12th Session of the UPR Working Group
The United States welcomes His Excellency Minister Chimasa and the Zimbabwe delegation to the UPR Working Group.
We commend Zimbabwe for creation of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission; however, we note with disappointment that it is not operational and is not set up to be an independent constitutional body able to effectively execute its mandate.
We are concerned by the increase of politically motivated violence; the failure of state institutions to hold security forces accountable for ongoing human rights violations against human rights defenders and perceived opponents of the ZANU-PF party; and other obstacles to citizens’ free and equal participation in the upcoming elections.
We are concerned by recurring attempts by officials to facilitate the arbitrary arrest and harassment of lawyers who represent human rights defenders, to use the law on civil and criminal defamation to control the mass media, and to infringe on individual rights to freedoms of expression and assembly.
We recognize there has been some progress by Zimbabwe to secure the Marange diamond producing area. We remain deeply concerned, however, about the failure of military forces to withdraw from the diamond fields, diamond-smuggling, corruption, diamond-related violence by state and non-state security agents, and the denial of access to civil society groups attempting to report on the diamond fields.
Bearing in mind these concerns, the United States would like to make the
That Zimbabwe fully implement the GPA provisions supporting the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee.
That Zimbabwe repeal or significantly reform the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and criminal code provisions that restrict freedoms of assembly and expression.
That Zimbabwe invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other mandate holders to conduct independent and impartial investigations.
And finally, we recommend that Zimbabwe create stronger mechanisms to ensure greater revenue transparency from diamond mining, demilitarize the diamond industry, and thoroughly investigate cases of beatings and abuse by government and private security services in the Marange area.
Ambassador Johnson on Rule of Law: Legislative transparency, Independence of the judiciary, Right to a fair trial
(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 4)
The rule of law underpins all of our human dimension commitments. Today, we will focus on certain elements of rule of law—legislative transparency, independence of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial. But, I think it is useful to pause for a moment to consider what we mean when we talk about rule of law. In a speech a few years ago while acknowledging the risks of “formulating something too insufficient for the great purpose behind the phrase,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, set out a working definition of the rule of law. According to Justice Kennedy, there are three main components:
First: “The law is superior to, and thus binds, the government and all its officials.”
Second: “The law must respect and preserve the dignity, equality, and human rights of all persons. To those ends, the law must establish and safeguard the constitutional structures necessary to build a free society in which all citizens have a meaningful voice in shaping and enacting the rules that govern them.”
And, third: “The law must devise and maintain systems to advise all persons of their right, and it must empower them to fulfill just expectations and seek redress of grievances without fear or penalty and retaliation.”
Where these conditions exist people thrive and economies flourish. Where they do not societies and individuals pay a high price. Where even one of these components is missing, rule of law does not genuinely exist. Consider the words of the former Chief Justice of South Africa, Arthur Chaskalson: “The apartheid government, its officers and agency were accountable in accordance with the laws; the laws were clear, publicized and stable, and were upheld by law enforcement officials and judges, what was missing was the substantive component of the rule of law. The process by which laws were made was not fair…and the laws themselves were not fair.”
As I read this description, I cannot but think of the situation in the United States prior to the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Based on our own experience and history, we are cognizant that the struggle to ensure a genuine state of rule of law is never ending, and requires constant vigilance. It requires, among other things, an engaged citizenry, strong civil society and free media. That is why the presence here in Warsaw of so many non-governmental organizations is of such importance. For it is often the courageous work of NGOs that makes us aware of the consequences of a failure to uphold any element of rule of law and that helps us guide us toward remedies and progress.
In Russia, the tragic deaths in custody of Sergei Magnitsky and Vera Trifonova are solemn reminders of the human cost of a deficient, poorly functioning and corrupt criminal justice system—a system in which officials have remained above the law, not accountable before it. Ms. Trifonova was arrested and allegedly denied medical attention for diabetes in an attempt to force her to confess to charges of fraud. She subsequently died in prison. Mr. Magnitsky, an attorney arrested on tax evasion charges and who died of medical neglect in pretrial detention, is widely believed to have been imprisoned as retribution for his claim that government officials stole over $200 million in a tax fraud scheme involving the company he represented. The same officials he accused of corruption were responsible for his arrest. Withering publicity and international outrage have only now begun to pierce the atmosphere of impunity that surrounds corrupt officials and stifles the rule of law in this tragic case. The intentional denial of medical care is also a form of intimidation, with the apparent goal of securing coerced confessions.
The second trial, verdict, and sentence against former Yukos executives Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev also evoke serious concerns about the right to a fair trial and the independence of the judiciary in the Russian Federation. We are troubled by the allegations of serious due process violations, and concerned about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations.
The United States is very concerned about the poor conduct of trials as well as continuing police abuse in the wake of the June 2010 violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. Trials and arrests in connection with the violence have not been conducted fairly. As many as 91 percent of those prosecuted for crimes related to the June events have been ethnic Uzbeks, despite the fact that ethnic Uzbeks were the overwhelming majority of the victims. Few ethnic Kyrgyz have been investigated or prosecuted. Many prosecutions have been based on confessions allegedly extracted under torture. Defendants’ allegations of torture are rarely investigated or are simply dismissed, and trials have proceeded in spite of these claims. Moreover, defendants and their lawyers have been physically attacked during the trials, often in the courtroom itself and in front of judges and police, with little effort by authorities to intervene. The murder conviction of Azimjon Askarov is the most widely known of these cases, but it is far from isolated. Dozens of cases have been documented in which ethnic Uzbeks convicted of crimes related to the June violence did not receive trials that would be considered fair and impartial by international standards. Askarov’s Supreme Court appeal has been on hold since February 2011 with no explanation or timeframe for resolution by the court.
The August 2011 death of Osmonjon Khalmurzaev following his detention and beating by police in Bazar Korgon near Jalalabad is another disturbing example of these abuses. The police practice of arbitrary arrests and detention for the purpose of extorting bribes has continued since June 2010 and needs to end. Khalmurzaev was arrested at his home on August 7 by police claiming he was connected to the June 2010 violence. No warrant was shown for his arrest. Later that day he called his wife saying he was being severely beaten by three police officers who demanded money for his release. Upon receipt of some money, the police released Khalmurzaev, who fell into a coma the following day. He died on August 9, apparently of internal bleeding; autopsy results are pending. The government has opened an investigation into the death and removed four police officers from their posts. While this case has come to light because of Khalmurzaev’s death, many other cases do not become public as victims are afraid that reporting the abuse could lead to more police outrages. We further call on the government to ensure that all cases and trials are conducted fairly according to international standards, with safety ensured for all participants.
In Kazakhstan, arrests may be used for political purposes, and trials may be unfairly conducted. For example Natalya Sokolova, the lawyer for the striking oil workers, was sentenced in August to six years in jail for “igniting social unrest,” an excessive sentence that would appear to be punishment for her assistance to the labor union. We continue to be concerned that Kazakhstani human rights activist Evgeny Zhovtis remains in prison following flawed investigative and judicial proceedings. For example, defense evidence was not allowed to be presented, and defense witnesses were not allowed to testify.
In Belarus, the government routinely denies citizens due process and the country’s judiciary has no independence from the Lukashenka regime. The convictions of more than 40 presidential candidates, democratic opposition leaders and pro-democracy protestors in connection with the December 19, 2010, presidential elections failed to meet even the most minimal standards required of a fair and independent judiciary. We consider all those convicted and jailed to be political prisoners, and we have and will continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release. We are also concerned about the government’s disbarment of at least six lawyers who represented some of the defendants, including Tamara Sidarenka, who represented two former presidential candidates at their trials earlier this year.
While progress has been made in developing democracy and reform in Ukraine, we are concerned about several recent developments. The misuse of criminal investigations and legal proceedings to put pressure on opposition politicians via targeted prosecutions, including the arrest and arbitrary detention of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko and former acting Defense Minister Valeriy Ivashchenko, as well as lesser known civil society activists, has demonstrated the further deterioration of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Ukraine.
In Azerbaijan, we are concerned about the appearance of political motivation in the detentions of 16 opposition leaders and two youth activists. Opposition youth activist Jabbar Savalanli, who was convicted on May 4 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on alleged drug possession charges, was detained shortly after making online comments calling for pro-democracy protests. Procedural irregularities, combined with the timing and circumstances surrounding Mr. Savalanli’s arrest, raise concerns that Mr. Savalanli was targeted on the basis of his political activities. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a youth activist and candidate in the November 2010 parliamentary elections, was sentenced to 2 years in jail on May 18, 2011, allegedly for evading military service. The timing of Mr. Hajiyev’s arrest, which immediately followed his efforts to organize pro-democracy protests earlier this year in Azerbaijan, raises questions about authorities’ use of the judicial system to punish dissent. On August 11, Azerbaijani authorities demolished the building owned by human rights activist Leyla Yunos, which housed the Institute for Peace and Democracy and two other NGOs, as well as Ms. Yunos’ residence. The authorities conducted this demolition despite a court injunction prohibiting such action, thus raising concerns about the government’s respect for rule of law. Such lack of respect for the judiciary, the timing of the demolition—within 48 hours of the publication of an article in the New York Times citing Ms. Yunos on the broad problem of private property demolitions—and subsequent reports of intimidation of some of Ms. Yunos’s colleagues, also raise concerns that this case is politically motivated.
We are concerned that the arrests and trials of individuals charged with belonging to certain groups banned in Uzbekistan are not conducted in accordance with international obligations. In particular, prosecutions are often based merely on printed material. There are frequently reports that the courts allow admissions of guilt allegedly made under duress or as the result of torture, and that defendants do not have access to qualified defense attorneys.
While it is unfortunately denied a seat at this table, the United States holds Kosovo accountable to OSCE norms. Kosovo lacks a fully independent judiciary in practice and the courts do not consistently afford due process at trial. Corruption is pervasive among public officials, negatively impacting legislative transparency. Corruption and outside influence seriously impede judicial independence. Outside influences include political pressures from parties and other branches of the government, family, and friendship ties, as well as outright bribes. Further, the existence of Serbian Government funded-parallel structures in northern Kosovo continue to block the restoration of a fully functioning, multi-ethnic judiciary, resulting in prolonged detentions, indefinitely delayed trials and a lack of due process.
In Albania, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources have also sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. The politicization of appointments to the High and Constitutional Courts threaten to undermine the independence and integrity of these courts, and police officers are known to mistreat detainees.
Here, I would like to note that problems in the judicial sector are widespread across the former East Bloc and Soviet Union. It has been a more stubborn challenge than most had imagined to solidify the deep and fundamental changes needed to bring judiciaries in the region fully in line with democratic practices. Polls indicate that in many OSCE countries, including some of those that have navigated democratic transitions most successfully, citizens have lost faith in corrupt, inefficient and unaccountable judiciaries. Corruption and cronyism among judiciaries affect not only the citizenry of a given country, but also the security and prosperity of all who are linked through commerce and shared borders. It is a disincentive to investment and a drain on development. Examples abound of governments, individual judges and NGOs that are working to ensure that the judiciary in their country is both independent and accountable. We should support these efforts, and consider ways in which we can build further on ODIHR’s excellent work in this field, for instance in promoting the consideration by participating States of the “Kyiv Recommendations on Judicial Independence.”
The focus of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on witness protection in the Western Balkans also warrants our attention here. Witness testimony is indispensible everywhere for justice to prevail and, where conflict has divided society, for reconciliation to take place. The PACE report of Mr. Jean-Charles Gardetto notes progress in this area but identifies a continuing need for significant improvement due to threats, intimidation and even murder of witnesses that deter others, without adequate protection, from coming forward. This creates an environment of impunity throughout the Balkans. The United States would like to stress to all parties the importance of witness protection in the EULEX investigation into organized crime and organ trafficking that allegedly took place in Kosovo and Albania in 1999.
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States remains deeply disturbed by ongoing human rights violations around the world. As we engage in these discussions in Geneva, people continue to be tortured, killed, arbitrarily arrested, and denied their fundamental rights. The United States will discuss the human rights situations in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Belarus, Cambodia, and Somalia later in this session. Today I will focus on other countries of grave concern.
-In Iran, we remain concerned by repeated instances of torture, the house arrest of opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Houssein Moussavi, restrictions on the freedom of religious minorities and suppression of all forms of dissent against the state. Authorities recently arrested peaceful protesters and continue to detain, harass and imprison human rights lawyers. We look forward to the first report by Special Rapporteur Shaheed at the next Council session.
-In Burma, the government denies its citizens basic rights, including freedom of speech, movement and association. There are roughly 2,000 political prisoners, and ongoing attacks against ethnic minority populations have resulted in the displacement of millions of people, both internally and in the region, over the past five decades. The newly formed National Human Rights Commission should work closely with the HRC and other bodies to investigate human rights abuses and take concrete steps to begin a national reconciliation process. The United States urges the Burmese government to follow its words and commitments with concrete actions that lead to genuine reform, national reconciliation and respect for human rights.
-The DPRK maintains draconian controls over almost all aspects of citizens’ lives. It denies fundamental freedoms including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, religion, and movement and fails to respect worker’s rights. The government must immediately take significant steps to end the egregious violations of its people’s human rights.
-China arrests and detains lawyers, activists, and writers for exercising freedom of expression and for defending their internationally recognized rights, and uses extralegal measures to silence even peaceful dissent. The government places tight restrictions on civil society and significantly limits the rights of religious believers to practice their faiths. The government limits freedom of association and imposes forced labor on prisoners. China maintains policies that threaten the Tibetan and Uighur languages, religions, and cultures, and presses other governments to forcibly return Chinese citizens seeking asylum in third countries.
-Cuba uses short-term detention and arbitrary arrests to prevent groups from meeting and disrupt peaceful protests. It deploys increasingly violent government-orchestrated mobs to suppress dissent, most notably against the Damas de Blanco. Media remains under state control, internet access is monitored or blocked, and police routinely intimidate and harass journalists limiting public access to independent sources of information. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned for over 22 months.
-The Venezuelan government has placed severe restrictions on civil society and actively persecutes political opposition, thereby undermining freedom of association and expression, and weakening democratic institutions. Executive interference erodes judicial independence, as the imprisonment of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni demonstrates.
-In Zimbabwe, politically motivated violence and bias of the police, state prosecutor, and military in favor of ZANU-PF and against other political parties remains an obstacle to citizens’ free and equal participation in elections. Without concerted attention to creating the conditions for free, fair, and peaceful elections, the rights of Zimbabweans will continue to be threatened.
The United States stands by the victims of human right abuses around the world and calls on all countries to uphold their human rights obligations.
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States is deeply concerned about alarming and credible allegations of violence committed by Sudan Armed Forces and aligned groups in Southern Kordofan. These include acts of extreme cruelty and abuse against civilians that, if true, may constitute crimes against humanity – extra-judicial killings, house-to-house searches, abductions, arbitrary arrests, and violence motivated by differences of religion or ethnicity.
The United States strongly supports an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into these allegations and calls on all parties to provide unfettered access and cooperation to any investigation. We condemn in the strongest terms any deliberate targeting of civilians, including UN humanitarian personnel. The United States will not tolerate impunity for such acts of violence. We have called repeatedly for a cessation of hostilities in South Kordorfan, and we have called on the Government of Sudan to stop aerial bombardments, which continue to hit civilians. We are particularly disturbed by the decision of the Government of Sudan not to honor the June 29 agreement on political and security arrangements in the region. These developments are deeply regrettable.
It is past time for an end to the violence. Today, we call upon the Government of Sudan to agree to a robust UN presence in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that will assist the parties as they agree to future political and security agreements.
Secretary Clinton’s Remarks With European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton After Their Meeting
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it is such a pleasure for me to welcome back to the State Department High Representative Cathy Ashton.
The United States and the European Union are partners working together on, I think, every global issue and regional challenge that you can imagine. We’re doing the urgent, the important, and the long-term all at once, and we are united in a transatlantic community that is based on shared democratic values and limitless faith in human potential.
As always, Cathy and I had a lot to talk about because there is so much happening around the world at a time when people are standing up for their rights and demanding a say in their own futures. And both the European Union and the United States are very committed to advancing democratic values and universal rights, and we know how important that is over the long term. But we also know that right now those rights are under threats from repression and reprisals.
We expressed our serious concern about the continued violence in Syria. The Asad regime has responded to peaceful protests by launching a brutal crackdown that has killed, by our best estimate, nearly a thousand people already. They have embraced the worst tactics of their Iranian ally and they have refused to honor the legitimate aspirations of their own people in Syria.
President Asad talks about reform, but his heavy-handed brutal crackdown shows his true intentions. In response to the continued violence, both the United States and the EU have imposed sanctions against senior Syrian officials. And today, we discussed additional steps that we can take to increase pressure and further isolate the Asad regime.
Our message has been clear and consistent from the beginning: Stop the violence and the arrests, release all political prisoners and detainees, and begin to respond to the demands of the people by a process of credible and inclusive democratic change.
The High Representative and I also discussed efforts to protect civilians in Libya. The United States continues to support our efforts to implement the United Nations Security Council resolution. We’re working with the EU to support the Transitional National Council, and we welcome the EU’s decision to open an office in Benghazi and the ongoing EU support for humanitarian assistance. And for our part, we are working with our Congress to redirect some of Qadhafi’s seized assets toward immediate humanitarian needs.
Across the region, we are looking at many of the same issues from the very same perspective, and we have discussed a number of ways that we can promote investment and trade that would bring benefits to the people of the Middle East and North Africa. We also discussed Iran and, in particular, the efforts of the E-3+3 to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We have been clear and united under Cathy Ashton’s leadership since the Geneva and Istanbul meetings that Iran has to meet its international obligations and negotiate seriously on the nuclear issue.
Lady Ashton is preparing a response to Iran’s recent letter, but let me make clear that the burden remains on Iran to demonstrate it is prepared to end its stalling tactics, drop its unacceptable preconditions, and start addressing the international community’s concerns.
Now, we’ve also discussed matters in Europe, and both Cathy and I are concerned about the crackdown in Belarus, and I commend her for the strong statement she made over the weekend. The United States considers the post-December 19th trials to be politically motivated, and we call for an immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners.
I also raised concerns regarding the political deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina and any efforts that could undermine the Dayton Peace Accords and the stability of the country. We fully support the authority of the Office of the High Representative Inzko in Bosnia and Herzegovina and want to see the people there realize their hopes for necessary reforms, effective government, and a European future.
Indeed, on all of these fronts, we have an indispensible relationship. And it’s wonderful to have Cathy as a partner in dealing with all of these pressing matters. To further strengthen our partnership, we just signed a framework agreement to expand U.S. civilian participation in EU crisis management missions. American civilian experts already participate in EU missions in Kosovo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we look forward to working side by side to help more people in more places.
So again, on a personal note, let me thank Cathy for her friendship, and on a professional note, let me thank Lady Ashton – (laughter) – for her leadership and all of the work that she doing around the world.
MS. ASHTON: Secretary Clinton, Hillary, first of all, it’s always a pleasure to meet you anywhere in the world, and indeed we spend our lives finding ourselves in different parts of the globe. But it’s always been a special pleasure to meet with you here in Washington. And the reason for that more than anything is it’s our opportunity to have a little chance to reflect more on some of the big challenges that we are facing at the present time, and as you rightly said, looking at the important and the immediate, but also that opportunity to discuss a longer term.
And one of the areas that I’m most engaged in now is trying to develop, for what we describe in the European Union as our own neighborhood, a much longer-term strategy and policy around the concept of what I’d call deep democracy – helping people to realize that democracy is not just about what you do when you cast your ballot, but about the building of institutions and political parties, and the capacity to go on casting your ballot in years to come. And how we ensure that we’re able to support the people in Egypt and Tunisia I think of especially, but in other countries too as they go forward with this democratic process it’s going to be of enormous importance. And our commitment in the European Union, along with your commitment, is to be there for that long-term challenge.
But combined with that too, we also have the longer-term challenge of ensuring the economic stability and development of these countries as well. And that’s why for Europe, we’ve been developing a new program. I’ve called it the Three Ms. It’s about money – resources available for countries in the short term to deal with the economic difficulties and problems they’ve faced. Simply looking at Tunisia and Egypt, you have to just think of tourism alone, but also to think more creatively about using real investment from some of the institutions that we have, European Investment Bank being one of them. So those resources are there on the ground in the short term, but also for the long term.
Market access – the ability to use our trade to be able to support them in helping their economy develop. And that means not only opening markets but ensuring that people can take advantage of those markets, help them meet the standards that we all have for our citizens, helping them to produce the goods that we want to buy.
And then mobility, the third M. The capacity, particularly for young people – these are young societies – to be able to move around, to have education and support across countries in the European Union, many of whom have long histories of links with young people in those countries, and as well alongside young people, the business people that will need to be able to travel to support the trade that I’ve already described.
So those three Ms are the backbone of the kind of strategy that we’re trying to put together now to support the neighborhood. It’s new, it’s bigger, it’s bolder. It will, I hope, be a recognition that the European Union takes its responsibilities in its neighborhood seriously. And as I said I think in my second week in this job, Europe should be judged by its effectiveness in its own neighborhood, and I firmly believe that.
And as you’ve also pointed to, there are really serious issues for Syria. I spoke to the foreign minister of Syria last week and explained to him very – in a very detailed way how important it was to take this closing window of opportunity and change course. And we will see whether any recognition of what I said comes forward, but I have to say that we will look again at the sanctions that we’ve taken to ensure that they are as strong as they possibly can be.
And we worry too about Yemen and call upon the president there to fulfill his obligations and to sign the agreement.
We talked as well about other areas, and I think particularly about Bosnia-Herzegovina, as you’ve said, where I went last week to make it perfectly plain to President Dodik that the Dayton Agreement is here to stay and that there is an expectation that he will play his full part as a politician in that country in helping to try and move forward for the country as a whole. And it will be very important, as I said in Bosnia, that for the people of that country that the government is formed as quickly as possible and takes its responsibilities. Rising unemployment – real challenges that are being faced there – need a government to lead for the future.
And finally, as you indicated with Iran, where I had a recent letter from Dr. Jalili, it’s taken three months for the reply to come. I had wished for a stronger and better letter from them to recognize that the offer on the table is an offer they should look at very carefully. I will be sending a reply. We’ll be consulting with our partners, not least with the United States, before we do so. But I do urge Iran to think again and to consider coming back to the table.
So a whole range of subjects, but always a great pleasure. And it’s great to sign an agreement as well, so thank you very much for your hospitality.
MR. TONER: We have time for two questions. The first is Elise Labott of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Lady Ashton, just a quick follow on your Iran – you said you would be sending a reply. Do you anticipate a new round of E3+3 talks?
And then on Syria, you say you spoke to the Syrian foreign minister last week. But for both of you, since then there have been reports of mass graves, rounding up of individuals, not just shelling or opening up tanks, but rounding up of individuals, a real systematic going after the people in Syria. Do you think that this raises the bar for referral to the ICC, for referral to the UN Security Council? And it’s pretty clear if this was a conversation last week, that the Syrian regime has shown that it has made the choice not to follow the path of reform, so how much longer do you think this can go on? And is the government effectively crushing the opposition?
Madam Secretary, there have been some more talks about stepped-up talks with the Taliban, if you could bring us up to date. And do you think that the death of Usama bin Ladin gives a new impetus for political negotiations between the Afghan and Taliban? Thank you.
MS. ASHTON: I mean, on Syria, I’ve very worried about what’s happened in the last few days, as I was worried about what was happening the last week. The number of people that we know have died, the number of people that we believe are in detention, is extremely alarming. And what’s happening as – while I’m here is that the 27 ambassadors in Brussels are meeting to discuss on a daily basis what more we should and could do.
The point I wanted to make really was that we also make contact directly and make these points, very clearly and very openly, that this is extremely urgent and that if the government really does – as it keeps telling us it does – want to see some kind of change, it’s got to be now. I think we’re all very aware that the situation is so grave that it’s now in a situation where we need to consider all of the options, and I think there will be a number of moves in the coming hours and days that you will see.
In terms of Iran, I would like to say there will be a new round of talks. From the letters that I’ve received, I don’t see that at the present time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to the Taliban, we have consistently supported an Afghan-led process of reconciliation. And currently we have a broad range of contacts that are ongoing across Afghanistan and the region at many different levels in order to support the Afghan initiative. President Karzai has taken a number of steps. He held a broad-based peace jirga. He formed a high peace council that includes representatives from across Afghanistan. Their leadership has actually traveled around Afghanistan as well as to a number of other countries. President Karzai himself has held meetings across his own country, and we support this. We think this is a very important development.
And we have outlined our red lines for the Taliban: They must renounce violence. They must abandon their alliance with al-Qaida, which it would certainly seem as would be an easier step for them to take now, post the death of bin Ladin. And they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan. That’s the price for reaching political reconciliation and bringing an end to the military action. And I’m not going to get into any detail about any contacts, other than to say we have repeatedly supported, in word and deed, an Afghan-led process.
QUESTION: On Syria, Madam Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I agree with what Cathy said, that we will be taking additional steps in the days ahead.
MR. TONER: Next question by Brian Beary of Europolitics.
QUESTION: Representative Ashton, you said during your comment that Europe should be judged by the effectiveness of its – its effectiveness in its own neighborhood. In the Libya crisis, yourself and Mr. Van Rompaey were criticized for not being at the center of activities and being accused of being marginal figures in the whole NATO operation. I’d just like to give you a chance to respond to that.
And looking to the future on Syria, do you think you’re – in what way are you trying to get ahead of the curve in this situation, from the EU’s point of view, that the EU is not a marginal figure in this – in Syria?
MS. ASHTON: Well, I think, first of all, in terms of what was happening in Libya, we were very much engaged through the European Council and through the 27 member states in determining what the European Union could and should do. It’s always worth remembering what the European Union is and what it is not, and it’s bringing together the 27 member states to support action and activities in a recognition of the principles that we hold dear. It doesn’t mean that on every issue all 27 countries start or end in the same place. What it does mean is we try and build a common view of where we can make a difference.
And that’s why in Libya we’ve been engaged now in trying to support Security Council resolution, why we’ve been engaged, as we’ll see shortly, in the opening of an office in Benghazi, why we’ve been working close with international partners to develop ideas for how to support humanitarian aid, and why we’ve been the biggest funder of humanitarian aid – 100 million euros gone in, 55,000 people, third-country nationals, have been removed out of Libya safely with the help of the European Union. Those are things that we do and we’ve been at the center of doing that. And I don’t think for one moment that that’s a marginal activity.
We also work very closely with NATO in support of what they’ve been doing, and you’ll have seen last week there was a NATO-EU meeting to discuss what we’re doing in Libya. But what we do is different, and that’s also important to recognize.
And in terms of Syria, as I’ve indicated, what we’ve been doing is looking at what sanctions we can take, what political pressure we can put on, in what is an increasingly alarming situation and to try and offer support to the people in whatever way we can. But doing that too, again, with our international partners, because that makes a big difference if we’re able to put that pressure on together.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all.
The United States condemns the May 14 conviction of presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau and other democratic activists in Belarus. We consider the five presidential candidates — Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, Andrey Sannikau, Vital Rymasheuski, Mikalay Statkevich, and Dzmitry Us — and other activists, who are being tried after being arrested as part of the crackdown related to the December 19 presidential elections, to be political prisoners; the harsh sentences handed down on May 14 and the ongoing trials are clearly politically motivated.
Belarus should immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and cease continuing human rights violations against critics of the government, who remain at risk of harassment and arbitrary arrest. The results of ongoing trials will be taken into account as the United States continues to review its relations with Belarus and consider further measures.