In 2020, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will face the unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic, as many participating states struggle – or fail – to meet their human rights, democracy and rule of law commitments. In this context, the Helsinki Commission held its traditional hearing under the OSCE`s annual rotating presidency to discuss priorities and exchange opinions on current issues. Emanuel Cleaver, Commissioner of Helsinki, II (MO-05), chaired the hearing. Senator Ben Cardin (MD) first took the floor to realize that this has been an extremely difficult year, given that the OSCE, under the leadership of Albania, is working to resolve the appointment of senior leaders to OSCE posts, to respond to brutal human rights violations in Belarus, to address the gross violations of the Helsinki Principles by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and other neighbours, and to combat the threat of right-wing extremists and hate groups. Sen. Cardin encouraged Prime Minister Rama to remind the diplomatic representatives of the OSCE participating countries that they must all work to preserve and strengthen the values, institutions and mechanisms that the OSCE offers. He assured Prime Minister Rama that the Helsinki Commission would work with the executive to ensure the critical support, commitment and management of the OSCE by the United States. The co-chair of the Helsinki Commission, Senator Roger Wicker (SS), congratulated Prime Minister Rama for his swift response to the continuing situation in Belarus and for his opposition to attempts to weaken the OSCE response by making false statements about moral equivalence between participating states. He also stressed the importance of cooperation with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, believing that the involvement of friends and even potential opponents through parliamentary diplomacy contributes to the achievement of the objectives of the final act in Helsinki. Prime Minister Rama stressed that, despite the challenges posed in 2020, the OSCE can be proud of the way it has handled the restrictions and many complications of COVID-19.
It kept the debate alive – both in the Standing Council and on conferences and webinars – as field operations continued to fulfil their important mandates. He acknowledged that there were weaknesses within the OSCE in that participating states were unable to reach consensus on the recognition of the four leadership positions: the Secretary-General, the Director of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (BDH), the High Commissioner for National Minorities and the Representative for Media Freedom.