Minister Rupel, welcome to the Commission and to the United States Senate. I recently took over as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, so I look forward to hearing your comments in your capacity as Chairman of the OSCE.
I would also like to welcome my colleagues, especially those from the House. Co-Chairman Smith and his House colleagues have done tremendous work over the years, and I commend the members as well as the staff. We all share the common objectives of the Helsinki Accords in our pursuit of promoting democracy, advancing respect for human rights, and fostering economic prosperity.
I have a longer statement for the record, but let me make a few brief remarks. We live in some truly remarkable times. I didn’t think it would be possible to do one better than the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in recent years and months we’ve seen the winds of change from Baghdad to Beirut.
Many of these remarkable events are the result of the enduring legacy of the principles embodied in the Helsinki Final Act signed nearly thirty years ago in the middle of the Cold War. In Ukraine and Georgia, they are also the direct result of the work by the OSCE field missions on the ground and hundreds of other NGOs and thousands of ordinary citizens. Our work, however, is far from finished. Countries like Belarus are more repressive than ever before. Trends in the countries of Central Asia are also disappointing when you consider that four of the presidents from the region personally signed on to the promises of the Final Act when their countries joined the OSCE in 1992.
The Russian Federation has yet to fully honor the commitments it made at the 1999 OSCE summit to withdraw its military forces from Moldova and Georgia. Moscow has repeatedly failed to play a constructive role, most recently by blocking continuation of the OSCE Border Monitoring Mission along the Georgian border with the Chechen region of Russia. I am also concerned by Russia’s attempts to strong-arm the OSCE organization to water down its commitments on democracy and to back off its election monitoring activities.
As Moscow is writing off billions of dollars of past debt from Syria – a state-sponsor of terrorism – it’s fighting to avoid contributing its own assessment of support for OSCE operations. While I would like to see us work towards breaking the impasse, the OSCE should not accept Russia’s proposal to slash or to avoid its contribution. We have proposals before the Russians and we should wait to hear rather than accept their demands under pressure. Meanwhile, there is a full agenda of issues that deserve our attention, from human trafficking, to anti-Semitism, to corruption, and religious and ethnic discrimination in the OSCE countries.
In addition to these important issues, it is time that the organization starts to deal with emerging threats from both within and outside the OSCE region.
Finally, we cannot afford to ignore threats to the OSCE region – which stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok – that are posed by rogue regimes such as North Korea, Iran, and Syria. I am particularly concerned over links between some OSCE participating States and these state-sponsors of terrorism.
Mr. Minister, the important work that the OSCE states and the organization need to accomplish is too important to be held hostage by a few members and divisive issues such as OSCE monitoring of elections or other mature democracies. The resources of the OSCE is already limited and stretched beyond its capacity.
If the current impasse in Vienna cannot be resolved behind closed doors, then the matter will have to be dealt with directly and openly and at the highest political level.
Ultimately, the strength of the OSCE is found in the promises our countries have made to each other. If we focus our energies on keeping those promises, then all our countries and their own people will benefit.