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Calling Upon the President to Issue a Proclamation Recognizing the 30th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act

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Location: Washington, DC


CALLING UPON THE PRESIDENT TO ISSUE A PROCLAMATION RECOGNIZING THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HELSINKI FINAL ACT -- (House of Representatives - September 06, 2005)

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the Senate joint resolution (S.J. Res. 19) calling upon the President to issue a proclamation recognizing the 30th anniversary of the Hel sinki Final Act, as amended.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in very strong support of Senate Joint Resolution 19, as amended, calling on the President to issue a proclamation in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act.

The resolution urges the 55 states of North America, Europe and Eurasia which comprise the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europ e to abide by their obligations under the Helsinki Final Act. The Congress further calls on the President to reiterate the United States' agreement that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles and economic liberty are vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy, peace and unity in this region of the world.

For all of the history that we make here, Mr. Speaker, it is not too often that we in this body have the opportunity to celebrate and honor an event that has so conspicuously marked such a turning point in human affairs. Too often the history of international relations is one of false starts and missed opportunities. The victories, when they do happen, are more often ones of prevention, disasters averted or crises ended. Or if not that, then the results are realized too far into the future to be judged with any clarity. This is not the case with the Helsinki Final Act signed on August 1, 1975.

With that historic event, what we saw was a recognition not just by the United States or even the West, but even in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, that human rights are the pivot, the linchpin of true security and peace in the world. What the Helsinki Final Act asserted and what subsequent history has taught beyond any reasonable doubt is this: The way governments treat their people is the concern not just of those governments but of all the nations and peoples of the world. In essence, security and human dignity and human rights are one and indivisible.

I ndeed, it is in the fall of the Communist regimes in Europe that we have seen the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, and the process that the act inaugurated, unleashed forces of good and of hope. The document spoke truth to power and empowered millions to rise up and demand democracy and fundamental freedoms, especially religious freedom. Many became Helsinki monitors in dictatorships, in places like Czechoslovakia where members of Charter 77 risked their lives and often went to prison in demanding that their dictatorship allow them fundamental freedoms.

We saw it in places like Perm 35, a horrible gulag that the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf) and I visited back in the 1980s, where men were actively clamoring for their rights. For instance Mikhail Kazachkov, a physcist by training imprisoned for his dissident activites, took the Helsinki Final Act and, even at risk of cruel retribution, would speak up and demand his freedoms and those of his fellow inmates.

Recently, the United States He lsinki Commission of which I am the Co-chair hosted an event commemorating the 30th anniversary. We had Dr. Henry Kissinger as our principal speaker. Dr. Kissinger, as many will know and recall, was Secretary of State in that period, and he pointed out how rough the world was at the time, how close we were to superpower conflict between ourselves and the Soviet Union. The arsenals were brimming over with nuclear weapons that unfortunately seemed to be at the ready.

Dr. Kissinger pointed out that the Hel sinki Final Act was not popular at the time. Many thought it was a concession to the Soviet Union, that somehow they would make propaganda, and they would reap tremendous benefits from it. People had serious misgivings about what the Helsinki Final Act would actually do. The United States signed onto the Final Act and, of the three baskets, we emphasized the human rights dimension and promoted it and promoted it and promoted it, much to the chagrin of leaders in the Kremlin, as well as those who were part o f the Warsaw Pact.

In reality, Dr. Kissinger noted the Helsinki process served as a catalyst to ``promote change in the political situation and also to change the human rights situation.'' He said, ``I can think of nothing that the Soviet Union got out of this, except that their position in Eastern Europe and their position along the dividing line in Germany was undermined.''

Whenever we met with Soviet authorities or Polish leaders or any leaders of those occupied countries, we always had lists of political prisoners and of religious prisoners. We always based our inquiries on the fact that all of these nations were voluntary signatories to the Helsinki Final Act. This was a matter of international concern. These were not simply American values, these were universally recognized and agreed to values.

Mr. Speaker, let me also say that the Helsinki process continues. We need to continue fighting. We are now fighting to try to stem the rise of anti-Semitism, that ugly specter of hate toward Jews thr oughout the countries that make up the OSCE, including the United States. We are working to combat racism and xenophobic behavior. We are now working very hard, and have been since the 1990s, to combat this hideous form of slavery known as human trafficking, especially for prostitution where women are turned into chattel and into commodities and their lives destroyed.

We are also working on a number of other human rights issues within the Helsinki process, trying to get the Central Asian countries to re alize that they have commitments that need to be abided by. Mr. Speaker, this is not a document that we only look back on. This is a living document that we work to implement as we go forward.

Mr. Speaker, one of the hallmarks of the Helsinki Final Act is our ability to use it to promote democracy and elections. No organization does a better job than the OSCE monitors when it comes to elections. When the commitments have been implemented, political parties have had the opportunity for free and fair elec tions. When emphasis is given to the conduct of free elections, we have witnessed some amazing changes, including Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Georgia's Rose Revolution and Serbia's Democratic Revolution. These events in the last 5 years alone testify to the power of the principles inscribed in the Helsinki Final Act and the other OSCE documents that followed on.

Some participating States, however, most notably Belarus, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, seem determined to not live up to their commitments. These remain some of the areas of concern that our Helsinki Commission works on on a daily basis.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, having served as a member of the Helsinki Commission since my second term in 1983, I believe the U.S. must hold vigorously to the values that have inspired fundamental and democratic change in much of the OSCE region. As I said a moment ago, our work is not done. Much needs to be done going forward. I know we will do it. We will use this now famous document, the Helsinki Final Act, as our inspiration going forward.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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