Op-ed by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

President of the Swiss Confederation and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Didier Burkhalter and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, in conversation before the hearing. © Keystone

President of the Swiss Confederation and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Didier Burkhalter and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, in conversation before the hearing. © Keystone

As Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a unique governmental body established by Congress in 1976, I work with other Members of the U.S. Congress to ensure that human rights concerns are taken into account in our foreign policy, to engage the Department of State regarding the OSCE, and to bolster the role of Congress in U.S. foreign policy. Although our work extends to all areas of the OSCE´s focus, our legislative mandate includes a specific focus on human rights, reflecting the interests of the American public. In recent years, the OSCE has taken responsibility for not only responding to situations in particular countries, but developing international responses to concerns common to many if not all participating States. Among these are manifestations of anti-Semitism and other forms of social or religious intolerance; the pernicious bigotry and attendant problems faced by Roma; organized crime and official corruption; trafficking in persons; energy security; terrorism; and the proliferation of weapons ranging from small arms to those capable of mass destruction. In its response, the OSCE sometimes plays a prominent if not leading role, while other times it plays a complementary and supportive role as a regional contributor to a global effort.

As a neutral country with a strong commitment to democracy, Switzerland has long played a special role in the Helsinki process from which the OSCE emerged, helping to broker some of its most important agreements. I welcome Switzerland´s stewardship of the Organization today, particularly as we are confronted with an urgent situation in Ukraine. At issue are the core principles of the OSCE: respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act next year, we would do well to remember the observations of former American President Gerald Ford that this agreement derives its value not from the promises we make, but the promises we keep. Accordingly, implementation of the commitments freely adopted by the OSCE´s 57 participating States should be our highest priority.

The U.S. Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. government agency created in 1976 to monitor and encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and OSCE commitments.

The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine members from the U.S. House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.



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