Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

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


Hearing: Switzerland’s Leadership of the OSCE

25 February 2014

Dirksen, Room 562


Opening Statement

By Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

I am honored to welcome His Excellency Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation, Foreign Minister and Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE here today to share his priorities for the Organization in 2014. The Helsinki Commission has a long history of engaging with the OSCE, independently and in cooperation with the State Department, and we look forward to continuing this involvement during the Swiss Chairmanship.

Stewardship of the OSCE is a formidable task. In its almost forty years of existence, the OSCE region has faced major historic changes, crises, and conflicts – including the fall of communism, the war in the former Yugoslavia, and 9-11. The OSCE has worked to assist countries in transition to strengthen democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. It has worked to resolve conflicts. And it has worked to address new threats such as terrorism. The OSCE also has faced its own internal challenges, which is not surprising in an organization of 57 countries that works on the basis of consensus.

            And new challenges continue to emerge. I am extremely concerned about the political crisis in Ukraine which has escalated into serious violence. I appreciate the efforts you have already made to address what may be one of the most pressing issues of your Chairmanship.  I urge you to use every possible avenue for the OSCE to facilitate a resolution of this crisis and to address the underlying concerns about the rule of law, good governance, and fundamental freedoms that are so clearly at issue.

            This year’s withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan may provide the OSCE an opportunity to step up engagement regarding Afghanistan as well as its Central Asian neighbors. The protracted conflicts in the OSCE region have shown little change in their status quo despite the considerable efforts of previous Chairmanships-in-Office. While there has been notable progress in the areas, some Western Balkan countries continue to be starkly and dangerously divided along ethnic lines.  And while not on the scale of Ukraine, public protests in recent weeks, particularly in Bosnia, underscore the continuing importance of OSCE involvement there.

It is clear that the importance of both the OSCE’s comprehensive concept of security and human rights – freely adopted by all the OSCE participating States – has not diminished. Your focus on strengthening implementation of OSCE human rights commitments as well as fostering the involvement of civil society in the OSCE is especially critical in light of escalating threats to the Helsinki Final Act’s core commitments made in Principal VII – the right of people to know and act upon their rights.

The Commission also has focused a lot of energy on getting the OSCE participating States engaged on good governance issues, including the adoption of a strong statement at the Dublin Ministerial. The key to furthering that success is implementation, and we are glad to see that your Chairmanship is integrating discussion of good governance best practices into the theme for this year’s Economic and Environmental Forum. 

Unfortunately, in some OSCE states, troubling policies and restrictive laws have been adopted in an effort to silence those who promote good governance, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.  Those countries are moving in the wrong direction. Not surprisingly, those same countries also have tried to hinder OSCE’s work in the human dimension, in an apparent attempt to deflect criticism of their poor records. I urge you to ensure that OSCE’s values and principles are not watered down, and that OSCE participating States are held accountable when they violate their commitments.

As you know, the Helsinki Commission has been instrumental in supporting the OSCE’s efforts to combat all forms of intolerance and discrimination, including through the ODIHR and the three Personal Representatives of successive Chairmanships.  I was very pleased that the Helsinki Commission was able to hold a briefing in November with members of the first OSCE/ODIHR study tour to the United States for People of African Descent, and encouraged that the Kyiv Ministerial Decisions adopted last December addressed the issue of political participation of and representation by Roma. 

And while this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism, recent developments illustrate how much more needs to be done to combat anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-immigrant prejudice.  I am concerned not only by the electoral success of extremist parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece, but disturbing rhetoric among even mainstream political leaders, such the Slovak Prime Minister’s recent comments about Roma.

Finally, as a former Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I urge you take full advantage of its expertise. I believe that both parliamentarians and diplomats are essential to the OSCE’s success. I hope you agree, Mr. President, and will strive to maximize the impact of both.