Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
Chairman - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


Let me first welcome all of you and our witnesses, two of whom flew in from Europe for today’s hearing. We are fortunate to have with us three European experts, each of whom has extensive experience working on inter-ethnic and minority issues in various multilateral institutions. The witnesses’ full bios are available outside the hearing room, but briefly, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini led the European Union’s investigation into the causes of the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008 and prepared an excellent report which we have found to be extremely insightful. Ambassador Peter Semneby is presently the EU’s Special Representative on the South Caucasus, and also served as OSCE Head of Mission in Croatia. Ambassador Jessen-Petersen is a distinguished international diplomat with extensive experience in the Balkans.

I do want to note that we did invite the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities [Knut Vollebaek] to participate in this hearing and, while that was not possible, I did have the opportunity to meet with the High Commissioner when he visited Washington in March. Among other issues, we discussed the “Recommendations on National Minorities in Inter-State Relations" prepared under the auspices of the High Commissioner. These 19 guidelines provide greater clarity on how states can pursue their interests with regard to minorities without jeopardizing peace and good neighborly relations. They constitute yet another outstanding contribution of the High Commissioner’s office to the work of the OSCE and should serve as a foundation for the OSCE's efforts in this area.

Ethnic conflict continues to break out within the OSCE region, at great cost to the affected countries and populations. In this connection, we are closely watching developments in Kyrgyzstan, where amidst the turmoil and ouster of the government in the last few weeks, land grabs and violent attacks were directed against Russians, Kazakhs, and other minorities.

Ethnic conflicts which have melded with territorial disputes have erupted in the Caucasus as well, causing many thousands of casualties. The loss of lives cannot be measured, and hundreds of thousands of civilians remain displaced and unable to return to their homes. As a result, security within the region is seriously undermined, while economic development is stymied by the insecurity and unsettled legal issues, particularly where the conflicts are inter-state in character.

The Crimea region of Ukraine still bears the wounds of the 1944 mass deportation of thousands of Crimean Tatars and other ethnic minorities in Ukraine by Joseph Stalin. The Government of Ukraine and the affected populations in Crimea continue to be challenged with finding mutually acceptable settlements on property rights, as well as the exercise of educational and language rights of Ukrainians, Russians, Tatars, and other minorities in the region.

This July, we will commemorate the genocide which occurred at Srebrenica in Bosnia 15 years ago, the senseless slaughter of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys trapped by Serb militants in what was a UN-declared safe haven. That horrific event should be kept in mind as we proceed today with this hearing.

Srebrenica demonstrates, in our own time, the degree to which even relatively small ethnic differences can generate fears and prejudices that, in turn, can lead dangerously to hatred, violence and aggression quite literally against an innocent neighbor. Perhaps the most important lesson of Srebrenica, however, is that it made evident the folly of blaming ethnic differences themselves for the crime. There was absolutely nothing inevitable about Srebrenica and the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Bosnia. It was orchestrated by individuals, not history, and was therefore preventable -- had there been the political will to act. While we insist, and I do, on bringing those responsible like Ratko Mladic to justice, we must also acknowledge our own burden of having failed to intervene to stop him and his murderous minions. If we do not learn from this mistake, human rights violations, ethnic conflicts and possibly even acts of genocide will continue to occur. These are only some of the very good reasons for having this hearing today.