Iran Human RightsHelsinki Commission To Focus on Iran

Helsinki Commission To Focus on Iran

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New York Sun: The new chairman of the Helsinki Commission says he plans to use the Cold War institution to highlight Iranian human rights issues with Europe.
The plan by Senator Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, is in keeping with the president’s commitment to spread freedom throughout the world, a theme that is likely to be reiterated in his State of the Union speech tomorrow.
New York Sun

BY ELI LAKE – Staff Reporter of the Sun

WASHINGTON – The new chairman of the Helsinki Commission says he plans to use the Cold War institution to highlight Iranian human rights issues with Europe.

The plan by Senator Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, is in keeping with the president’s commitment to spread freedom throughout the world, a theme that is likely to be reiterated in his State of the Union speech tomorrow.

In an interview last week, Senator Brownback said he planned to publicize the plight of Iranian dissidents in hearings before the Helsinki Commission, the American body created in 1976 to engage the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe on their treatment of political prisoners and human rights. American envoys would often read the names of political prisoners aloud at commission-related meetings, at first to embarrass their Soviet counterparts. Later this technique proved effective, when in the twilight of the Cold War many political prisoners were released.

“We are going to bring up human rights issues and what is taking place in Iran aggressively,” he said. Mr. Brownback was one of the few advocates for Iranian democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a panel he left this year. In the past he has sponsored legislation that commits American funding to help opposition on the ground in Iran. He said he is looking into having an American-sponsored conference for the Iranian opposition, which recently has rallied around a proposal to push the mullahs to allow for a constitutional referendum.

“We will not avoid other issues. Russia is pushing away from democracy. Belarus is still a problem. But Iran is a special case. I am hopeful the OSCE will be a good forum to raise Iranian abuses of human rights,” he said.

The Helsinki Commission exists to coordinate American policy involving the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the commission has held hearings on issues like anti-Semitism in Europe and emerging democracies. The OSCE is also one of the primary bodies that monitor elections in emerging democracies.

But because of its charter, which focuses on Europe, the commission and the OSCE have not touched the question of Iranian democracy in the past. The Helsinki mechanism was effective in the Cold War against the Soviets because the Soviets in 1975 signed an agreement to monitor human rights in their gulags, said a former of chairman of the American delegation to the Helsinki talks between 1980 and 1985, Max Kampelman.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea. You need to raise these issues when you can,” Mr. Kampelman told the Sun. “But you may not get support from the organization. [Mr. Brownback”> can say ‘We need to spread into other areas and balance the evil of Iran,’ and go on to talk about how awful Iran is. No one can stop them from talking. But the other countries will not act against Iran.”

Mr. Brownback said he was aware that there is some hesitation among members of the OSCE to wade into Iranian issues. “There will be some people who bring this up,” he said. “But why would anyone be fearful of this? Europe has taken an interest in stepping up pressure on Iran.” Mr. Brownback said one reason he thought the OSCE was the right forum for raising the Iran issue was because of the numerous Iranian dissidents who live in Europe already.

“We hope this could be a way for getting Europe to bring up Iran human rights issues at a high level,” he said.

While the European Union has launched a human rights discussion with the Iranians, almost all of the diplomatic activity between the major European powers and the Islamic republic in the last two years has focused on its nuclear program.

“The OSCE has good credibility in Europe, where it is seen as a credible institution,” Mr. Brownback said. “If we can use this mechanism on the lead sponsor of terrorism today, that’s important. Europe has taken an interest in Iran,” he said.

In addition to taking on Iran at the OSCE, Mr. Brownback said he was interested in closing a loophole in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act that allows American subsidiaries headquartered in foreign countries to trade with Iran. Halliburton, which is under a federal investigation for such practices, announced last week that they intended to wind down their Iranian businesses.

“The loophole for subsidiaries needs to be engaged,” Mr. Brownback said. “The intent was for U.S. companies not to do business with Iran and Libya. Now Libya has changed their nature and view. But if people are finding loopholes to get out of this, then we need to plug them.”

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