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Ambassador Johnson’s Remarks at the Closing of the OSCE Human Dimension Implemenation Meeting Plenary

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Closing of the Plenary Session)

As we mark the close of this two-week session, we should reflect for a moment on what makes this annual encounter so special, and indeed so essential. There is inherent value in a focused discussion among participating States on the implementation of our shared Human Dimension commitments. But, more importantly, the HDIM exemplifies the critical role that the OSCE has always played in engaging and inspiring civil society, and the necessity—not the nicety—of these links.

As Secretary Clinton stated in Astana last year: “Strong democracies, thriving economies, and stable societies cannot be built by governments alone. There must be a partnership between governments, vibrant institutions and free societies that work together to solve the problems that we face in the 21st century.”

During this meeting, we have heard from members of civil society from across the OSCE space. In plenary sessions and in a wide range of side events they have shared compelling and eloquent testimony. We learned from a Belarusian journalist about the perils of speaking out in a country ruled by a repressive regime. We heard stark accounts from European Roma of growing anti-Roma sentiments and violence. A human rights defender told us about her visit to Kyrgyz activist Azimjan Askarov, serving a life sentence based on a confession coerced by torture. These sorts of exchanges, and the efforts that ensue as a result, are precisely what are needed if we are to grasp and solve 21st century challenges.

As has been the case in previous years, the level of participation in most sessions was so high that the time allotted for interventions and replies had to be curtailed multiple times. Attendance at the diverse array of nearly fifty side events was broad and engaged. These indicators suggest that we should maintain, or even expand, this event, and we should seek ways to increase attendance by non-governmental organizations. The United States believes the participation of NGOs is integral to this process and therefore has a longstanding practice of inviting U.S. NGOs to join our daily delegation meetings. Over the past two weeks, some of these NGOs highlighted areas of concern regarding United States implementation of our human dimension commitments. We welcomed these interventions and the opportunity to engage constructively with civil society, even when we might disagree.

The discussions over the past two weeks have helped shine a spotlight on issues of concern in the OSCE Human Dimension, and, in some cases, have highlighted differing perceptions among participating States regarding the proper role of the OSCE and how our shared commitments are best met.

The ongoing political repression in Belarus, which led to the invocation of the Moscow Mechanism in April, is one such example. This year’s HDIM served as a rallying point for Belarusian activists and a vibrant coalition of international NGOs committed to the support of democratic ideals and practices in Belarus. Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting the newly-opened “Belarus House” here in Warsaw. It is run by a courageous group of young Belarusian activists who assist Belarusian refugees; unite, through culture and dialogue, the Belarusian diaspora; and support activists and political prisoners in Belarus. These young men and women made abundantly clear to us that united, firm support from the United States and Europe is essential and profoundly appreciated.

We’ve concentrated a great deal of our attention on Belarus at this year’s HDIM because the regime’s practices flout OSCE principles and commitments. Civil society, a bellwether of democracy in contemporary states, has drawn ample attention to the plight of Belarusian democratic leaders, human rights activists, and indeed regular citizens there. The Freedom House report on Belarus, issued at a side event this week, highlights the Lukashenka government’s clear intent to minimize political rights and civil liberties in Belarus.

There was a lively exchange between members of the United States and Russian Federation delegations about election observation. This is a timely subject, as ODIHR is engaged in preparations to observe historic elections in Kyrgyzstan in a few weeks time. As the U.S. delegation noted in its right of reply to the question “why do we need election observers?” the answers lie in the Copenhagen Document and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They both say that the authority of government derives from the will of the people expressed in democratic elections. So, citizens, in effect, own elections, because that is where sovereignty truly resides. Observers confirm whether or not their elections are free and fair and help identify areas to improve in future elections. That is what the ODIHR does, based on impartial criteria applied consistently throughout all states.

The United States was gratified to hear from Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Churov of his intent to issue an unrestricted invitation to ODIHR to observe the December 4 Duma elections. Looking forward, the United States will issue an unrestricted invitation for our 2012 Congressional and Presidential elections, and will work, through appropriate bodies, to facilitate effective election observation by the OSCE and other appropriate organizations, free from barriers.

Discussions at the HDIM are also informed by events transpiring in our midst. The past two weeks have seen violent anti-Roma protests and rhetoric in Bulgaria and violence against the international presence in Kosovo.

The recent events in Bulgaria echo similar unrest and targeting of Roma that have occurred in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, and remind us of the debates surrounding evictions and expulsions of Roma from throughout Europe. The HDIM’s focus on Roma and Sinti issues was thus extraordinarily timely. In numerous sessions, experts, NGOs and individual Roma discussed growing intolerance toward Roma and highlighted the potential for ethnic tensions to devolve into ethnic violence.

The bigotry exhibited against Roma can also be linked to a disturbing trend of growing radical racist ideologies across several countries in the OSCE space. In some countries, those receptive to extremist political ideologies may make up more than 20 percent of the populace; this is an alarming development. Responsible political leaders should publicly condemn intolerance and prejudice. They should avoid inflammatory language that once was the province of fringe parties. Unfortunately, this rhetoric is increasingly echoed by mainstream politicians, such as the admonition by one Western European leader that if a certain Mayoral candidate were elected in his country, a large city would turn into a “Gypsytown.”

Recent violence in Kosovo was a subject of several exchanges during the context of discussions on freedom of movement. On September 27, a group of up to 500 Serbs—with a heavy truck, firearms, pipe bombs, grenades, and rocks—attacked KFOR troops in northern Kosovo. They wounded nine KFOR soldiers, eight of whom were American. This attack heightened tensions and risked the lives of U.S. and Allied forces, as well as local civilians. In these halls, this attack gave rise to heated exchanges and unfounded accusations from Serbian and Russian representatives against KFOR, which is comprised of troops from 39 participating States. The fact that our Serbian and Russian colleagues, instead of condemning the violent attack, would call into question the legitimate authority of KFOR to carry out its mandate and to act in self-defense is troubling on many levels. This incident was an assault on an international institution, whose presence in Kosovo, like that of EULEX and the OSCE Mission, is to provide support and security for ALL of Kosovo’s citizens.

While all states have the obligation to protect their citizens from violent extremism and other threats, our delegation has noted that several OSCE states interpret that obligation in ways that restrict the rights of their populations. In the past year, Tajikistan has adopted a new “Law on Parental Responsibility” which restricts participation in religious activities by children under the age of 18. This is in addition to restrictive registration requirements for religious groups already in place. Other OSCE states, such as Russia, define extremism so broadly that its laws are used to ban peaceful religious groups and literature. We are also concerned by the growing number of participating States that have adopted or are considering bans on religious expression, including attire.

The HDIM, like the OSCE writ large, has always been a venue for frank debate and for the open airing of concerns among the governments and citizens of participating States. That is its strength and its enduring value. We look forward to discussions of ways in which we might further enhance the effectiveness of this forum, including by exploring new avenues for expanding the opportunities for access by members of civil society, many of whom may not be able to afford to make the trip to Warsaw. We would be particularly interested in exploring ways to use new technologies such as streaming video or social media, to broaden access to our discussions.

Looking ahead to Vilnius and beyond, we believe that it is essential that OSCE participating States confirm in a Ministerial-level decision the application of longstanding commitments on fundamental freedoms to new media. As Secretary Clinton has emphasized: “The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs—these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.”

It is no coincidence that authorities, who try to restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms by their people, impede the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, control the press and obstruct the flow of information, tend to be the same authorities who try to restrict, impede, control and obstruct their citizens’ peaceful use of new digital technologies. In her remarks to this gathering, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, voiced concern about Internet regulation policies proposed by several participating States.

Equally important, we believe is a renewed commitment at the Ministerial level to the protection of journalists. On October 5, the Representative on Freedom of the Media issued a new report detailing the threats and responses to attacks against journalists in the OSCE region. “The right of journalists to carry out their work in safety, without fear of being harassed, attacked, beaten or killed is fundamental to the protection of all other human rights. As long as journalists are afraid for their lives and the lives of their families while doing their job, we do not live in a free society.” One of the shocking statistics in this report is the fact that in the last five years only three out of almost thirty cases of murdered journalists in the OSCE region have been successfully prosecuted.

We must do better.

We also must continue to make progress in the fight against human trafficking, and look forward to working with other participating States toward a Ministerial Declaration in Vilnius that will help us build on the good work of the OSCE and participating States in fighting this scourge.

Finally, I would like to recall an extraordinary scene from the opening plenary. The keynote speaker, Khadija Cherif, the International Federation for Human Rights Secretary General, spoke about the revolution in her native Tunisia, and then offered heartfelt expressions of support for political prisoners in Belarus. It is time that we consider additional ways in which the OSCE can support not only the aspirations of democrats in the heart of Europe, but also those of our Mediterranean Partners. A Ministerial Declaration along these lines would send an important signal and is a good first step.

 


Ambassador Johnson’s remarks at the Closing Plenary of the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Other Business at the Closing of the Plenary Session)

The United States for several years has used this agenda item to follow up on the recommendations made by the fact-finding mission resulting from the invocation of the Moscow Mechanism. In April, the Moscow Mechanism was invoked concerning Belarus. Fourteen participating States took this unusual step due to the crackdown by the Lukashenka government following the election in Belarus on December 19, 2010.

We regret the Belarusian authorities’ refusal to comply with that country’s commitments by placing obstacles to implementation of the Moscow Mechanism. Notwithstanding this unwillingness to cooperate, sole rapporteur Professor Decaux, who ultimately constituted the OSCE’s fact-finding mission, was able to meet formally and informally with OSCE institutions and numerous diplomats and members of civil society, including representatives of NGOs from Belarus. His comprehensive report illustrates the seriousness, duration and scale of gross and systematic human rights violations that have taken place since December 19, 2010.

In particular, the report documents the non-compliance of the Lukashenka government—from the December 19 elections until early May—with Belarus’s OSCE commitments in the following areas: the conduct of the December 19th elections; harassment of candidates and their relatives since the election; restrictions on freedom of association, including registration requirements for political parties, NGOs and trade unions; restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including arrests and detentions of those exercising their right to freedom of opinion as well as harassment, arrests and detention of journalists as well as searches of their homes and offices; restrictions on the freedom of movement, right to peaceful assembly, and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, including torture and ill treatment, and the right to a fair trial and the independence of lawyers. The government of Belarus must address the serious concerns raised in Professor Decaux’s report, and we urge the authorities to implement the recommendations.

We continue to be concerned about the situation in Turkmenistan. It has shown little progress since the Moscow Mechanism was invoked in 2003. Basic human rights and fundamental freedoms remain severely restricted. Turkmenistan remains the only OSCE participating State that officially has a one-party political system. There is virtually no space for civil society to operate. All media is tightly controlled by the government, and the Internet is censored and monitored. According to Reporters without Borders, journalists often were “summoned for questioning, threatened with prosecution, and fired from their jobs, while relatives are also exposed to the possibility of reprisals.”

We have commended Turkmenistan’s registration of the Catholic Church in 2010. However, there continue to be significant restrictions on freedom of religion. Several religious groups remain unable to register, and the government has placed restrictions on registered groups’ ability to own property and print or import religious materials. Current law prohibits foreign missionary activity and foreign religious organizations, and the private publication of religious literature. Freedom of movement also continues to be restricted.

We remain concerned about the lack of access to persons in prison, including political prisoners. Last fall, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly released its opinion that the arrest and continued detention of journalists Annakurban Amanklichev and Sapardurdy Hajiyev violates international law, and that they should be released immediately. We have received no information about former civil activist Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, who was arrested in June 2008 after returning to the country from Norway, where he had received asylum. One very concrete step Turkmenistan could take that would be a clear signal of the government’s intention to move forward with reform would be to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and other independent observers’ access to prisons. Finally, as we have for the past seven years, we again request information about, and access to our former OSCE colleague, Batyr Berdiev. I last saw him in Vienna when the Austrian Foreign Minister honored him before his return to Ashgabat to take up his post as Foreign Minister in Turkmenistan. Many of us who have sat at this table have called him a friend. This organization bears a special burden to press for information about him, and access to him, since not so long ago, he was one of us.

The invocation of the Moscow mechanism remains an extraordinary measure, the use of which demonstrates extraordinary concern by a group of participating States for the situation in one of our countries. Belarus and Turkmenistan should follow-up on the recommendations made through this mechanism, and demonstrate their respect for their OSCE commitments, and, indeed, the OSCE process.

 


Ambassador Johnson on Humanitarian Issues: Trafficking in Human Beings

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 17: Humanitarian Issues; Trafficking in Human Beings)

The United States strongly supports the goals of our OSCE commitments to combat trafficking in persons through prosecution, protection and prevention. For our part, we are working to achieve the goals of the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, and, we are addressing recommendations from the Alliance Against Trafficking conferences coordinated by the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings in drafting its recommendations. While the 2010 Astana Summit did not yield an Action Plan, it did establish the political will for updating commitments associated with labor trafficking and combating the demand for goods and services produced by trafficked persons at the upcoming Ministerial Council meetings.

In recent years, the OSCE has addressed the demand that drives modern slavery, as well as the unique vulnerabilities of domestic workers. This year, the Alliance against Trafficking considered the scope of trafficking for labor exploitation. The United States commends Special Representative Giammarinaro for her efforts to address emerging trends in trafficking and to identify new mechanisms for cooperation, particularly in the field of labor trafficking. In February of this year, the OSCE Special Representative launched a publication entitled: “Unprotected Work, Invisible Exploitation: Trafficking for the Purpose of Domestic Servitude,” (ref. 1) which included key recommendations on victim identification, and on improved regulation and monitoring of recruitment and placement agencies. Additionally, the Special Representative collaborated on the development of recommendations for “The Implementation and Enforcement of Codes of Conduct in the Private Sector to Reduce the Demand for the Services of or Goods Produced by People who have been Trafficked.” We strongly support these initiatives, which provide ample background to enhance efforts established by the 2007 Madrid Ministerial Decision on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for Labor Exploitation (ref. 2). We ask participating States to join the United States in advancing a strong Declaration decision based on these recommendations for the Vilnius Ministerial Council in December.

As we move past the first decade since the adoption of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, much still needs to be done. We are encouraged, however, that most countries have enacted either comprehensive anti-trafficking laws or separate anti-trafficking provisions in their penal code. Now our focus must shift to implementation.

Unfortunately, some OSCE States remain far from achieving the fundamental goals set by our shared OSCE commitments, as documented in the U.S. Department of State’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Azerbaijan, Russia, and Uzbekistan have demonstrated inadequate progress from previous years in combating trafficking in persons. In the Russian case, the country has remained as a source, transit, and destination country for forced labor and sex trafficking with limited government efforts to protect victims or prevent trafficking. This is all the more concerning as we approach the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which may present a risk of the use of forced labor in construction projects. Minimal progress to address domestic forced labor during the cotton harvest remains a substantial challenge in Uzbekistan, while proactive victim identification and effective investigations and prosecutions of traffickers have not been adequately prioritized in Malta or Azerbaijan. Belarus, Cyprus and Estonia lack effective programs to investigate, prosecute, and sentence traffickers, paired with weak victim-centered approaches to assistance and protection. Estonia remains the only European Union country without a law that specifically addresses human trafficking. We urge Estonia to quickly pass its draft trafficking-specific criminal statute, provide better assistance for repatriated Estonian victims, and improve awareness of victim services. Additionally, we call on Belarus to provide greater victim assistance and protection while providing more information on, and clearly delineating their anti-trafficking efforts from their efforts on trafficking related work such as illegal migration. We urge Cyprus to actively prosecute and convict traffickers, improve front-line services to victims, strengthen NGO partnerships, and provide responder training for victim identification.

We are particularly concerned by the Turkmenistan government’s unwillingness prosecute traffickers and disregard for the work of IOM and anti-trafficking organizations which seek to provide protection for victims. We urge Turkmenistan to implement its 2007 anti-trafficking law and Article 129(1) of its criminal code and develop a reliable victim identification and referral mechanism. Forced labor, including forced child labor, in Central Asia remains a challenge that must be addressed, particularly for cotton cultivation in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The citizens of the OSCE region deserve a future free from exploitation. The United States urges Uzbekistan to stop the practice of using forced labor to pick cotton, and urges Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to continue efforts to eliminate the use of forced labor in the cotton harvests.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of State’s 2011 TIP Report for the second time features a full tier-ranking and country narrative for the United States, so that our initiatives can be openly compared to other States. Government self-reporting can be a useful tool, but is only meaningful when a vigorous civil society can also independently and safely voice its views—as exemplified in the U.S. narrative. The 2011 report on the United States is a reminder of how much further our government still has to go in the fight against modern day slavery.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) has been active in promoting new avenues for our efforts to combat human trafficking throughout the OSCE region. The recent Belgrade Declaration of the OSCE PA included proposals to enhance implementation of United Nations protocols on trafficking and specific efforts to combat trafficking for labor exploitation. This resolution also unanimously called on participating States to adopt a ministerial decision or declaration on labor trafficking, demonstrating the broad political will for such an action. As we update the Madrid Ministerial Decision we must consider more specific regulation for recruitment agencies, appropriate oversight of supply chains to prevent exploitation, measures to prevent abuses of domestic workers—including by diplomatic personnel—measures to encourage corporate codes of conduct, and to promote consumer awareness. We ask participating States to consider these recommendations as we negotiate updates to our OSCE commitments in the coming weeks.

(ref. 1) – http://www.osce.org/cthb/75804

(ref. 2) – MC.DEC 8/07 http://www.osce.org/mc/29464

 


Ambassador Johnson on OSCE Human Dimension Activities

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 10)

As we take stock of OSCE’s human dimension work, I want to underscore strong U.S. support for Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). It has earned its place as the key institution in the OSCE’s efforts to promote democratic development, human rights, free and fair elections, and tolerance and non-discrimination.

At a time when our core human dimension commitments remain challenged, ODIHR’s work to promote respect for human rights, provide objective assessments of the conduct of elections, and support the development of democratic institutions is even more crucial. We encourage ODIHR to focus on those core elements of its mandate, prioritize those areas where OSCE commitments are the most clearly defined, and focus on those countries where the gap between commitments and implementation is the greatest. We also believe the Director of ODIHR should be prepared to highlight key concerns and current issues that may arise in areas covered by ODIHR’s mandate.

All participating States have an interest in opposing all efforts to undermine ODIHR’s autonomy and impartiality, including in its election observation missions, as well as any attempts to turn back the clock on the progress we have made in democratic practices within the OSCE region. The United States has been, and will continue to be, in the forefront of States protecting ODIHR from political interference.

OSCE’s well-deserved reputation for election monitoring is directly attributable to its well-known, objective criteria and procedures for election observation. We strongly support the election observation work of both the ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. We continue to believe that both of these OSCE institutions play a critical role, each providing unique and necessary expertise, and that our Organization is best served when we all speak with one voice and our institutions work together in a spirit of complementary partnership, cooperation and collaboration.

The United States continues to place great importance on the work of ODIHR, the three Personal Representatives on tolerance and non-discrimination, as well as the work of the High Commissioner on National Minorities on these and related issues. We commend the High Commissioner on National Minorities’ ongoing work on multi-ethnic societies and integration and encourage continued cooperation with the OSCE PA in this area. Although the civility of public discourse regarding national minorities had improved in many places in recent years, we are troubled that in some OSCE participating States there has been notable deterioration. This phenomenon highlights the continuing importance of the High Commissioner’s engagement.

We applaud ODIHR’s effort to address hate crimes in the region. In our view, a continued focus should be maintained on realistic, specific, targeted initiatives that will assist participating States in developing a clear understanding of and response to prejudice and discrimination, that will develop model legislation to meet OSCE commitments and data collection methods based on this model legislation, and will improve relations with minority and other impacted communities and a sharing of best practices. We are greatly pleased to see ODIHR’s new Training against Hate Crimes for Law Enforcement operational as well as the updated Annual Hate Crimes report, both of which can assist OSCE participating States in their implementation of Athens Ministerial Decision No 9/09 on Combating Hate Crimes.

We also continue to support the three Personal Representatives of the CiO as another mechanism for addressing problems of intolerance and discrimination. Their continued focus on distinct and specific forms of intolerance provides the opportunity for a concerted response at a political level as specific problems arise. We hope the Personal Representatives will continue to address the resurgence of anti-Semitism associated with increased tensions in the Middle East and increases in anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-Roma hate crimes and other forms of intolerance. While we support the joint travel of the Personal Representatives to countries, we also believe it is important for the Personal Representatives to be able to travel individually to maintain their ability to respond quickly to situations that may or may not impact the areas of the other Personal Representatives.

We look forward to the upcoming Supplemental Human Dimension Meeting on the prevention of racism, xenophobia and hate crimes scheduled for November 10 and 11.

The OSCE remains a singular forum for addressing human rights issues relating to Romani people, and we welcome the partnership between the OSCE and the EU to improve the integration of Roma in the Western Balkans.

We regret, however, that sustained engagement in areas like improving Romani access to education is frequently interrupted by the need to address a constant stream of human rights crises for Roma. We are not doing enough, and we are not doing it fast enough.

The participation of NGOs in OSCE events and field work in the human dimension is, we believe, one of the elements that makes the OSCE so valuable. We must ensure that that the OSCE remains open to NGO involvement, and indeed, would welcome discussions on how to strengthen it. We regret the time spent during last year’s Review Conference dealing with procedural issues related to NGO participation, and commend the Lithuanian Chairmanship for ensuring that OSCE rules were properly implemented this year.

The United States continues to support the work of the OSCE field missions. At the same time, we are also interested in exploring the possibility of establishing thematic missions. We believe that on some issues, thematic missions with the ability to travel to several participating States could be very effective.

We welcome the desire and willingness of some countries to host special, ad hoc meetings on human dimension themes. This is constructive, useful, capitalizes on political momentum, and should be encouraged and supported. However, perhaps when we agree to hold these ad hoc meetings, we also should agree to reduce the number of other meetings we hold so that we can give adequate focus and consideration to each. We might do this, for example, by counting the ad hoc meeting as one of the supplementary meetings for the year. After all, Supplementary meetings can be held outside Vienna, as was the case in 2005 when one was hosted by Georgia. I would stress that we consider the HDIM a unique and irreplaceable forum that must be preserved.

Finally, I would like to stress the importance we attach to reaching out to our OSCE Partner States. As an organization, we should extend our institutional knowledge and technical expertise to our Partners for Cooperation. The universally respected OSCE objectivity, expertise and professionalism in election monitoring can and should be made available to countries outside the OSCE.

 


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)

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 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.

 


Ambassador Johnson on Freedom of Assembly and Association

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 3)

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 right to peaceful assembly and association are well-established rights, essential to any genuine, functioning democratic system. But in a number of participating States, respect for these rights remains tightly and unduly restricted.

In Kazakhstan, thousands of oil workers in the western part of the country have been striking since May, demanding that independent trade unions in the region be allowed to operate without restrictions, that salaries be increased, and that there be equal treatment for foreign and domestic workers. A lawyer for the striking workers, Natalya Sokolova, was sentenced in August to six years in jail for “igniting social unrest,” just a week after being found guilty of “organizing an unsanctioned mass gathering” in front of police headquarters in Aktau. Upon his return to Kazakhstan after protesting outside the Kazakhstani Embassy in Moscow in August on behalf of the striking oil workers, opposition activist Zhanbolat Mamai was jailed for holding an unsanctioned protest—even though that protest did not take place in Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistan formally closed the Tashkent office of Human Rights Watch in June. The United States values the role played worldwide by international NGOs and regrets that Human Rights Watch will not be able to contribute to Uzbekistan’s implementation of its international and OSCE commitments to further develop civil society and transparency. On June 27—Media Workers’ Day in Uzbekistan—Saodat Omonova and Malohat Eshonqulova were detained in Tashkent and fined $1,500 for holding an unauthorized protest. They later went on hunger strike to protest government media censorship at the state television station Yoshlar (Youth), where they had worked.

In Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries, the formation and activities of NGOs are severely restricted. Similar to laws in other Central Asian states, Turkmen law requires that all nongovernmental organizations register with the Ministry of Justice, inform the government of any foreign financial assistance, notify the government of all planned activities, and allow government officials to attend meetings and events. Groups that do try to fulfill these regulations often face administrative obstacles, particularly concerning the registration process, and only one organization has been allowed to register since 2008—the Society of Guitarists. Working without registration is a precarious option—unregistered NGO activity is punishable by fines, short-term detention, and confiscation of property.

In Russia, authorities routinely deny permission for opposition groups to rally at Triumph Square in Moscow and Gostiny Dvor and Palace Square in St. Petersburg, and then break up unauthorized peaceful gatherings at these locations. Russian democratic activists continue to be prosecuted for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of assembly. While Russian law allows one-man pickets without permits, authorities are quick to arrest these protestors as soon as they are joined by a second individual – often uninvited and reportedly from Kremlin-supported youth groups. Authorities continue to deny LGBT groups the right of free assembly through continued bans on pride demonstrations and parades.

In Ukraine, police interference with public protests and rallies has increased, most notably during peaceful protests last November over the government’s proposed changes to the tax code, and during an opposition march in Kyiv in August on the country’s Independence Day. In some cases, police arrested and detained protestors and called others in for questioning. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, there were more violations of freedom assembly in 2010 than during the previous two years.

The United States welcomes the Armenian Government’s decision this spring to allow demonstrations again in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, and its commitment to investigate fully the circumstances surrounding the violence following the last presidential election. We hope this investigation will result in meaningful accountability, and that the government will work toward the elimination of all constraints on freedom of assembly in Armenia.

Azerbaijani authorities routinely deny requests to organize rallies and have refused since the end of 2005 to make available Azadliq Square in central Baku for pro-democracy demonstrations. Those who attempt to hold such demonstrations risk arrest, fines, imprisonment and beatings, as was illustrated again in March and April of this year both before and during thwarted demonstrations in Baku. According to credible reports, some were beaten or otherwise abused in detention.

In Georgia, the violent use of excessive force by law enforcement officials and reports of abuse of detainees following the May 25-26 also remain of concern and undermine Georgia’s democratization efforts. It is important that transparent investigations into such actions produce tangible results with appropriate accountability.

Finally, Mr./Madam Moderator, since last year’s HDIM, violations of freedom of assembly have reached egregious—proportions.

Since we last met, especially after the December 19 elections, Belarus has escalated the systematic repression of the freedom of assembly and association. Election night was marred by a violent campaign of repression against tens of thousands who came out to peacefully protest falsified election results. By the time the night was over, nearly 700 protestors were in detention. This number included most opposition presidential candidates, a number of whom were subjected to harsh physical treatment. More than 40 were convicted and many remain in prison, with sentences of up to six years. The recent pardons and dropping of charges are utterly insufficient. The United States again calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all incarcerated political prisoners. The crackdown included the intensification of pressure on NGOs and civil society, including the August 4 arrest of Ales Bialiatski, president of Viasna, one of two human rights groups in Belarus. Ales had often been present at this annual meeting to engage on the very same human rights concerns in Belarus that we are now discussing. No human rights organization, including Viasna, has been permitted to register in Belarus since 2003 and no independent trade union since 1999. There has also been an increase in harassment and searches of NGO premises and equipment seizures as part of the crackdown.

More recently, since June, thousands of Belarusians in more than 40 cities across the country have been engaging in peaceful protests against government policies—mainly economic policies. Plainclothes police officers, often without identification, have arrested more than 2,000 people for simply being present or clapping in support. There were no slogans, no signs, no party identification—and all the protests took place within areas freely accessible to the public. According to local human rights groups, approximately 1,500 people received sentences of between 5 and 15 days. The Belarusian authorities’ intolerance for any form of protest was underscored by recent proposed amendments to require official authorization of any planned mass presence of citizens in a public place organized for the purpose of “action or lack of action” to publicly air social or political views or protests. Under this draconian regime, one can be arrested simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, even if one is not doing anything.

 
 

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