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Helsinki Commissioners Welcome Opening of OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

WASHINGTON – Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission today welcomed the opening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) 14th Annual Parliamentary Assembly, a gathering of parliamentarians from the 55 participating States in the Helsinki Process.

“It is important that as the 30th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act is approaching, the Parliamentary Assembly is meeting here in Washington.  The Assembly will be tackling some of the most important challenges facing the world community, such as the political crisis in Uzbekistan, human trafficking and the spread of human rights.  I am confident that the results will be tangible and significant,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is heading the U.S. delegation.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

“These Assembly meetings always provide an excellent opportunity to spur the political will among legislators to address some of the toughest global human rights issues,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), “We have built strategic relationships and strengthened cooperation in the fight against anti-Semitism, corruption and trafficking.” Smith will address the Plenary Session in his capacity as the Assembly’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, which established the principle that human rights are a global foreign policy concern.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) grew out of the Helsinki Process and is charged with monitoring and assisting those states that signed the Helsinki Final Act with fulfilling their obligations.  The 317-member Assembly is the parliamentary dimension of the OSCE, whose primary task is “to facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue, an important aspect of the overall effort to meet the challenges of democracy throughout the OSCE area.”

“This should be an extremely important session of the PA,” added Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD).  “Several participating states in the Caucasus and Central Asia will be having elections, the democratization process continues in Eastern Europe, and the preservation of basic human rights remains a global challenge.  We have a lot to do and this is an ideal forum for getting it done.”

Cardin, who chairs the PA Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, stated that his committee will continue its work on enhancing the rule of law, promoting small business development, particularly for women and minorities, and supporting sustainable development throughout the OSCE region.  “Combating corruption and organized crime and the money laundering and terrorist financing it breeds will be a major focus of our work,” he said.

“As the first American ever to serve as President of the Parliamentary Assembly, I am pleased that this will be the first time that the United States has hosted the PA.” added U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).  “I think that the American venue will give the process a unique focus and direction.”

The OSCE Parliamentary Forum will be meeting in Washington, DC from July 1-5.  In addition to the parliamentary sessions, participants have been invited to attend a special briefing by senior U.S. officials on the detainees held at Guantanamo.  Bilateral discussions will be held between different national delegations.  On a lighter note, participants have been invited to view Washington’s traditional Independence Day fireworks display from the balcony of the U.S. Capitol.

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