Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: The Honorable Christopher H. Smith
Co-Chairman - The Helsinki Commission


Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening this hearing on Romania's leadership as Chair of the OSCE. I join you in welcoming my friend, Foreign Minister Geoana, and look forward to his testimony.

The Commission has frequently held hearings to examine various aspects of the OSCE - in the past two months alone, we have held hearings which have examined police training issues in the OSCE region, U.S. policy towards the OSCE, and the efforts of the OSCE in resolving the situation in Moldova. We have been fortunate, at many of these events, to hear directly from OSCE officials, including Mission Heads and the Representative of Freedom of the Media. I look forward to the insights that Foreign Minister Geoana, serving in the OSCE's most senior political position, can bring to us today.

Minister Geoana, as you know, I, along with several other Commissioners, had a number of concerns about Romania's readiness to serve as the OSCE Chair-in-Office and, indeed, we wrote to Secretary of State Albright to express those concerns in 1999. I have to say that I have been deeply impressed with your leadership, engagement, and commitment. Thanks to your skills, Romania has received high marks for its stewardship of the OSCE community. I particularly appreciate your initiative in spearheading OSCE meetings on trafficking and on Roma.

In fact, being the top man or woman in the OSCE seems to bring greater and greater demands each year, with the plethora of conflicts and crises that continually erupt in the OSCE region. Unfortunately, the events of September 11 have added to the challenges the OSCE community faces.

While I commend you for your own role in serving the OSCE community, I must express some disappointment about the situation in Romania. When we wrote to Secretary Albright in 1999, we did so in great measure because of human rights issues in your own country. The country that serves as OSCE Chair should, in my view, lead by example. Unfortunately, many of the problems we described in 1999 persist. Statues celebrating an executed war criminal stand on at least four pieces of public property, there has been no move at all to repeal Romania's criminal defamation law, and much needs to be done to improve respect for the basic human rights of Roma.

I am particularly concerned about the recent proposal by the Mayor of Piatr Neamt - a town which hosts an Antonescu statue, by the way - to create a walled, guarded ghetto for Roma. I welcome Prime Minister Nastase condemnation of this outrageous plan, but the very fact that an elected official could offer such an idea to the public says a great deal about the climate of intolerance that Roma continue to face in Romania. I am encouraged by the fact that the OSCE's Senior Advisor on Roma Issues, Nicolae Gheorghe, and Romani CRISS, one of the leading NGOs in Romania, is working to address these issues and I hope your government will support them in their efforts. There is still time for the Romanian Chairmanship to lead by example.

Again, I appreciate the Foreign Minister's desire to testify before this Commission and offer his insights as Chairman-in-Office and vision for the OSCE and its role in the region.