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Statement on a resolution marking the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act

  • Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin


111th Congress, Second Session

By Mr. CARDIN (for himself, Mr. BROWNBACK, Mr. WHITEHOUSE, and Mrs. SHAHEEN):

S.J. Res. 37. A joint resolution calling upon the President to issue a proclamation recognizing the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am pleased today to introduce, together with fellow Senate Commissioners BROWNBACK, WHITEHOUSE and SHAHEEN, a resolution marking the historic Helsinki Final Act, signed by President Ford and the leaders of thirty-four other nations on August 1, 1975. The Final Act provides a comprehensive framework for advancing security in all its aspects through the military security, economic and human dimensions.

For more than three decades, the Final Act and the process it set in motion, have served as an important vehicles for advancing U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region and beyond. In a very real sense, the Helsinki process was a catalyst that helped usher historic changes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In his Berlin speech as candidate, President Obama emphasized that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom–a struggle in which freedom eventually prevailed in bringing down the walls of a divided city, country and continent. The years following the fall of the Berlin Wall have witnessed stunning successes as well as serious setbacks, notably the genocidal war that raged through the Balkans, including the massacre at Srebrenica.

The principles reflected in the Final Act have withstood the test of time and proven their enduring value as we seek to address lingering and new challenges. A survey of developments in the OSCE, now comprising 56 participating States, is a reminder of the scale of work that remains: from simmering tensions throughout the Caucasus region and so-called frozen conflicts elsewhere to violations of fundamental freedoms. There are a number of troubling trends in the human dimension: from the harassment, persecution and physical attacks on journalists and human rights defenders to the adoption of restrictive laws aimed at reigning in freedom of religion and other fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and assembly. Other longstanding concerns include the plight of national minorities and Roma as well as other manifestations of discrimination and intolerance, particularly anti-Semitism.

The OSCE is uniquely positioned to contribute to efforts to address these and other issues in the military security, economic and human dimensions. Indeed, a large body of common commitments has been agreed to over the years, beginning with the Helsinki Final Act. The challenge remains to translate these words on paper into meaningful action. As parliamentarians, we have a unique role to play in advancing the aims of the Helsinki Final Act and security in all of its aspects, including efforts to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This was evident at the just concluded OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Norway, where many human rights and other concerns were voiced by the U.S. delegation and others. Among several initiatives we undertook at the Oslo meeting was a resolution on investigative journalists I introduced as a follow up to a recent Helsinki Commission hearing on “Threats to Free Media in the OSCE Region.”

As one who has been active in the Helsinki Process for many years and as Commission chairman, I want to underscore the vital role played by NGOs in advancing the aims of the Helsinki Accords. For over three decades the Helsinki Commission has worked closely with NGOs focused on a wide-range of human rights concerns.

In closing, I recall the remarks by Soviet human rights defender Dr. Andrei Sakharov made while he and his wife were living in internal banishment in the early 1980’s as punishment for standing up to the authorities in defense of fundamental freedoms: “The Helsinki Accords, like detente as a whole, have meaning only if they are observed fully and by all parties. No country should evade a discussion on its own domestic problems. ….. Nor should a country ignore violations in other participating states. The whole point of the Helsinki Accords is mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems.” At the Helsinki Commission we take seriously our mandate to uphold the principles enshrined in the Final Act, especially respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Thirty-five years after its signing, the Helsinki Final Act remains an enduring charter for European security in all its aspects.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the joint resolution be printed in the RECORD.

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