it could represent an attempt at “managed NGOs.” Several subsequent speakers noted the particular difficulty encountered by those active in the defense of political rights, especially the tendency of the authorities to construe such work as party politics. A number referred to various forms of harassment by the authorities. Activists from Belarus talked about the deteriorating situation they face in a country where human rights defenders are viewed with deep suspicion by the authorities and most are forced to work underground due to a refusal by officials to issue formal registration. Some observed that obstructive methods employed in one country of the Commonwealth of Independent States often are adopted elsewhere, in what one speaker termed the “Putinization” of the former Soviet space. The case of Russian advocate Mikhail Trepashkin was cited as an illustration of what can happen when a lawyer gets involved in a case viewed as sensitive to the authorities. Trepashkin was arrested in 2003, days before a trial was to open relating to an apartment bombing in Moscow in 1999 that then became the basis for the Kremlin’s renewed military campaign in Chechnya. The lawyer was initially detained and charged with illegal possession of weapons, then convicted by a closed military court to four years imprisonment for disclosing state secrets. Other speakers urged the participating States to strengthen OSCE commitments on human rights defenders. The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation echoed this call, noting the precarious position of activities in many OSCE countries. The IHF recommended focusing on the safety of human rights defenders in the face of harassment and threats and called for the November Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council to approve related language. Irish Human Rights Commission President Dr. Maurice Manning introduced the final session devoted to national human rights institutions. He provided an overview, stressing the importance of the independence of such bodies and adherence to the “Paris Principles.” Manning urged that these institutions be focused and avoid interference from government and non-governmental organizations alike. He suggested that they could play a number of useful purposes such as reviewing pending laws and regulations, assess compliance with standards in individual cases, and help identify systemic areas of concern. He concluded by suggesting that national institutions were ideally situated to serve as a bridge between civil society and the state. The UN Economic and Social Council, beginning in 1960, encouraged the establishment of institutions as a means of encouraging and assisting states with implementation of international human rights commitments. In 1978, the UN issued a series of guidelines on the function and structure of institutions, falling into two main categories: human rights commissions and ombudsman offices. In the early 1990s work was completed on the Paris Principles, addressing the competence and responsibilities of national institutions as well as composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism, and methods of operation. The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights oversees accreditation of such bodies based on compliance with the Paris Principles. As of March 2007, 17 national institutions in the OSCE region were deemed fully compliant, five were not fully compliant, and two were non-compliant. Accredited institutions are found in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Several representatives of ombudsman offices described their activities, including establishment of national hotlines to receive human rights complaints, as well as working relations with courts and prosecutors. The discussions became more animated with exchanges between NGO participants and regime surrogates, notably regarding human rights in Belarus and Kazakhstan. The International Helsinki Federation expressed concern over a number of troubling trends faced by institutions, particularly targeted harassment stemming from their advocacy as well as legal and fiscal barriers to their work. The IHF representative made several concrete recommendations for OSCE, including strengthening relevant commitments, considering establishment of a special representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office on human rights defenders, and enhancing networks between civil society, national institutions and OSCE. The delegation of the Russian Federation used the closing session of the SHDM to renew its objections to allowing the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society to register for the meeting, notwithstanding the fact that the group did not actually attend. While the SHDM was informative and perhaps useful in terms of networking among those attending, the meeting underscored the clear divide between civil society representatives who advocate for human rights and the governments which perceive such work as a threat and thus try to thwart it. Though several heads of delegation from the Permanent Council made cameo appearances at the opening of the meeting, attendance by government delegates was sparse, particularly from countries which limit NGO activities. On the other hand, the theme of the meeting was particularly relevant in light of moves by several participating States, especially Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and other CIS countries to control civil society. Not surprisingly, these delegations are working actively behind the scenes to limit OSCE focus on human rights, particularly questions relating to freedom of association and assembly, bedrock commitments for civil society. A disturbing trend is the increasing tendency of several of these participating States to assert “interference in internal affairs” -- a standard ploy during Soviet times – when their rights violations are raised. While in Vienna, it became apparent that efforts are underway to limit NGO participation in OSCE meetings and to find an alternative to the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the singularly most important opportunity for civil society to engage the participating States and the OSCE. The failure of the Ljubljana and Brussels OSCE Ministerials to adopt proposed texts acknowledging the contribution of civil society and human rights defenders to the Helsinki process – drawn from existing OSCE commitments – clearly illustrates the backsliding of those States that refused to join consensus. Ironically, some participants in the SHDM proposed strengthening commitments on human rights defenders, when the reality is that a number of countries – Russia, Turkmenistan and Belarus among them – would be hard-pressed to agree today to provisions of the Copenhagen Document dating back to 1990! It is incumbent upon those OSCE countries that value the human dimension to resist the push to water down existing commitments or move the discussion of their implementation behind closed doors.

  • Guantánamo Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    By Erika Schlager On June 21, 2007, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on "Guantánamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership." Chairman Alcee L. Hastings presided over the hearing, joined by Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, and Commissioner Rep. Mike McIntyre. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a former Helsinki Commission Chairman, also participated. Prepared statements were also submitted by Commissioners Senator Christopher J. Dodd and Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis. Testimony was received from John B. Bellinger III, Legal Advisor to the Department of State; Senator Anne-Marie Lizin, President of the Belgian Senate and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) Special Representative on Guantánamo; Tom Malinowski, Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch; and Gabor Rona, International Legal Director, Human Rights First. In addition, written testimony was received from the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. (A transcript of the hearing, along with testimonies submitted for the record, is available on the Helsinki Commission's website. The Department of Defense was invited to send a witness, but declined. Background: Guantanamo Raised at OSCE PA Meetings Although the Helsinki Commission largely focuses its attention on issues relating to the other 55 OSCE participating States, the Commission has periodically examined domestic compliance issues. In recent years, no other issue has been raised as vocally with the United States at OSCE PA meetings as the status and treatment of detainees captured or arrested as part of U.S. counter-terrorism operations. The issue came into particular focus at the OSCE PA’s 2003 Annual Session, held in Rotterdam, where a resolution [link] expressing concern over detainees at Guantánamo was debated and adopted. (The first detainees were transported to the detention facility in January 2002.) The vigorous debate in Rotterdam prompted then-Helsinki Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith and then-Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin to lead a Congressional Delegation to the detention facility in late July 2003. At the 2004 Annual Session, held in Edinburgh, convened shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the Assembly adopted a resolution [link], introduced by then-Chairman Smith, condemning torture and urging respect for provisions of the Geneva Conventions. An amendment to that resolution was also adopted, expressing particular concern regarding indefinite detention without trial at Guantánamo. In February 2005, Senator Anne-Marie Lizin, President of the Belgian Senate, was appointed by then-OSCE PA President Alcee L. Hastings as Special Representative on Guantánamo, with a mandate to report to the Assembly on the situation of detainees from OSCE participating States in the detention facility in Guantánamo. (Sen. Lizin continues to serve in that capacity at the request of the current OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President, Göran Lennmarker.) At the 2005 Annual Session, held in Washington, the Assembly adopted a resolution [link] on “terrorism and human rights,” reiterating concern regarding the Guantánamo detainees. Separately, Senator Lizin issued her first report on Guantánamo during the Washington meeting, calling for the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay to be closed. (Her report also touched on the positions of other OSCE participating States regarding the question of the detention of terror suspects.) During the Washington meeting, Department of Defense and Department of State officials also held a briefing for interested parliamentarians on Guantanamo and related issues. In March 2006, Senator Lizin was able, under U.S. Department of Defense auspices, to make her first visit to the detention facility. She returned to the facility a second time on June 20, 2007, just prior to testifying at the Helsinki Commission's hearing. In addition, Senator Lizin presented additional reports on Guantánamo at the Assembly’s Annual Sessions in Brussels (2006) and in Kyiv (2007). She has continued to call for the closure of the detention facility. Her reports are available on the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly website [link]. Testimony In opening the hearing, Chairman Hastings drew attention to the concerns that have been repeatedly raised about Guantánamo in the context of the Parliamentary Assembly. He also observed that "for all the 56 OSCE participating States, and not just the United States, the issue of how to safeguard human rights while effectively countering terrorism may be one of the most critical issues these countries will face for the foreseeable future." The first witness to speak was Legal Adviser Bellinger. Since taking up that position in 2005, Mr. Bellinger has been actively engaged in discussions with U.S. allies and at international fora (particularly the United Nations in Geneva, where he presented U.S. reports under the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) regarding the status and treatment of detainees held by the United States as part of its counterterrorism operations. This was the first time, however, that he had testified before Congress on these matters. Legal Adviser Bellinger briefly discussed the legal basis, under the law of armed conflict, for detaining combatants, and noted that the 9/11 Commission had recommended that the United States should work with other countries to develop an appropriate framework for the detention and treatment of terror suspects. He also described the considerable efforts he has made to engage allies in discussions on these matters. Bellinger acknowledged that President Bush has said he would like to close Guantánamo, but Bellinger argued that "closing Guantánamo is easier said than done." In particular, he suggested more needs to be done to address the question, where will the detainees go? In her remarks to the Commission, Senator Lizin observed that, since her 2006 visit to Guantánamo, the number of detainees there has significantly decreased. Nevertheless, "Guantánamo remains one of the bases for [an] anti-American fixation in the world and contributes to the [negative] image of the United States abroad, including [among] friendly countries.” She reiterated her recommendation that Guantánamo be closed and noted that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also called for the camp to be closed. Senator Lizin noted that 80 detainees are no longer considered enemy combatants and that OSCE participating States could do more to facilitate the transfer of these individuals to third countries. Both Tom Malinowski and Gabor Rona stressed that many Guantánamo detainees were not captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, but were individuals turned over to the United States by bounty hunters responding to U.S. offers to pay large sums of money for turning in foreigners. Mr. Rona noted that, “[t]his government's own statistics say that 55% of the detainees were not found to have committed hostile acts. Only 8% were characterized as Al Qaida fighters, and 60% are detained merely because of alleged association with terrorists or terrorist groups." Mr. Malinowski discussed the dangerous example that U.S. interrogation and detention practices have set for other countries around the globe. (Similar views were echoed in the written testimony submitted by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.) He also suggested that if the United States made a serious commitment to close Guantánamo, it would open the door for greater cooperation with other countries regarding the transfer of detainees. Moreover, Malinowski observed that, since 9/11, “the Justice Department has successfully prosecuted dozens of international terror suspects in the civilian courts . . . since then, the system at Guantánamo has succeeded in prosecuting one Australian kangaroo trapper to a sentence of nine months, which is serving back home in Australia." In his written and oral testimony, Mr. Rona took exception to the applicable legal framework advocated by the administration: "one need not choose between, on the one hand, affording terrorists the protections of prisoner-of-war status, to which only privileged belligerents are entitled, or, on the other hand, holding them in a law-free black hole. They can be targeted while directly participating in hostilities. And if captured, they can be interrogated, they can be detained, but in accordance with international and domestic law." Members React During the hearing, Chairman Hastings, Co-Chairman Cardin, and Majority Leader Hoyer all argued for closing the detention facility. Chairman Hastings said he could not believe "that the American federal prison system cannot try 380 people." He argued that the United States "should take every prisoner out of Guantánamo, no matter his or her status, and move them to a federal prison in the United States of America [and then] either release persons who are not charged, or charge them, try them and confine them in an appropriate federal prison." Regarding the notion that detainees were sent to Guantánamo because they were enemy combatants, Mr. Cardin remarked that there are “a lot of people who are combatants who are not at Guantánamo Bay," and that people were selected for transfer because of their perceived intelligence value. But in light of the many years that individuals have been held there, some for more than five years now, he argued that "the 380 people that are at Guantánamo Bay have no useful information that warrants a special facility for interrogation, which is what Guantánamo Bay was originally set up as . . . If Guantánamo Bay is needed today, it's needed as a penal facility. And as the Chairman pointed out, we have penal facilities. To keep a penal facility at such expense makes very little sense to the taxpayers of this country." Finally, Majority Leader Hoyer, who had pressed for the convening of such a hearing in recent years, argued for the restoration of habeas corpus rights that had been terminated by be Military Commission Act of 2006. He argued, "when Saddam Hussein was taken out of a hole and captured, we afforded him his legal rights to hear the evidence against him, to contest that evidence and to be represented by counsel. When Slobodan Milosevic was brought to justice after murdering tens of thousands and sanctioning the ethnic cleansing of more than 2 million people, he was afforded his legal rights. And even the Butchers of Berlin who committed genocide, murdering millions of innocents, were afforded their legal rights at Nürnberg. This was not coddling those who committed atrocities. It was recognizing that if civilization is to be what we want to be, it will be because it follows the rule of law and not the rule of the jungle."

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