WASHINGTON – Leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today called for countries with simmering inter-ethnic tensions to more closely adhere to principles of the Helsinki process to prevent regional conflicts and outright wars.
At a Commission hearing “Mitigating Inter-Ethnic Conflict in the OSCE Region,” Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) said, “A greater commitment to OSCE principles and greater political will from all stakeholders would bring about more acceptable resolutions to each conflict situation.” (See photos here.)
Chairman Cardin said that, with proper democratic processes in place and respected, he saw no inherent contradiction between Principle IV and Principle VIII of the Helsinki Final Act which provide for, respectively, respect for territorial integrity and the right to self-determination.
Featuring witnesses who have worked on these issues for the OSCE, the United Nations, and the European Union, the hearing underscored the importance of multilateral cooperation in mitigating interethnic conflict.
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who prepared the European Commission-sponsored report on the Russia-Georgia war, testified on the negative role mass conferral of Russian citizenship had on developments in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia. After the hearing, Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) expressed concern with statements by some Hungarian leaders to extend Hungarian citizenship to large numbers of non-Hungarian nationals.
“Some other OSCE participating States have gone down this path – sometimes leading to or at least contributing to violent outcomes,” Co-Chairman Hastings said.
This July will mark the 15th anniversary of the genocide which occurred at Srebrenica in Bosnia, where Serb militants trapped and slaughtered 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in what had been a UN-declared safe haven.
“While we insist on bringing those responsible like Ratko Mladic to justice, we must also acknowledge our own burden of having failed to intervene to stop him and his murderous minions,” Cardin said. “If we do not learn from this mistake, human rights violations, ethnic conflicts and possibly even acts of genocide will continue to occur.”
Witnesses included Tagliavini, Ambassador and Under Secretary of State of Switzerland; Peter Semneby, European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus; and Soren Jessen-Peterson, former United Nations Head of Mission in Kosovo and former EU Special Representative in Macedonia.
The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek was unable to participate in this hearing, but met with Chairman Cardin in March and discussed the “Bolzano/Bolzen Recommendations on National Minorities in Inter-State Relations.” The 19 guidelines provide greater clarity on how states can pursue their interests with regard to minorities without jeopardizing peace and good neighborly relations. Chairman Cardin urged that the guidelines be used as a foundation for the OSCE’s efforts in this area.