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Helsinki Commission Hearing Focuses on Rampant Organized Crime and Corruption in the OSCE Region

WASHINGTON — “Widespread corruption in countries of the OSCE threatens their ability to provide strong independent legal regimes, market-based economies and social well-being for their citizens. Corruption is stymying economic reforms in these countries and impeding efforts to improve the status of disadvantaged groups. In the absence of effective civil rule of law, mafia have flourished through their corrupt connections, gained power over whole sectors of economies, and derailed legislative reform agendas inimical to their interest,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).

“This Commission has pushed for a greater recognition of the threat of organized crime and corruption in the OSCE and supported efforts to develop an OSCE strategy to combat them,” Smith said.

The U.S. Delegation to the Annual Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly last year in St. Petersburg, Russia, co-led by myself and Senator Campbell, called for the convening of an OSCE Ministerial meeting to develop strategies to combat these threats. I particularly appreciate the leadership of the Co-Chairman on this initiative. At the OSCE PA,we also introduced a resolution condemning the cross-border trafficking in women and children which, along with drugs and weapons, is a major industry for organized crime entities. Our Commission worked closely with the State Department to ensure that combating crime and corruption was on the agenda of our Heads of State during the OSCE Istanbul Summit last November.”

Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) said, “Organized crime and corruption directly bear upon U.S. security, economic and political interests at home and abroad.…Twenty-five years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, there is perhaps no single greater threat to the core OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law than organized crime and corruption. The United States and the OSCE have vested interests in effectively combating organized crime and corruption. I intend to continue to play an active role in developing concrete recommendations to advance within the framework of the OSCE.”

Witnesses included Rob Boone, Assistant Secretary for Narcotics and International Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State; James K. Weber, Deputy Assistant Director, Investigative Services Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation; John Tennant, Deputy Assistant Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development; Adrian Karatnycky, President, Freedom House; and, Nancy Lubin, President, JNA Associates, Inc.

“This is a matter in which the initiative of the Commission under your leadership, as well as that of your parliamentary colleagues from other OSCE nations has been of decisive significance,” said Boone.

“Corruption was, as we all know, a staple of the Communist regimes in the former Soviet bloc. So it should not surprise us to learn that ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, corruption is still very much a part of everyday life in this region,” said Tennant. “But let me emphasize that corruption is in no way limited to Europe and Eurasia. This is at root a development issue, borne mostly of inadequate or weak democratic institutions. Therefore, we cannot treat the symptom of corruption without also addressing the illness of, among other things, an overly centralized, bureaucratic, and ineffective system of governance.”

“The fight against corruption is popular in the West and with the publics of the region. As a result, all sorts of regimes—including some of the most corrupt—undertake highly publicized efforts to ‘root out’ corruption and graft. Yet in a context in which the rule of law is absent and the judiciary is under the control of an authoritarian ruler, justice frequently is perverted,” said Karatnycky. “We must be careful not to view the struggle against corruption as somehow divorced from economic and political reform. In particular, we should refrain from collaboration in government anticorruption activities in those post-Soviet regimes in which opposition is suppressed, the media are censored and controlled, and the executive authority is subsequent to the judiciary. In many of these countries, the struggle against corruption is frequently a means of settling score with political opponents. Thus, U.S. cooperation in the anti-corruption efforts of such regimes, effectively corrupts our own standards of respect for the rule of law.”

Lubin pointed out, “The general system of crime and corruption in Central Asia is so complete one can not tell what is official and what is not. There is little appreciation in Washington of the real environment. Thus, there is trouble in implementing well-conceived programs from Washington in the area.”

When asked whether the U.S. should deal with corrupt governments and engage them programmatically, both Lubin and Karatnycky felt the U.S. must deal with these countries at all levels—but does not have to embrace them and give a stamp of approval. “It’s not if, but how we engage them,” said Lubin.

The full text of the testimony is available at www.house.gov/csce.

Background: Organized crime and corruption threaten not only economic development but also the expansion of democracy, the promotion of civil society and security in the OSCE region, particularly in the countries of southeast Europe and Central Asia. Ambassador Robert Barry, Head of the OSCE’s Mission in Bosnia has called political leaders working with organized crime a “significant threat” to the region’s security. Wolfgang Petritsch, the High Representative for Dayton Implementation says that corruption is the “biggest obstacle” to successful implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

In a recent report, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) singled out bribe demands in the former communist bloc as a main cause of economic failures. According to the report, “Companies spend considerable resources in lobbying state officials, paying bribes and adjusting to state interference …A key challenge remains the effective ‘depoliticization’ of firms through further market reforms and measures to constrain state ‘capture’ by private interests.”

This hearing, the second in a series, examined the impact of organized crime and corruption in southeast Europe and Central Asia and both regional and international efforts to address this threat. The United States has a strategic interest in promoting democratic reform and stability in southeast Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The Helsinki Commission has pressed for greater OSCE involvement in efforts to combat corruption. The 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Charter recognized the multidimensional threat posed by corruption. The OSCE Permanent Council is currently examining ways of contributing to efforts to combat corruption and is expected to report to OSCE Foreign Ministers later this year.

In addition, the Eighth Annual Meeting of the OSCE Economic Forum, scheduled for Prague, April 11 -14, 2000 will examine the impact of corruption on institution building and the rule of law in the context of post-conflict rehabilitation. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will focus on “OSCE Challenges in the 21st Century—Good Governance: Regional Cooperation, Strengthening Democratic Institutions, Promoting Transparency, Enforcing the Rule of Law and Combating Corruption” during its annual meeting in Bucharest, July 6-10, 2000.

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