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OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in Oslo

  • Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
    US












Senate

111th Congress, Second Session

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I want to report on the activities of a bicameral, bipartisan congressional delegation I had the privilege to lead last week as chairman of the Helsinki Commission. The purpose of the trip was to represent the United States at the 19th Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, otherwise known as the OSCE PA. The annual session this year was held in Oslo, Norway, and the U.S. delegation participated fully in the assembly’s standing committee, the plenary sessions, the three general committees and numerous side events that included discussion of integration in multiethnic societies and addressing gender imbalances in society. 

Although some last-minute developments at home compelled him to remain behind, our colleague from the other Chamber, Mr. Alcee Hastings of Florida, was present in spirit as the deputy head of the delegation. Mr. Hastings, who co-chairs the Helsinki Commission, was very active in the preparations for the trip, and his legacy of leadership in the OSCE PA–for over a decade–is tangible in the respect and goodwill afforded the United States during the proceedings. 

Our assistant majority leader, Mr. Durbin of Illinois, joined me on the trip, as he did last year. Our colleague from New Mexico who serves as a fellow Helsinki Commissioner, Mr. Udall, also participated. Helsinki Commissioners from the other Chamber who were on the delegation include Mr. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, serving as the ranking member of the delegation, as well as Mrs. Louise McIntosh Slaughter of New York, and Mr. Robert Aderholt of Alabama. Although not a member of the Helsinki Commission, Mr. Lloyd Doggett of Texas has a longstanding interest in OSCE-related issues and also participated on the delegation. 

As many of you know, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of over 300 Parliamentarians from virtually every country in Europe, including the Caucasus, as well as from Central Asia, and the United States, and Canada. The annual sessions are held in late June/early July as the chief venue for debating issues of the day and issuing a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development and the rule of law; economic cooperation and environmental protection; and confidence building and security among the participating states and globally. 

This active congressional participation helps ensure that matters of interest to the United States are raised and discussed. Robust U.S. engagement has been the hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago. 

The theme for this year’s annual session was “Rule of Law: Combating Transnational Crime and Corruption.” In addition to resolutions for each of the three general committees, delegations introduced a total of 35 additional resolutions for consideration, a record number, including 4 by the United States dealing with: 

Nuclear security , which followed up directly on the Nuclear Summit here in Washington in April; 

The protection of investigative journalists, a critical human rights issue as those who seek to expose corruption are targeted for harassment or worse; 

Mediterranean cooperation, building on the OSCE partnerships to engage important countries in North Africa and the Middle East; and 

Combating the demand for human trafficking and electronic forms of exploitation, a longstanding Helsinki Commission issue requiring persistence and targeted action. 

U.S. drafts on these relevant, important topics received widespread support and were adopted with few if any amendments. 

Beyond these resolutions, the United States delegation also undertook initiatives in the form of packages of amendments to other resolutions. These initiatives addressed: 

The needs of the people of Afghanistan in light of the smuggling and other criminal activity which takes place there.

The struggle for recovery stability and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, which is an OSCE state in the midst of crisis.

And 

Manifestations of racism and xenophobia that have become particularly prevalent in contemporary Europe.

A critical U.S. amendment allowed us generally to support a French resolution that usefully addressed issues relating to the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Still other amendments coming from specific members of the U.S. Delegation covered a wide range of political, environmental and social issues relevant to policymakers. My colleagues and I were also active in the successful countering of amendments that would have steered resolutions on the Middle East and on the future of the OSCE multilateral diplomatic process in directions contrary to U.S. policy. 

Beyond the consideration of the resolutions which now comprise the Oslo Declaration, the annual session also handled some important affairs for the OSCE PA itself. These, too, had relevance for U.S. policy interests: 

the American serving as OSCE PA Secretary General, Spencer Oliver, was reappointed to a new 5-year term; a modest–and for the third fiscal year in a row–frozen OSCE PA budget of about $3 1/2 million was approved that requires continued and unparalleled efficiency in organizing additional conferences, election observation missions, and various other activities that keep the Parliamentary Assembly prominently engaged in European and Central Asian affairs; 

in addition to my continued tenure as a vice president in the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr. Aderholt of Alabama was reelected as the vice chair of the general committee dealing with democracy, human rights, and humanitarian questions which ensures strong U.S. representation in OSCE PA decision-making; and a Greek parliamentary leader defeated a prominent Canadian senator in the election of a new OSCE PA president, following a vigorous but friendly campaign that encouraged the assembly to take a fresh look at itself and establish a clearer vision for its future. 

While the congressional delegation’s work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, we tried to use our presence in Europe to advance U.S. interests and express U.S. concerns more broadly. The meeting took place in Norway, a very close friend and strong, long-time ally of the United States of America. In discussions with Norwegian officials, we expressed our sorrow over the recent deaths of Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan. We also shared our concerns about climate change and particularly the impact global warming has on polar regions 

Indeed, on our return we made a well-received stop on the archipelago of Svalbard, well north of the Arctic Circle, to learn more about the impact firsthand, from changing commercial shipping lanes to relocated fisheries to ecological imbalance that make far northern flora and fauna increasingly vulnerable. The delegation also visited the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility that preserves more than 525,000 types of seeds from all over the world as a safeguard for future crop diversity, and took the opportunity to donate additional U.S. seeds to the collection. 

Norway is located close to a newer, but also very strong, ally with close ties to the United States, Estonia. Since last year’s delegation to the OSCE PA Annual Session went to Lithuania and included Latvia as a side trip, I believed it was important to utilize the opportunity of returning to northern Europe to visit this Baltic state as well. 

While some remained in Oslo to represent the United States, others traveled to Tallinn, where we had meetings with the President, Prime Minister, and other senior government officials, visited the NATO Cooperative Cyber-Defense Center of Excellence and were briefed on electronic networking systems that make parliament and government more transparent, efficient and accessible to the citizen. Estonia has come a long way since it reestablished its independence from the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, making the visit quite rewarding for those of us on the Helsinki Commission who tried to keep a spotlight on the Baltic States during the dark days of the Cold War. 

During the course of the meeting, the U.S. delegation also had bilateral meetings with the delegation of the Russian Federation and a visiting delegation from Kyrgyzstan to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest. 

U.S. engagement in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly sends a clear message to those who are our friends and to those who are not that we will defend U.S. interests and advance the causes of peace and prosperity around the world.

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