News Archives

Ambassador Efird on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 16: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination; Equality of opportunity for women and men; Implementation of the OSCE Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality; Prevention of violence against women)

OSCE commitments concerning equality of opportunity for women and men go back to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, in which participating States agreed to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms…. for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” In 2000 and again in 2004, we adopted OSCE action plans on gender issues, addressing both the situation in participating States as well as management and staffing within the OSCE itself. Although there have been several ministerial decisions strengthening our commitments, OSCE documents are not enough. The question is whether the human rights of women in our countries are protected both in law as well as in practice, and whether women have the same opportunities as men—to get an education, to find employment, or to take part in political life. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not yet available in every participating State.

In some participating States, the legal framework to protect women from human rights abuses is still incomplete or not fully implemented. Sometimes, law enforcement authorities do not respond adequately to physical or sexual assaults against women, particularly if those are perpetrated by spouses or other family members.

Although some States prosecute domestic violence under general assault laws, more specific legislation would strengthen authorities’ ability to hold abusers accountable; these laws can be drafted to take the onus of pressing charges off of the victim. We commend Azerbaijan for passing a law on domestic violence. OSCE states that do not have specific laws against domestic violence include Andorra, Armenia, Belarus and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan drafted laws several years ago which still have not been adopted. Russia has no legal definition of domestic violence, making prosecution difficult.

Like all persons, women should make their own informed decision about how they dress, regardless of religious or cultural diktats. A March Human Rights Watch report details violent attacks on women whose clothing is considered immodest. Human Rights Watch further noted that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has condoned the documented attacks by unidentified men, some believed to be law enforcement officials. We urge Russian federal officials to address this troubling development.

Spousal rape is not specifically outlawed in several participating States. It only can be prosecuted under general rape laws. Specifically criminalizing spousal rape strengthens the response of law enforcement authorities, who often view it as simply a family matter. States in the OSCE region with no specific law against spousal rape include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, and Kosovo. (I would note that although Kosovo continues to be the only country in Europe deprived its place at the OSCE table, the United States still holds Pristina accountable for adhering to OSCE principles and commitments.)

Several participating States also lack specific laws addressing sexual harassment, including Armenia, Belarus, Kosovo, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan’s legislation deals only with physical assault, not verbal harassment such as threats and intimidation.

However, there are positive recent examples. France has passed a law on combating violence against women which strengthens protection for victims by providing a provisional “protection order” for at-risk women. It also provides for increased legal protection for foreign nationals and undocumented immigrants who are victims of abuse. Moldova has amended its criminal code to better promote the safety and well-being of victims and their children by requiring an abuser to leave housing shared with the victim regardless of who owns the property, providing for victim counseling, forbidding the aggressor from approaching the victim either at home or at a place of business, and forbidding visitation of children pending a criminal investigation.

Laws, of course, are not enough. States should do more to train law enforcement officials, judicial sector officials, social workers, healthcare providers, men and boys, religious and community leaders, and communities at large to address and prevent domestic violence, and violence against women more broadly. Victims should be able to quickly obtain information and assistance, and governments should commit resources to help them do so, as well as support similar civil society efforts. We strongly support OSCE programs in these areas, and believe the OSCE should increase its assistance to participating States, including those which do not host field missions.

Madam Moderator,

Women in all OSCE States have proven over and over that given the same opportunity as men, they will succeed. And equality of access for women to education, healthcare, political participation, and economic opportunities is key to a country’s competitiveness and prosperity.

Moreover, women need to be represented at the policy- and decision-making table, including at the senior levels of OSCE itself. Many OSCE activities focus on conflict prevention, crisis management and resolution, and post-conflict rehabilitation. It is important that women be involved in all stages of conflict- and post-conflict-related work. OSCE staff dealing with conflict management should be trained to identify and include women in these efforts.

As you said in Kyrgyzstan in July of this year, “Women play a critical role in achieving peace and security.” We applaud your joint visits to participating states with the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combatting Trafficking that highlighted gender inequality and conflict as contributors to human trafficking.

All citizens, men and women alike, are entitled to equal protection in the enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. We all must work harder to ensure the rights of women and men are respected equally.


Ambassador Efird on Humanitarian Issues and Other Commitments

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 11: Humanitarian Issues and Other Commitments Migrant workers, the integration of legal migrants; Refugees and displaced persons; Treatment of citizens of other participating States; Citizenship and political rights; Democracy at the national, regional and local levels)

The United States government remains deeply concerned about the vulnerability of migrants, refugees, and displaced and stateless persons within the OSCE region as we commemorate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Recent political transitions in the Mediterranean and North Africa have resulted in close to a million displaced persons, with many fleeing to European borders by sea and other means. We support ongoing efforts by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to work with governments, including by providing migrants with the opportunity to seek and receive protection if necessary, and by assisting local maritime authorities to assist those in distress. We view such efforts as integral to support for democratic efforts taking place in the region and urge participating States to treat these vulnerable migrants with respect, compassion, and humanity.

The circumstances giving rise to refugees and displaced persons around the Mediterranean Basin remind us that the requirements of the Dublin Regulation place a disproportionate asylum burden on OSCE border countries with accompanying tensions in these countries. We must better address this continuing challenge in the context of our OSCE commitments. Specifically, at the Ljubljana Ministerial Council of 2005, the participating States committed to “. . . promote dignified treatment of all individuals wanting to cross borders, in conformity with relevant national legal frameworks, international law, in particular human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law, and relevant OSCE commitments.” The failure to distinguish asylum seekers from those migrating for other reasons and the increased use of detention, including for unaccompanied children, continue to be major obstacles for those seeking protection and hinder efforts to meet the expectations laid forth in Ljubljana.

The plight of refugees and displaced persons in the Western Balkans—numbering in the hundreds of thousands—remains a concern even as the countries move closer to European integration. Finding permanent solutions requires, first and foremost, addressing the still pervasive hostility toward returnees. Threats, harassment and even attacks on returnees and potential returnees must stop. Local authorities, particularly in parts of Croatia, the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and throughout Kosovo, have a responsibility to take action to counter anti-return sentiments. European countries outside the region who have hosted those who fled the conflicts of the 1990s must also ensure that the conditions exist for safe and sustainable returns. This particularly applies to the return of Roma to Kosovo. Helping local authorities in receiving and integrating those who return is not only a humane act but also one that serves the self-interest of all the parties involved. Without such assistance, returnees may feel compelled to leave their homes once again to seek greater security elsewhere in Europe. We welcome the decision in August of authorities in Baden-Wuerttemberg to suspend the deportation of Roma back to Kosovo. Although the GOK and partner organizations have improved their capacity and have more of the resources needed to reintegrate Roma, this group still faces fundamental challenges, including unemployment and inadequate housing.

On another issue in the Western Balkans, we encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia to continue in their joint efforts, in coordination with the international community, to assure durable solutions for refugees and IDPs remaining from the displacement of 1991-1995.

We favor the protection of displaced populations in the South Caucasus and the provision of humanitarian assistance to address the needs that result from their displacement. In Georgia, we support a meaningful international presence that includes the OSCE and other international actors. This can play a valuable role in reducing tensions, facilitating humanitarian assistance, and monitoring and improving human rights and humanitarian conditions on the ground. We note, however, that the success of any international effort depends on unhindered access to the whole of Georgia, including the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

We are also concerned about continuing obstacles faced by persons displaced by the violence that took place in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. While temporary housing and building material has been provided by international donors, ongoing city redevelopment plans threaten long-term rebuilding efforts and property rights. Displaced ethnic Uzbeks have been disproportionately affected by such plans, and continue to face excessive bureaucratic obstacles in their efforts to recover property deeds or other documents or receive compensation for their losses. Kyrgyz authorities have done little to rebuild ethnic Uzbek businesses destroyed during the violence; instead there are credible and disturbing reports that ethnic Kyrgyz have expropriated ethnic Uzbek businesses through coercion or threats.

The United States remains concerned that government officials and political leaders in the OSCE region continue to contribute to a climate of xenophobia through anti-immigrant statements. In its worst instances, this can lead to bias-motivated violence against refugees, asylum seekers, and others. For example, the recent tragedy in Norway was inspired in part by misguided beliefs that Muslim migrants were destroying Europe, as well as the desire to stop politicians and others who were perceived as having facilitated entry into Europe for Muslim immigrants and their descendants and others.

Government officials and political and civic leaders should strive toward strategies that reduce racial prejudice and community tension around immigration issues, and maximize the human capital potential of those entering the country. We should use the ongoing debate regarding the expulsions of Roma from France and evictions of Roma in Italy and elsewhere to move us closer to those goals.

In this context we welcome the 2011 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session Resolution on “Strengthening Efforts to Combat Racism and Xenophobia and Foster Inclusion,” and look forward to follow up on it in the OSCE. We also commend the Council of Europe Report “Living together: Combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe.”

Challenges also remain in our own country. We continue to battle negative views and actions towards migrants, including by collecting data on and responding to hate crimes directed against them.

We encourage participating States to utilize the many resources the OSCE has developed that can assist us in implementing our commitments. We support the OSCE’s Annual Hate Crimes Report, new Training against Hate Crimes for Law Enforcement program and continue to support cooperative efforts to address the problem, such as the Memorandum of Understanding between UNHCR and ODIHR to further bolster existing cooperation in monitoring, reporting and capacity‐building related to hate crimes. We encourage the use of the OSCE/IOM “Training Modules on Labour Migration Management –Trainer’s Manual” in the development of migration programs and policies that will contribute to stability and security. We also remain supportive of efforts by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities that have focused on the integration of migrants and relieving societal tensions linked to migration.

As the United States noted at the Lithuanian Chairmanship’s timely Special Thematic Event on Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees, the OSCE has a unique role in fostering the capacity for the dignified voluntary return of displaced persons and finding durable solutions for refugees.


Ambassador Efird on the Rule of Law, part II: Capital Punishment;Prevention of Torture; and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 5)

L to R, Amb. Cynthia Efird, Amb. Ian Kelly, Amb. Suzan Johnson Cook, Amb. David Johnson and DAS Thomas Melia, Sept. 26, 2011. Photo by USOSCE/Colin Peters.

L to R, Amb. Cynthia Efird, Amb. Ian Kelly, Amb. Suzan Johnson Cook, Amb. David Johnson and DAS Thomas Melia, Sept. 26, 2011. Photo by USOSCE/Colin Peters.

The prohibition against torture is a fundamental precept of international law and a core OSCE commitment to which all participating states must adhere. The U.S. government’s human rights reports, which compile and assess information on the human rights conditions in 194 countries, speak to our belief that it is imperative for countries, including our own, to ensure that respect for human rights is an integral component of foreign policy. Other governments, individuals, and organizations use the human rights reports as essential sources of information about conditions in countries around the world.

In our own country, President Obama has affirmed the importance of defending U.S. national security “with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.” During his second full day in office, President Obama ordered a comprehensive review of U.S. policy respecting the detention, trial, transfer, release, or other disposition of detained apprehended in armed conflict or counter-terrorism operations; ordered the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the review of the appropriate disposition options for detainees held there consistent with U.S. foreign policy and national security interests and the interests of justice; and ordered a review of U.S. interrogation practices to ensure the humane treatment of detainees and compliance with U.S. treaty obligations and domestic law. He instructed the CIA to close any detention facilities that it operated as expeditiously as possible and ordered the CIA not to operate any detention facilities in the future.

President Obama has since continued to implement the U.S. commitment to upholding the rule of law, including through measures related to notice of and timely access for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to any individual detained in any armed conflict in the custody or under the effective control of the U.S. Government, consistent with Department of Defense regulations and policies; ensuring the humane treatment of all persons in U.S. custody; and the expansion of the review procedures for detainees held by the Department of Defense in Afghanistan in order to ensure that we do not detain anyone longer than necessary to mitigate the threat posed. The Administration also remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. While that commitment has not waivered, the task has proven enormously complex. President Obama cannot close Guantanamo alone; that also involves our allies, the courts and our Congress. Our intensive efforts to close the facility continue every day. We are grateful to those countries, including those around this table, which have helped by accepting detainees for resettlement.

Moreover, as President Obama recently reaffirmed in commemorating the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, “under no circumstances is torture ever justified.” As he stated on that occasion, “Torture and abusive treatment violate our most deeply held values, and they do not enhance our national security – they undermine it by serving as a recruiting tool for terrorists and further endangering the lives of U.S. personnel.” The United States does not permit its personnel to engage in acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of people in its custody, either within or outside U.S. territory, and President Obama has “made it clear that the United States will prohibit torture without exception or equivocation.”

Capital punishment in the United States must be viewed within the context of U.S federalism, whereby States have broad powers to regulate their own general welfare, including enactment and enforcement of criminal laws. The death penalty is authorized by 34 States, the Federal Government, and the U.S. Armed Forces. There are currently 16 jurisdictions that do not authorize it. Authorization was repealed most recently in New Mexico in 2009 and in Illinois in 2011. Several states with legislation permitting the death penalty have not used it in the past 30 years. In a number of other states, although capital punishment remains on the books, it is rarely, if ever, imposed. Nine states that retain the death penalty, for example, have not conducted an execution in the last decade. Although New York has a capital statute, the highest state court held in 2007 that a portion of the law was unconstitutional. As a result, no defendants may be sentenced to death until the legislature corrects the deficiencies in this statute.

The United States is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which specifically recognizes the ability of countries to impose the death penalty for the most serious crimes, carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court and in accordance with appropriate safeguards and observance of due process. The U.S. judicial system provides an exhaustive system of protections to ensure that the death penalty is not applied in an extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary manner, and that its imposition does not constitute cruel or unusual punishment as prohibited by the United States Constitution, in keeping with our international obligations and OSCE commitments.


Disclaimer: The Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State manages this site as a portal for international human rights related information from the United States Government. External links to other internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.