Washington — Members of the United States Helsinki Commission returned to Capitol Hill after productive participation in the 13th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly which met in Edinburgh, Scotland July 5-9, 2004.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) led the 13-Member United States Delegation which included Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC).
Commissioner Hastings was elected to a one-year term as President of the Parliamentary Assembly, having served for the past three years as one of the PA’s nine Vice Presidents. “I am overwhelmed by the support and confidence entrusted to me by parliamentarians from 55 European, Central Asian and North American countries,” said Commissioner Hastings. “With my election, there is no doubt that the trans-Atlantic relationship will improve during my tenure.”
Commissioner Cardin was re-elected to his post as chairman the Parliamentary Assembly’s General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science Technology and Environment. He was first elected to the position during last year’s session held in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “I am pleased to have been re-elected by my fellow parliamentarians as the Chairman of the Second Committee,” Commissioner Cardin said. “Our committee will continue to urge participating States to ratify and implement anti-corruption conventions. We will also continue to promote the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly those that are managed by women and minorities.”
Chairman Smith, who serves as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Human Trafficking, briefed the Assembly’s leadership on parliamentary developments aimed at combating human trafficking and protecting victims of trafficking. Smith introduced key elements of a related resolution emphasizing the responsibility of participating States to fulfill their many OSCE commitments to combat human trafficking and reiterating the importance of ensuring that strong domestic laws exist to target this scourge through appropriate penalties against traffickers and with vigilance that victims’ rights will be protected. The sponsor of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Smith voiced particular concern over the correlation between international personnel arriving in large numbers in post-conflict regions and the resulting increased demand for commercial sex services that promotes the trafficking of women and girls.
Introducing a resolution he sponsored on torture, Chairman Smith stressed, “The measures we proposed were designed to make it absolutely clear that the United States delegation — and the Parliamentary Assembly — rejects and totally condemns any and all acts of torture, abuse, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners. The revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib have shocked and dismayed the American people and people around the world. The acts committed are deplorable and appalling and violate both U.S. law and international law.” The resolution called upon participating States to abide by the obligation that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture and that an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
Chairman Smith continued to play a leadership role in pressing for an effective response to anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region, working closely with colleagues from France and Germany. He circulated the transcript of the June 16 Commission hearing “Government Actions to Combat Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region” together with a copy of the extremely anti-Semitic TV series, “Al Shattat” (Diaspora), produced especially for Ramadan by the Syrian television station, Al-Manar, with the aid of the Syrian Government.
While in Edinburgh, members of the U.S. Delegation held bilateral talks with parliamentarians from the Republic of Ireland, The Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro, and Germany.
A representative of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert briefed the Assembly’s leadership on preparations for the OSCE PA Annual Session to be held in Washington, D.C., July 1-5, 2005.