Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On March 24, the United States expressed our concern in the Permanent Council about the possibility of the Human Rights Watch Office being closed in Uzbekistan. We very much regret the Supreme Court has now ordered Human Rights Watch to close its office in Tashkent.
International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch have an important function to play around the world, and their work is wholly consistent with the concept articulated by President Karimov for “further deepening democratic reforms and creation of a civil society” in Uzbekistan. We see the closure of Human Rights Watch in Uzbekistan as a significant step backwards from Uzbekistan’s international and OSCE commitments to further develop civil society and transparency in the country.
As we pointed out in March, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirmed the central role human rights play in the U.S.-Uzbek relationship when she urged President Karimov on December 2nd last year “to demonstrate his commitment to insure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are truly protected in” Uzbekistan. We repeat that call today and urge the Government to take steps to bring this matter before the court for reconsideration. We also call on the Government to take positive steps to open space for civil society, and particularly for international NGOs, in a manner consistent with OSCE principles.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We note with continued concern that in Moscow on Saturday, May 28, a peaceful demonstration of Russians advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, joined by international supporters, was forcefully disrupted by counter-protesters, and that Russian security forces then detained people from both groups, including American citizens. Some protestors were seriously injured according to media reports and participants’ statements.
This is now the sixth year in a row that peaceful assembly by an LBGT group wishing to hold a pride parade has been banned. In two separate judgments, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against unlawful restrictions or bans against the exercise of freedom of assembly by LGBT persons in the context of the organization of Pride parades.
While we acknowledge improvements made earlier this year in Moscow allowing certain rallies highlighting the right to peacefully assembly, we note with concern that detentions and dispersals of other right-to-assembly protesters still regularly occur. We are troubled by the detention of dozens of peaceful demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg during the Strategy 31 protest on May 31.
Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right to which all participating States of the OSCE are committed, as enshrined in Copenhagen and Paris in 1990, in Helsinki in 2008, and reaffirmed at the Astana Summit. As nationwide parliamentary and presidential elections approach, constraints on the ability of Russian citizens to gather peacefully and express their views will be closely watched in evaluating the integrity of the electoral process. We call on Russian authorities to work with municipal officials to find better ways to safeguard these fundamental freedoms.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and the injuries to others on May 26, after demonstrators in Tbilisi chose not to end or relocate their protest after their permit expired at midnight on May 25. We are concerned about reports of excessive use of force against some protesters and journalists. At the same time, we are concerned by indications that elements within the protesting groups appeared more interested in a violent confrontation than in a peaceful demonstration.
We have noted our support for peaceful and lawful freedom of expression and assembly as key components of a vibrant democracy. It is important that all concerned respect the rule of law. We hope this principle will be the hallmark of how the Georgian authorities deal with those involved in the May 26 confrontation. We urge the full and transparent investigation of reports of excessive use of force and allegations of mistreatment of some protestors who were detained.
We also urge all sides to engage in meaningful dialogue and to work together constructively to advance and strengthen Georgia’s ongoing democratic reforms, particularly on electoral code reform leading up to the 2012 and 2013 elections.
Thank you, Chair.
I would like to call the attention of participating States to the statement made by President Obama on May 27 condemning the conviction and sentencing of opposition presidential candidates Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, Andrey Sannikau, Vital Rymasheuski, Mikalay Statkevich, and Dzmitry Us in Belarus. The statement was distributed as SEC.DEL/209/11 on May 31.
The United States considers these candidates and the other courageous activists and candidates arrested and charged in conjunction with the crackdown on December 19 as political prisoners. In a major step backward for democracy in Belarus, their trials were clearly politically motivated and failed to meet even the most minimal standards required of a fair and independent judiciary. We welcome the broad international consensus condemning the actions of Aleksandr Lukashenka and the Government of Belarus in this matter.
Consistent with our values and principles, the U.S. Government will pursue new sanctions against select Belarusian state-owned enterprises, in addition to the sanctions, travel restrictions, and asset freezes announced on January 31. These measures are targeted against those responsible for the repression, particularly Mr. Lukashenka, and are not directed against the people of Belarus. We are coordinating with other concerned governments to ensure that through the implementation of a flexible international sanctions regime we hold accountable those Belarusian officials responsible for these repressive actions. We have also increased our assistance in support of democratic reform in Belarus. We join the European Union and our other allies and partners in supporting the aspirations of the people of Belarus for a modern, democratic and prosperous society within Europe.
We once again call on the Government of Belarus to 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.
Thank you, Chair.
The United States extends a warm welcome to Ambassador Keltchewsky; Ambassador, thank you for your thorough report. The last year has been momentous for the Center and for Kazakhstan. You and your staff supported a High-Level Tolerance Conference, an NGO Forum, a Parallel OSCE Civil Society Conference, and the first OSCE Summit in 11 years — all with great skill and grace.
As you note, there were critical events this past year in Kazakhstan: the referendum on voiding elections, the ensuing constitutional battle, followed by the snap presidential ballot. We noted that the preliminary report issued jointly by ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly found technical improvements over previous years. It also indicated that Kazakhstan’s “legal framework has key shortcomings inconsistent with its OSCE commitments,” particularly in the fields of freedom of assembly and media. In addition, processes such as candidate registration and adjudication of electoral disputes lacked transparency, and many local authorities intervened to increase voter turnout. Finally, serious irregularities took place in the voting and tabulation. No election since Kazakhstan’s independence has been deemed to have met OSCE commitments or international standards. Active steps need to be taken to counter this trend.
Making meaningful reforms before parliamentary elections next year would be an excellent demonstration of Kazakhstan’s efforts to develop its democracy and we urge the Center to support real government reforms.
As your report notes, President Nazarbayev declared reform a top priority. We urge Kazakhstan to implement credible judicial reforms, including equal access to justice and adherence to due process. The OSCE has a role to play in helping to implement the strategies and legislative acts aimed at reform — especially the “National Action Plan for Implementing Human Rights 2009-2012,” and those aspects that remain behind schedule, including legislation on freedom of assembly, media freedom, the Ombudsman institution and the National Preventive Mechanism in line with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. We also hope Kazakhstan will follow through on its commitment at the July 2010 High-Level Conference on Tolerance to bring its religion law up to international standards and to promote religious tolerance.
We particularly urge the Center to continue working closely with the government to address what many observers cite as backsliding on media freedom commitments. We must point out that despite assertions to the contrary, Kazakhstan has still not decriminalized defamation. It has only reduced the manner and means by which a person may be convicted and sentenced to jail for what they say. We urge the government to follow through with its stated intention on this important and symbolic measure and to address other shortcomings in its media legislation. We also wish to express our regret that Evgeniy Zhovtis and Ramazan Yesergepov are still in jail, and we hope to see them included in the upcoming amnesty.
We wish to express our appreciation to the Government of Kazakhstan for the support it has given to the Center on the second dimension, especially in Kazakhstan’s efforts to become EITI compliant and to address the tragedy of the Aral Sea and other water management issues.
In the Politico-Military Dimension, the Center’s work to help Kazakhstan combat terrorism and trafficking in narcotics and human beings and to reform law enforcement agencies — especially bringing these efforts in line with democratic standards and human rights — is essential to OSCE’s work in Central Asia. The Center’s efforts to reduce Small Arms and Light Weapons in Kazakhstan will add to peace and security. The Center’s work with training Afghan police officers in Almaty is a creative and useful way to implement the 2007 Madrid Decision on intensifying engagement with Afghanistan. We commend the efforts between the Center and the Government of Kazakhstan for last October’s conference on preventing terrorism, and welcome the upcoming workshop on “Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE)” to be held in Almaty this October, as concrete examples of cooperation in counterterrorism.
Thank you again, Ambassador Keltchewsky and please be assured of our best wishes and support.
Thank you, Chair.
The United States also welcomes the arrest of Ratko Mladic by Serbian security services a week ago today. We commend President Tadic, the Government of Serbia, its security services, and all those who have labored for years to bring Mladic to justice. This is a huge step for Serbia on its continued path towards Euro-Atlantic integration and towards its coming of age as a nation. We also welcome the transfer of Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, where he will finally face justice.
We reiterate the words of Secretary Clinton: “Mladic’s arrest serves as a statement to those around the world who would break the law and target innocent civilians: international justice works. If you commit a crime, you will not escape judgment, you will not go free.
“Today, as we thank Serbia for bringing a criminal to justice, we also send our deepest sympathies and extend our thoughts and prayers to all those who have suffered from the notorious acts charged to Mladic, particularly the genocide at Srebrenica in 1995. You have waited far too long for this day. This arrest cannot restore what you have forever lost, but we hope it will provide some comfort that this criminal is now behind bars. We hope that Serbia’s action in arresting Mladic will help Serbia move on, provide the opportunity to gain admission into the European Union and enable Serbia to build a brighter future as part of a whole, free, and peaceful Europe.”
Thank you, Chair.
May 17th marked the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. This day is set aside to promote respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons worldwide by coordinating international events, many of which are being organized or were organized by NGOs in the OSCE participating States.
The United States remains concerned that people continue to be killed, arrested, and harassed in the OSCE area because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This day serves as a reminder to us all of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people and of combating climates of intolerance that fuel human rights abuses against citizens in our states.
We are also troubled by the criminalization of certain forms of sexual orientation in many countries, including some OSCE participating States, and we urge governments to end such restrictions.
We are concerned as well by the inability of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals to enjoy their right to assemble peacefully in Pride marches and other events because of denials of permits to organizers or an unwillingness to defend their physical safety when they peacefully assemble.
Too often, government officials in some OSCE states make public statements that isolate and decry lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, rather than acknowledging them as citizens equally deserving of human rights under the law.
We encourage participating States to address human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to explore opportunities for outreach and constructive dialogue to enhance understanding and awareness of these issues within a human rights framework.
With the persistence of hate crimes and other forms of intolerance against these communities in the OSCE area, we must work harder to implement the commitments that we have already undertaken. In particular, we urge participating States to implement Decision No. 9/09 on Combating Hate Crimes, which was adopted in December 2009 at the Athens Ministerial. Participating States must honor their commitments under the Decision to collect and report data to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and to adopt, as appropriate, and implement hate crimes legislation. We regret that some participating States still claim that privacy protections prevent them from collecting data necessary for documenting and combating discriminatory practices.
The United States recognizes the broader responsibility we share to end human rights violations against all people, including those who are marginalized, and we take this opportunity to renew our commitment to addressing discrimination and intolerance in all their forms. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said earlier this year, “In our work, we must openly and explicitly affirm our commitment to the human rights of all persons, including LGBT people.”
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States remains concerned about restrictions on the right of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
Today we note with concern the May 18 conviction of youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on charges of draft evasion. The timing of Mr. Hajiyev’s arrest, which immediately followed his online efforts to organize pro-democracy protests in Azerbaijan, raised questions about authorities’ use of the judicial system to punish dissent. The United States supports the strengthening of the rule of law and meaningful democratic reform in Azerbaijan and calls upon authorities to ensure Mr. Hajiyev’s appeals are reviewed in accordance with Azerbaijani law and international commitments, including its OSCE commitments.
The United States has also closely monitored the case of youth activist Jabbar Savalanli, who was convicted on May 4 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on drug possession charges. Mr. Savalanli was detained February 5, 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.
We urge the Government of Azerbaijan and judicial authorities to resolve Mr. Savalanli’s case in accordance with Azerbaijan’s laws and its international commitments.
Finally, we note the statement by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, who called on Azerbaijani authorities to “prevent violence against the media and to ensure that journalists and social media activists can perform their work in a free and safe environment.” The United States renews its call on the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the right of all its citizens to freedom of expression, and to respect the independence of the judiciary. Both are enshrined under the Azerbaijani Constitution and in Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States condemns the May 14 conviction of presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau and other democratic activists in Belarus. We consider the presidential candidates 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.
The United States also takes note of the May 16 statement by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media condemning the two-year conditionally suspended jail term imposed upon journalist Irina Khalip in connection with the December 2010 post-election demonstrations. We concur with the call by Representative Mijatovic that journalists in Belarus must be able to work freely, without being intimidated, and that repression of the media needs to end immediately.
We also note with serious concern the efforts by the Belarusian Government to interfere with the presentation of an independent report prepared by the Special Rapporteur of the Committee on International Control over the Human Rights Situation in Belarus. Members of the International Observation Mission have been arrested and expelled from the country and forbidden from returning for a period of time. Ukrainian human rights defenders have been prevented from entering the country. These are further violations of OSCE commitments and international standards.
We call on Belarus to 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.
We also call for the opening of space for the free expression of political views, the development of a civil society, freedom of the media, and entrepreneurial empowerment.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
The United States joins the EU in noting the recent granting of access — for the first time in three years — to Freedom Square for opposition rallies. We hope that Armenia’s authorities will continue to allow all elements of Armenian society, irrespective of their political viewpoints, to freely hold peaceful assemblies in Freedom Square or other requested venues.
We also welcome the recent additional early releases of individuals detained following the post-election protests and violence of March 1, 2008, and urge Armenia’s authorities to release all of the remaining detainees as soon as possible. We are pleased by President Sargsian’s instruction to Armenian law enforcement bodies on April 20 to investigate more fully the circumstances of the March 2008 events. Identifying and holding accountable those responsible for the ten deaths will help Armenia move past the tragic events of 2008.
The United States strongly values its relationship with Armenia and stands ready to work with the government and people of Armenia to assist the country in advancing its democratic development.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.