Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

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


Mr. Chairman, roughly one year ago we held a similar hearing on U.S. policy and the OSCE, and while we knew then that our world had changed, we had not yet come to terms with the scope of that change. When I first became involved in these issues as a member of the Commission in the early 1980s, the focus was on the repression of certain entire societies and the imprisonment of innocent men and women in the former Soviet Union and East Europe because of their beliefs or their writings. Today, we are all focused on fighting global terrorism. U.S. policy in general has had to be reexamined in light of this changed world, including how we use the OSCE.

Without a doubt the events of this past year have only underscored the importance of protecting human rights, and developing democratic institutions and the rule of law. This is the only way to ensure security and stability in the world. The events of the past year have shown that no country is isolated from the violence that is fed by intolerance and repression. Repressive regimes only feed the unrest, alienation, and frustration that are often used by terrorists to garner support for their depraved aims. Freedom of expression and independent media are crucial to preventing the rise of extremism.

Since September 11, 2001 we have made significant progress in fighting terrorism, particularly in Afghanistan. But clearly much work remains to be done. Terrorists and extremist groups are still active, even if they are on the run. As they are being driven from Afghanistan, they will inevitably seek other places to try to garner safe haven and support. Countries neighboring Afghanistan – such as those in Central Asia – are understandably concerned. However, several of them wrongly believe that cracking down on what they view as " religious extremists" is the way to prevent terrorist organizations from taking hold in their countries. It is just the opposite. Preventing citizens from expressing their religious views, their political views, or their ethnicity only disillusions them and turns them against the government. In such cases, extremist – or even terrorist – organizations may seem to think that terrorist actions are the only way to express their anti-government sentiments.

Officials in this region also often resort to widespread arrests and even to torture to extract so-called confessions from those accused of belonging to alleged terrorist organizations. Again, this only creates a climate of disaffection and hatred which real terrorists can exploit to garner support. Post September 11, the United States is providing a large amount of bilateral assistance to Central Asian States. Much of this is technical equipment aimed at combating drug trafficking and other manifestations of organized crime that fund terrorist organizations. But we should examine how the OSCE could be used more fully to develop NGOs and civil society, democratic institutions, rule of law, and respect for human rights in Central Asia. These issues are even more critical to ensuring that these countries are stable, secure, and continue to be partners in the global fight against terrorism.

Terrorists and organized crime rings increasingly also traffic human beings as a source for their income. This modern-day form of slavery is one of the most egregious violations of human rights in the world today. Virtually all OSCE States are either source, transit, or destination countries. The OSCE is working to address these issues; I look forward to discussing how we can develop it even further the tools to fight this vicious crime.

Mr. Chairman, in this new changed world in which we find ourselves, I believe it is imperative that human rights remain prominent on the OSCE agenda. The United States must demonstrate in word and deed that this country has not abandoned human rights for the sake of the global fight against terrorism. We need to reassure the world that it is just the opposite: human rights are more important than ever. I believe the OSCE can serve as an important tool in reinforcing this message with longstanding, as well as new-found allies.