Civil rights are human rights, and advancing societies that are safe, inclusive, and equitable is central to the work of the Helsinki Commission. As signatories of the Helsinki Final Act, the 57 participating States of the OSCE, including the United States, have committed to the protection and promotion of human rights “for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”
The ability to participate freely in civil and political life without fear of discrimination or repression has been a key focus of the Helsinki Commission. Some of the commission’s first activities addressed persecution in the Soviet Union based on religious affiliation, as well as on a denial of citizenship to Roma following the break-up of Czechoslovakia in the 1990s.
Helsinki Commission initiatives set the stage for the establishment of three OSCE personal representatives focused on tolerance and non-discrimination, as well as the Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Office within the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the appointment of an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance.
Recent concerns around rights of refugees and migrants have led the commission to examine humanitarian responses and integration practices throughout the region, including participation in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Migration. Following the Helsinki Commission’s tradition of protecting and advancing human rights across the region—regardless of where people are from, or how they look, pray, or love—the commission called for the protection of LGBT and other vulnerable populations in Chechnya following an escalation in Russian human rights abuses in 2017.
The Helsinki Commission partners with the U.S. State Department, OSCE, and other stakeholders to empower communities to unite against bias and discrimination to foster truly democratic, inclusive, and free societies. In addition to supporting OSCE action plans to address inequities in employment, political participation, and other sectors for women and minorities, joint initiatives like the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference and Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network advance representative policymaking with the understanding that a nation’s global prosperity and security rest on the full participation and opportunity for all members of society.