MINELRES: Sustaining the fight: Combating Anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance within the OSCE

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Fri Aug 17 12:46:18 2007

Original sender: Helsinki Commission News <news@csce.gov>



Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman 
Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, Co-Chairman

Volume: 40
Number: 7 August 13, 2007


RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING, Follow-up to the 2005 Cordoba Conference on
Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance

DATE AND LOCATION: Bucharest, Romania – June 8-9, 2007 

By Mischa Thompson, PhD, Staff Advisor, Erika Schlager, Counsel for
International Law, and Ron McNamara, International Policy Director 

The OSCE Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual
Respect and Understanding, held in Bucharest, Romania was the much
anticipated follow-up to the 2005 OSCE Cordoba Conference on
Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance. A goal of the Bucharest
Conference was to continue to provide high level political attention to
the efforts of participating States and the OSCE to ensure effective
implementation of existing commitments in the fields of tolerance and
non-discrimination and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or
belief. In addition to Cordoba, prior conferences took place in 2003, in
Vienna, and in 2004, in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. The conference was
preceded by a one-day Civil Society Preparatory Meeting in which the
three Personal Representatives to the Chair-in-Office on tolerance
issues participated and NGOs prepared recommendations to the Conference. 

Official delegations from the OSCE countries took part in the
conference, including participation from the U.S. Congress.
Representative Alcee Hastings, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on
Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), participated as head of the
Official OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation in his role as President
Emeritus of the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). Representative Eric Cantor
served as Chair and Ranking Republican Member of the Commission,
Christopher H. Smith served as Vice-Chair of the U.S. delegation.
(Delegation listed below.) 

The conference was divided into two parts, with the first part focusing
on specific forms of intolerance and discrimination and the second part
devoted to cross-cutting issues. Side events on various topics ranging
from right-wing extremism to forced evictions of Roma were also held
during the conference. 

Romanian President Traian Basescu opened the conference addressing
tolerance concerns in his country. Romania's desire to host this
conference -- assuming a considerable organizational burden and drain on
Foreign Ministry resources -- reflected the government's recognition of
the importance of these issues and a desire to play a leadership role in
addressing them. However, in advance of the meeting, several
developments underscored the extent to which Romanian society still
struggles to combat anti-Semitism and racism. First, in December 2006, a
Romanian court partially rehabilitated the reputation of Romania's World
War II leader, Ion Antonescu, who had been executed after the war for a
variety of crimes including war crimes. Second, right up to the start of
the meeting, government leaders struggled to find a way to withdraw a
national honor (the Star of Romania) that had been awarded to Corneliu
Vadim Tudor, a notorious extremist, by President Ion Iliescu in 2004.
(Although a mechanism was found to withdraw that award prior to the OSCE
conference, after the conference a court suspended the withdrawal of the
award.) Third, during a Romanian Senate confirmation hearing in April
for Romania's Ambassador to Israel, nominee Edward Iosiper was subjected
by some members of the Senate to a degrading inquiry regarding his
Jewish heritage. Finally, only weeks before the conference started,
President Basescu made unguarded comments -- unaware that they were
being recorded -- in which he called a Romanian journalist an
"aggressive stinking Gypsy." 

Like developments in many countries, these events served to underscore
the continuing challenges that OSCE participating States face in
promoting tolerance and combating anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms
of bigotry. 

President Basescu opened the conference linking the importance of
tolerance to democratic development and the need for his country to
improve its efforts to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination,
especially against Roma. His remarks were followed by a speech from a
Romanian civil society group - Executive Director of Romani CRISS, Magda
Matache – underscoring the unique opportunity the OSCE accords NGOs at
some OSCE meetings to have equal footing with governments. Ms. Matache
addressed the need for the Romanian Government to better address the
discrimination directed towards its Romani population (the largest in
Europe) and called upon government officials to set an example, making
reference to the negative comments the President made prior to the

Following the conference opening, Chairman Hastings, representing the
OSCE PA, delivered remarks at the opening plenary session. He
highlighted the OSCE PA’s role in instituting the tolerance agenda
within the OSCE in response to a spike in anti-Semitic acts in Europe in
2002. He also urged the OSCE to sustain its work in combating all forms
of intolerance and addressed the plight of Roma, making special note of
his recent visit to Roma camps in northern Kosovo. Rep. Cantor also
delivered remarks on the need to sustain efforts to combat

As in previous years, a major focus of the conference was on
anti-Semitism with the first plenary session being dedicated to the
issue. Many OSCE participating States reiterated their concerns about
the continued presence of anti-Semitism throughout the OSCE region and
the need to maintain the fight. States detailed the specific legal,
educational, and cultural tools they were employing to counter
anti-Semitism, such as Holocaust education in the schools. 

In the session on discrimination against Muslims, many of the same
measures designed to address anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of
intolerance were being called for to combat intolerance issues in the
Muslim community. In particular, the need for data collection,
education, and increased civil society work were highlighted. 

Religious discrimination issues concentrated mainly in Eastern Europe
included government enforced laws requiring registration of religious
groups, increased taxes, property disputes, and other harassing
behaviors. The rights of ‘non-believers’ were also raised. Race and
xenophobia issues focused on the increase in physical attacks on racial
minorities in both Eastern and Western Europe. Of note, religious issues
raised were often acts of discrimination as opposed to hate crimes, and
perpetrated by state actors through government enforced laws, which
underscored some participants’ calls for religious issues to be viewed
and treated as a fundamental right. 

Chairman Hastings served as introducer for the fourth session on data
collection, law enforcement, and legislative initiatives to combat
intolerance within the OSCE. Hastings detailed his personal experiences
as an African-American during the U.S. civil rights era that spawned
anti-discrimination, hate crimes legislation, and other initiatives.
Citing statistics on U.S. anti-Semitic incidents, he noted the need for
sustained global engagement on anti-Semitism issues, in addition to
continued U.S. support for issues affecting Roma, Muslim communities,
and the work of the three Personal Representatives on tolerance issues. 

Speaking during the closing session, Representative Smith praised the
OSCE’s work on Holocaust education and reiterated the need for a focus
on anti-Semitism. The Conference ended with a declaration drafted by the
Spanish Chair-in-Office noting the continued presence of all forms of
intolerance in the OSCE region and the need to continue efforts to
combat them. 

Generally, the multitude of issues on the agenda of the Bucharest
Conference, coupled with scheduling difficulties, left little time to
focus on solutions or implementation, despite the many efforts Office
for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Parliamentary
Assembly, and participating States had demonstrated in attempting to
identify and address tolerance issues. Thus, the larger question of
whether sustained engagement on tolerance issues within the OSCE would
continue remained unanswered, as the conference did not provide answers
to the following three questions: 

• Whether the current mandates for the three personal representatives
with their three distinct portfolios would be extended by the incoming
2008 Finnish chairmanship? 
• What form future follow-up, including the possible location of future
conferences and other initiatives on tolerance-related matters would
• How to sustain a focus on anti-Semitism, while addressing emerging
concerns around discrimination towards Muslims and other religions, and
increases in racism and xenophobia? 

While it is clear that further consideration must be given as to how
best to continue addressing tolerance issues within the OSCE, it is also
important to note that much has been accomplished since the OSCE began
its intensified efforts in the tolerance arena only five years ago. Some
examples include that ODIHR has: developed guidelines for Holocaust
memorial days and anti-Semitism and diversity education materials;
launched a website dedicated to providing country reports on statistics,
data collection, and anti-discrimination legislation (TANDIS
http://tandis.odihr.pl/); and drafted annual reports on hate crimes in
the OSCE. Within the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, resolutions on
tolerance, such as the one introduced by CSCE Commission Co-Chair
Senator Ben Cardin this year, have been adopted five consecutive years
in a row. Thus, despite the growing pains experienced during the
conference, in part due to scheduling and logistics issues, a cautionary
note must be sounded. Past efforts, including the role of
parliamentarians in supporting these issues, should not go unnoticed and
should be continued. 

However, this does not mean that improvements cannot be made. In
particular, the role of conference organization in terms of scheduling
and location of sessions and side events can play in developing
perceptions around the importance of an issue should not be overlooked.
A greater focus on the planning stages is a necessity for future
tolerance events. Further consideration should be given for ways to
increase collaborations and support for combating all forms of
intolerance by participating States and civil society to prevent
perceptions that some forms of intolerance take precedence over others,
as it takes focus and energies away from the actual goal of combating
intolerance. Delegations should give greater thought to diversity and
how members of their delegation can address the various sessions of
conferences as well as side and other meetings. The U.S., in particular,
has the ability to provide a leadership role in this regard given the
diversity of our population and histories in addressing tolerance
issues. Topics further exploring the benefits of diversity and means to
communicate them to a larger populace must be included. Consideration
for whether religious issues should be separated from racism and
xenophobia issues at future events should be given. Lastly, a greater
focus on implementation is needed to parallel or supplement the
substantial conference activity on tolerance issues. 

U.S. DELEGATION (All delegates named by U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and approved by the White House): 

Head of U.S. Delegation, Congressman Eric Cantor 
U.S. Delegation Vice-Chair, Congressman Christopher H. Smith 
Ambassador Julie Finley, U.S. Mission to the OSCE 
Gregg Rickman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism 
J. Christian Kennedy, U.S. Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues 
Jeremy Katz, Special Assistant to the President for Policy and White
House Liaison to the Jewish Community 
Imam Talal Eid, Islamic Institute of Boston & U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom 
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents of Major
Jewish Organizations 
Dr. Richard Land, President, Southern Baptist Ethics & U.S. Commission
on International Religious Freedom 
Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust
Studies, Emory University 

U.S. ADVISORS TO THE U.S. DELEGATION (All advisors named by U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and approved by the White House): 
Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee 
Stacy Burdett, Anti-Defamation League 
Dan Mariaschin, B'nai Brith 
Mark Weitzman, Simon Wiesenthal Center 
Radu Ionid, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum 
Paul Shapiro, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum 
Lesley Weiss, National Conference on Soviet Jewry 
Catherine Cosman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 
Joseph Grieboski, Institute Of Religion and Public Policy 
Paul LeGendre, Human Rights First 
Angela Wu, Becket Fund 


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