WASHINGTON – Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will travel on an official CODEL to St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; and Vienna, Austria from May 23-31, 2008.
While in St. Petersburg, Chairman Hastings will participate in a meeting with officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Inter-parliamentary Assembly. The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss election monitoring and ways to seek engagement from all OSCE participating States. In January, Chairman Hastings led the international election observation mission for the presidential elections in the Republic of Georgia, where he concluded that the Georgian election largely met most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards.
Chairman Hastings noted, “Even for an established democracy such as ours, the test cannot only be a ‘perfect’ election. Clearly, no democratic process is perfect; and, in spite of problems in certain districts or regions, we live in a country where we are able to express ourselves freely. I look forward to discussing the critically important issues surrounding election monitoring and how to strengthen and protect the electoral process.”
In Helsinki, Chairman Hastings will meet with Finnish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office (CiO) Alexander Stubb to brief him on the conclusions of the meeting in St. Petersburg and to discuss other issues of concern. Chairman Hastings will be joined by OSCE PA President Goran Lenmarker of Sweden, Vice President Joao Soares of Portugal, and Secretary General Spencer Oliver.
Lastly, Chairman Hastings will travel to Vienna and attend an OSCE conference entitled, “The Role of National Institutions against Discrimination in Combating Racism and Xenophobia.” The conference will examine ways for national minorities and migrants to overcome the challenges faced at the national and international level. Chairman Hastings will also give a speech at the conference on the role of government institutions and combating racism.
“The U.S. has an important story to tell in terms of how it has worked to overcome the legacies of slavery, segregation, the virtual extermination of Native Americans and other historic injustices. While it is a continuing struggle, we have much to share with other countries who are only now just beginning to address issues of racism, discrimination, diversity, and related issues. Recently, the Commission held a series of hearings on racial minorities in Europe and found many similarities with experiences here. Because I was part of the struggle in the U.S., I understand what others are going through. This is personal as well,” said Hastings.