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Statement by Chargé d’Affaires Robbins on the Convictions of April 2 Protesters in Azerbaijan

The United States deeply regrets the recent convictions of a number of opposition activists who participated in peaceful demonstrations on April 2. These rulings include:

The October 10 verdict of the Nasimi District Court to convict four activists- Ahad Mammadov, Ulvi Guliyev, Elnur Medzhidli, and Rufat Hajibeyli – on charges of actions disturbing public order and/or resisting police;

The October 3 ruling of the Sabail District Court to convict four activists—Arif Hajili, Tural Abbasli, Mahammad Majidli, and Fuad Gahramanli—on charges of conspiracy to violate public order for planning and organizing pro-democracy protests that took place on April 2;

We further regret decisions by the same court on August 25 to convict six other activists on similar charges.

We note that the October 11 spot report from the OSCE Office in Baku, which states that a total of 14 political activists have now been convicted as a result of the April 2 demonstration. We encourage the Office to continue its close monitoring of the court proceedings, including any related appeals.

The United States recalls the Government of Azerbaijan’s obligations under its Constitution and its OSCE commitments to respect the rule of law and the rights of all its citizens to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Accordingly, we call upon Azerbaijan’s judicial authorities to ensure that any appeals of these convictions are reviewed in accordance with Azerbaijan’s constitutional and international commitments, which exist to help all Azerbaijanis advance democratic culture, processes, and institutions in their country.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


United States Intervention for Venezuela at the UPR Working Group

12th Session of the UPR Working Group

The United States welcomes Foreign Minister Maduro and the Venezuelan delegation to the UPR Working Group. We view as positive the draft law to extend protections to all victims of human trafficking.

We remain concerned about specific actions taken by the Venezuelan government to limit freedom of expression and criminalize dissent, including using administrative pretexts to close media outlets and harassing media owners and members of the political opposition through judicial action. We note Venezuela’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of expression, as well as the protections in the Venezuelan constitution.

Additionally, we note the importance of an independent judiciary to representative government, and express our concern about increasing evidence that the Venezuelan judiciary lacks the independence necessary to fulfill its role in society. We further note the obligations contained in the Venezuelan constitution to respect judicial independence and permit judges to act according to the law and without fear of retaliation. In this context, we join others in the international community in urging for the release of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, whose arrest and continued imprisonment demonstrate inappropriate executive involvement in judicial functions and constitute a violation of her human rights.

Finally, we are concerned by continued anti-Semitism expressed in the official media.

In light of these concerns, we recommend that Venezuela:

1. Respect the independence of the judiciary.

2. Investigate allegations of executive branch interference in judicial decision-making.

3. Direct officials to cease anti-Semitic commentary and condemn any such statements.

4. Urge the National Assembly to adopt the draft legislation on trafficking in persons.

5. Intensify its efforts to provide protection to asylum seekers and refugees, including through the timely provision of documentation as to their legal status and rights.

6. Accept visit requests from the UN Special Rapporteurs and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

 


Key U.S. Accomplishments at the UN Human Rights Council 18th Session

The eighteenth session of the Human Rights Council came to an end in Geneva on September 30, 2011. This was the seventh regular session since the United States joined in September 2009. Though much work remains, in particular ending the Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel, U.S. engagement thus far has resulted in significant improvements to the Human Rights Council as a multilateral forum for promoting and protecting human rights. Accomplishments include groundbreaking resolutions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, preventing discrimination against women, LGBT human rights, religious tolerance, and the creation of monitoring mechanisms for Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Iran, and Syria. Key accomplishments at this session include:

Sudan: The United States worked with the Africa Group on a consensus resolution that renews the mandate of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan for one year, expresses international concern at the humanitarian situations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and calls upon all parties to immediately end violence and halt clashes. The United States underlined our core message regularly during the session: we are deeply concerned about ongoing reports of human rights violations and abuses, including unlawful killing and other violence with impunity, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, and restrictions on freedom of assembly. In Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where there are credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the United States will continue to support an independent and credible investigation to hold those responsible to account.

South Sudan: The United States joined South Sudan and the Africa Group on a consensus resolution that welcomes South Sudan as a new State and member of the United Nations and also welcomes the government’s commitment to strengthen national human rights mechanisms. The resolution calls upon the government to strengthen ongoing cooperation with the UN Mission in South Sudan on human rights issues, and also invites the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist the new government.

Libya: The United States worked closely with Morocco, Libya, and others on a consensus resolution that recommends the UN General Assembly lift Libya’s suspension from the Human Rights Council. The resolution also welcomes the commitments made by the new Libyan government to uphold its obligations under international human rights law and to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the international Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council at the February 2011 Special Session on Libya.

Yemen: The United States worked with delegations from Yemen and the Netherlands, as well as others on a consensus resolution that calls for a rapid political transition and transfer of power, as outlined in the plan drawn up by the Gulf Cooperation Council, and condemns ongoing violations of human rights in Yemen. The resolution notes the Yemeni government’s announcement to launch transparent and independent investigations, which will adhere to their international obligations. The resolution also calls upon the Government of Yemen and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop a framework for dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights.

Syria: At an interactive dialogue on Syria, the United States welcomed the prompt formation of the Commission of Inquiry mandated at the August 2011 Special Session on Syria. The U.S. government called on the Syrian authorities to allow the Commission of Inquiry, international humanitarian agencies, and international media unrestricted access to report on the abhorrent conditions inside Syria. The United States called on the Asad regime to step aside, and to stop killing and torturing the Syrian people immediately.

Israeli/Palestinian Issues: The United States continues to believe the disproportionate focus on Israel diminishes the credibility and effectiveness of the Council. The United States continues to strongly oppose the permanent agenda item devoted to Israel-related issues, which is the only agenda item devoted to a specific country. There were no resolutions under the Israel-specific agenda item at this session.

Fighting Racism: The United States worked with Brazil to co-sponsor a consensus resolution that urged States to fight against racism and strengthen democracy. The United States is committed to working with our global partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. The United States also recognized the importance of tolerance and reconciliation, citing the powerful example of Nelson Mandela, as tools in the effort to foster more just, tolerant, and equal societies.

 


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.

 


Ambassador at Large Johnson Cook on Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 2)

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.

As President Obama has affirmed, “The United States stands with those who advocate for free religious expression and works to protect the rights of all people to follow their conscience, free from persecution and discrimination. We bear witness to those who are persecuted or attacked because of their faith.” Like other fundamental rights, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief belongs to people by virtue of their humanity, and this right is inalienable. This right also includes the right not to believe.

Moreover, this right is inherently connected with other human rights, such as the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression. Accordingly, violations of this right should give rise to concern. Participating States are obligated to respect it, and to ensure the conditions for its free expression. Such protections will benefit the people of every nation, and will make the countries where these rights are guaranteed more, not less, secure.

Opportunities for interaction among people of diverse religions or beliefs have reached unprecedented levels, and are contributing to an increasing awareness and mutual understanding.

This helps all of us better protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief. States that create an inclusive environment for people with different views will be able to harness the talents and resources of all their citizens to help meet compelling challenges within communities, at the national level, and within the world community.

Today, we see the various means by which States curtail the free exercise of this right despite the considerable body of related OSCE commitments. As a result, the space for religious observance and expression in many OSCE countries is shrinking.

Onerous registration requirements often lie at the core of restrictive laws on religion, and we encourage the governments of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to repeal or amend these laws.

We are also troubled by a trend toward new restrictive laws on religion in a number of countries. In Azerbaijan, unregistered religious worship remains illegal. Many groups have been denied registration or are still pending registration for more than 18 months after the deadline for applying for registration. Hungary’s new religion law, adopted on July 12 after a midnight debate, will de-register more than 300 previously registered faiths when it goes into effect next January; new requests for registration are subject to a two-thirds vote of the parliament. We urge that Hungary’s framework for religious freedom be brought into conformity with OSCE commitments.

Kazakhstan’s government is considering a similar law that would make all religious organizations re-register, impose compulsory censorship, and require government approval to open a new place of worship. We encourage Kazakhstan to reject or modify the proposed legislation, and to amend its religion law to remove existing penalties for engaging in peaceful, non-violent but unregistered religious activity.

Individuals in Uzbekistan engaged in religious activities outside of those approved by the authorities are subject to harassment, raids, fines and confiscation of religious materials—as well as imprisonment. Missionary activity is illegal. The law criminalizes unregistered religious activity and bans the production and distribution of unofficial religious publications. Minors are restricted from participating in religious organizations. In addition, criminal charges of belonging to specific banned religious groups considered “extremist” may be brought even when such groups have not engaged in violence. As a result, the U.S. government has again designated Uzbekistan a “country of particular concern.”

In Azerbaijan, there are burdensome registration requirements for religious groups; we urge the government to reform its registration system for religious groups to ensure that the system is fair, transparent, and timely. In addition, those who engage in innocuous religious activity without the permission of the government may be subjected to massive fines. Authorities reportedly monitored and raided some religious services, confiscated religious materials, and harassed and detained members of Muslim and Christian groups. The government has also banned the wearing of the hijab in schools and universities. We also encourage Azerbaijan to allow mosques to be finished or re-opened.

In Russia, use of extremism laws against non-violent religious minorities remains an ongoing concern. Russian prosecutors have filed numerous cases under Russia’s Law on Counteracting Extremism, which has resulted in the banning of religious literature produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, and followers of Said Nursi and Falun Gong. Even when these groups have court decisions in their favor, authorities are slow to act. The failure of Moscow authorities to allow the reopening of a Jehovah’s Witnesses branch is just one such example. We encourage Russia to avoid applying anti-extremism laws to nonviolent minority religious groups.

In like manner, vague anti-terrorism and extremism laws in a number of countries like Russia and Uzbekistan are being used as a means to frustrate, if not eliminate, the religious activities of certain groups by mislabeling them as “dangerous sectarian,” “extremist,” or “terrorist” organizations.

Tajikistan has passed legislation over the past couple of years strictly controlling religious practice in the country. Prayer is allowed only in designated places, and women are not allowed to pray in a mosque. Most recently, Tajikistan has imposed restrictions on religious activity by young people. In particular, the Parental Responsibility Law, which prohibits minors from participating in the activities of religious associations, is fundamentally incompatible with OSCE commitments, as are restrictions on the importation and distribution of religious publications.

The United States is alarmed at the increase of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the OSCE region and elsewhere, and we urge OSCE participating States to speak out and address it.

We must learn the lessons of the past to prevent the growth of hatred and discrimination. We commend Lithuania for its Holocaust education program, and urge other countries to reinvigorate such efforts. The increase in anti-Semitic acts in the OSCE region such as defacing property and desecrating cemeteries with anti-Semitic graffiti, along with Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification is most disturbing.

Even among countries who generally respect religious freedom, and with whom we rarely have disagreements in this area, we occasionally identify issues worthy of note. The banning of head and face coverings in countries such as Belgium and France, and other participating States that may be moving to ban religious attire, such as Italy, violates the right of individuals to determine the practice of their faith. As President Obama has stated, “it is important for … countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit—for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.”

Ethnic and religious groups working together is the best way to move a culture from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding; from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity; from hate to tolerance. We must not only confront intolerance, we must actively promote tolerance.

Finally, the efforts to ban ritual slaughter of animals in line with Kosher and Halal guidelines have the effect, intended or unintended, of curbing Jewish and Muslim religious practices and therefore infringe on religious freedom. We encourage all countries which may be contemplating such a ban to reconsider and to recognize that it is a barrier to religious expression and practice.

Conscientious objectors in several participating States have languished in prison for years as the price for following the dictates of their consciences. I would note the ruling of the the European Court of Human Rights, in the case of Bayatyan v. Armenia. The right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service flows directly from the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, and we hope Armenia will amend its 2009 law to address the concerns that have been raised. We urge Armenia to release the 68 conscientious objectors currently in prison and to amend its laws in line with its OSCE commitments to prevent further imprisonment of conscientious objectors. We also urge Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan to bring their laws and policies into conformity with OSCE standards.

We are heartened by the Turkish government’s decree of August 27 to return or compensate for properties confiscated from religious communities over the last 75 years. We also commend the Turkish government for returning the Buyukada Orphanage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate earlier this year. I would note that at the Belgrade meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in July, the issue of the Halki seminary was raised. The United States reiterates its call for the Government of Turkey to allow the reopening of the Theological School at Halki four decades after its forced closure by the authorities. We also urge Turkey to amend the 1982 military-drafted constitution to provide full legal status and rights for Turkey’s religious minorities.

As Secretary Clinton said earlier this month as she released the International Religious Freedom Report, “When governments respect religious freedom, when they work with civil society to promote mutual respect, or when they prosecute acts of violence against members of religious minorities, they can help turn down the temperature. They can foster a public aversion to hateful speech without compromising the right to free expression. And in doing so, they create a climate of tolerance that helps make a country more stable, more secure, and more prosperous.”

We call on all members of the OSCE to uphold their international commitments to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, remains essential to the security of the OSCE region and the world community. Let us all take greater steps to protect this right—a right at the core of human dignity.

 


Deputy Assistant Secretary Melia on Freedom of expression, free media and information

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 1)

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.

Freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, and the ability of citizens to access and share a wide range of information are hallmarks of democratic governance and essential to national success in the Information Age. Across the OSCE, individual citizens as well as civil society organizations and journalists seek to inform and shape public debate, influence government decision-making, expose abuses of power, connect with one another and join in the great global flow of news, ideas and opinion. The OSCE, and its impressive Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, have played, and must continue to play, a pioneering role within this region and beyond it, in the defense and advancement of fundamental freedoms via traditional and online media.

Today, in a number of participating States, media – particularly independent media — are under pressure to be silent or self-censor. For practicing their profession, journalists are victims of brutal, sometimes deadly, attacks, often carried out with impunity. The Committee to Protect Journalists has noted that 546 journalists have been killed around the world with complete impunity since 1992. Three countries from the OSCE region — Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkey – are on the list of the top 20 countries that CPJ has recorded with unsolved, or in some instances entirely unaddressed, cases of murdered journalists. Many publics in the OSCE region are denied the opportunity to access a range of sources of information.

OSCE states also are part of a growing global trend by governments to restrict Internet freedom, and, by so doing, restrict the exercise via new media not only of the fundamental freedom of expression, but also the fundamental freedoms of assembly and association. These enduring freedoms apply just as much to a communication sent by Twitter or a gathering organized by Facebook as they do to a conversation on the telephone or in coffee shops, or a demonstration in a public square.

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.”

Almost every aspect of today’s society is being transformed by the rapidly growing number of Internet users, the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices, and the expansion of tools such as blogs, social networking sites, and online media. With two billion people now online, the Internet has become the public space of the 21st century.

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 the new digital technologies.

While the latest connective technologies are the most topical media, we must not lose sight of the fact that newspapers, TV, and radio remain critical outlets for information and opinion for much of the world’s population, including in the OSCE region. These media outlets are no less important and no less deserving of the full adherence to OSCE commitments.

Let me now raise specific concerns about freedom of expression and media freedom in a number of OSCE participating States.

In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the state retains a tight grip on all media. We urge the Government of Turkmenistan to allow the importation of foreign print media and to relax existing restrictions on foreign and domestic journalists. Last month, Uzbekistan authorities blocked dozens of Internet sites, including those of the New York Times and many Russia-based news websites. At the beginning of September, Uzbekistan unveiled a new government-sponsored social media site—Mulokot—that reportedly is available only to persons with a registered Uzbek cell phone number. There already are indications that the site is monitored and censored.

Although print media are freer in Kazakhstan, authorities have used excessive fines to close small independent newspapers critical of the regime. Ramazan Yesergepov, editor of the weekly Alma-Ata Info, is still in prison for allegedly revealing state secrets while reporting on a corruption investigation. Authorities have blocked a number of popular blogs and media sites under a 2009 law that classifies all Internet content as media, most recently the popular blog platform LiveJournal, on the grounds that extremists had posted blogs on it. Kazakhstan also recently decided that all .kz domain names will have to operate on physical servers within its borders, a move that could build a virtual wall around the Kazakhstani internet that authorities could use to further control content.

We welcome recent amendments to the Criminal Code in Kyrgyzstan which decriminalized libel and urge other participating States with such laws to consider doing the same. Along with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, we strongly urge that the remaining speech crimes of ‘insult’ and ‘insult of an official’ will also be repealed. More than a year after the violence of June 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, we remain concernedby the closure of Uzbek-language media, particularly in the run-up to elections next month. The August attack by unknown assailants against journalist Shokhrukh Saipov—whose brother Aliher was murdered for his journalism work in 2007—is another example where swift action by the Kyrgyz authorities to investigate and prosecute the crime can help reverse its chilling effect on media freedom.

Armenia also decriminalized libel in 2010, but since then the civil code has been misused to stifle the media through the imposition of heavy fines. Moreover, A1+ TV is still off the airwaves, despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. We hope government will take steps to improve media freedom, especially in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections next year.

In Tajikistan, the government controls most printing presses, newsprint supplies, and broadcasting facilities. The government used this power in 2010 to stop the publication of several newspapers and block access to independent internet websites. Government officials have used lawsuits to intimidate critics. Last June, Urunboy Usmonov, a local correspondent for the BBC who met with members of a banned Islamic group in order to write a story, was arrested on suspicion of belonging to that group. Though he has since been released on bail, he still faces criminal prosecution. Journalist Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov has been held in pre-trial detention since November 2010, charged with inciting religious and national hatred, slander and other crimes after he reported on local corruption.

Although we welcome Azerbaijan’s release of journalist Eynulla Fatullayev and activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, journalists and activists in that country continue to risk fines, beatings and imprisonment for exercising their freedom of speech.

In Georgia, many media criticize the government, but the two primary TV stations with countrywide reach remain heavily influenced by the government. There are also ongoing concerns about transparency of ownership of media outlets despite a law passed in 2010 limiting off shore ownership to 10 percent. We look forward to the January 2012 implementation of legislation designed to address these concerns. There are also reports of direct and indirect pressure on journalists, including the beating by security forces of journalists covering the events of the night of June 25-26, and the government’s tax inspection of Media Palitra shortly after it showed coverage of the events of June 25-26 in a manner unfavorable to the government.

Belarus has a poor record on freedom of expression—including for members of the media. The state maintains a monopoly on information about political, social, and economic affairs. Journalists risk fines and/or imprisonment for publishing views contrary to the official government line. This record further deteriorated with last December’s post-election crackdown; students, members of human rights organizations, bloggers, and political party activists were harassed, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The further crackdown on independent media included beatings, detentions, convictions, searches, equipment confiscations and other forms of harassment, as well as threats of administrative closures of newspapers. Belarus has periodically blocked social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and shut down opposition Internet sites. Customers at Internet cafes must present identity documents, and the cafes are responsible for maintaining lists of users and the websites they visit. Authorities routinely monitor emails and Internet traffic. Responding to the “silent protests” that took place in June and July, the government reportedly created “mirror” websites to divert users from accessing independent news sources and blocked access to the popular Vkontakte website before and during protest actions.

In Russia, journalists have risked—and lost—their lives to do their jobs. Paul Klebnikov, Anna Politkovskaya, and Natalya Estemirova and are only three of those who have paid the ultimate price for reporting the news. Journalists covering the ongoing violence in the North Caucasus and official corruption face especially dangerous conditions. Many journalists exercise self-censorship to avoid government pressure.

We welcome the Russian President Medvedev’s statement at the World Economic Forum in January that “Any attempts to limit the Internet or stifle innovation will lead the world to stagnation. Russian will not support initiatives that put Internet freedom in question.” The spread of the Internet undoubtedly has had a positive effect on Russian civil society, providing new opportunities for grassroots organizations to connect with citizens and new platforms to voice alternative viewpoints and hold government accountable. However, problems associated with press freedom for print media have begun to migrate to online media as well. Even when technical blocks or filtering are not deployed systematically, if people are punished physically or through legal action for peacefully expressing themselves online, Internet freedom is constrained. The threats to Internet freedom in Russia range from attacks on bloggers to criminal prosecutions for “extremism”, to the blocking of specific sites by local service providers, denial of service attacks on sites of opposition groups or independent media, and attempts by security services and some regional authorities to regulate Internet content.

In Ukraine, while many outlets for alternative, independent views still exist, the media in general have become less competitive as dominance by the state and oligarchs friendly to the authorities—both national and local—has grown. A number of journalists focusing on corruption at the local level have been threatened or attacked. Impunity for attacks on journalists and the media undermines democracy and the rule of law. It is troubling that authorities have not yet shed light on the disappearance of investigative reporter Vasyl Klymentyev in Kharkiv more than one year ago. And the closed door trial concerning the killing in 2000 of journalist Georgiy Gongadze challenges the right of the public to be informed. It is vital in a democracy that independent media can freely report on matters of public concern.

The United States shares the concern of the Representative on Freedom of the Media and others regarding media freedom in Macedonia. Most recently, the mandates of all members of the management board of the public broadcaster MRT were terminated, a move which could compromise the independence of the broadcaster. When combined with the closure earlier this year of A1 TV and three newspapers accused of tax evasion, we see an overall downward trend, leaving Macedonian citizens with fewer media choices.

In Turkey, scores of Turkish journalists are behind bars, and thousands more are under investigation. A recent survey of journalists indicated that 85.1% of those polled said censorship and self-censorship are definitely common in the Turkish media, while 14.9% said censorship and self-censorship are fairly common. We are increasingly concerned by the restrictions that the Government of Turkey places on Internet freedom. According to the excellent report issued by the Representative of Freedom of the Media, Turkey has the broadest legal measures in the OSCE region for blocking access to websites by specifying 11 content-related crimes, and is considering even further filtering of content. We welcome Ankara’s decision to delay the introduction of new Internet measures, including a nationwide filtering package which members of civil society and industry opposed as a further restriction of Internet freedom. We urge the authorities to respond to their concerns and ensure that any new Internet policies respect a free and open Internet in Turkey.

Digital networks are essential to everyday life in the 21st Century. They empower those working for human dignity and they are an engine of national and global prosperity. At the same time, the Internet’s force and reach make it a target for intrusive governmental regulation. The United States is determined to lead by example and demonstrate by our own actions that increased security and enhanced user privacy go hand-in-hand with keeping the Internet open and free.

All participating States, the United States included, have a responsibility to uphold the solemn OSCE commitments we have made in the crucial areas of freedom of expression and media freedom. We have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute violence against journalists. And we have a responsibility to ensure a political climate that is conducive to the functioning of independent, pluralistic media via traditional and new technologies. We must meet these responsibilities with no excuses and no delay.

 


U.S. Statement on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States is profoundly committed to ending racism and racial discrimination. We remain fully and firmly committed to upholding the human rights of all people and to combating racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance, anti-Semitism and bigotry, including through enhanced implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This commitment is rooted in the saddest chapters of our history and reflected in the most cherished values of our union. We will continue to work in partnership with all nations of goodwill to uphold human rights and combat racism, bigotry, and racial discrimination in all forms and all places.

Our concerns about the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) are well-known, including its unfair and unacceptable singling out of Israel and its endorsement of overbroad restrictions on freedom of expression that run counter to the U.S. commitment to robust free speech. But we will always stand ready to work with others in the effort to combat racism, bigotry, and racial discrimination.

The United States has just pledged $650,000 in extra-budgetary funds to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to develop and disseminate an anti-racism educational curriculum titled “Teaching Respect for All.” As an outcome of President Obama’s March 2011 visit to Brazil, the Brazilian government is partnering with us on this important initiative. The curriculum will be developed over two years, after which time it will be available for global dissemination by UNESCO through its contacts with education ministries, as well as its extensive network of affiliated schools.

In the Western Hemisphere, the United States is working bilaterally with Brazil and Colombia on Action Plans to Promote Racial and Ethnic Equality, sharing best practices and implementing programs to improve access to the justice system, political institutions, employment, health care, education, and environmental justice for people of African descent and indigenous people in our societies.

We look forward to working with other nations to strengthen efforts to combat racism around the world.

Thank you, Madame President.

 


U.S. Lists Countries of Grave Concern on Human Rights

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States remains deeply disturbed by ongoing human rights violations around the world. As we engage in these discussions in Geneva, people continue to be tortured, killed, arbitrarily arrested, and denied their fundamental rights. The United States will discuss the human rights situations in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Belarus, Cambodia, and Somalia later in this session. Today I will focus on other countries of grave concern.

-In Iran, we remain concerned by repeated instances of torture, the house arrest of opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Houssein Moussavi, restrictions on the freedom of religious minorities and suppression of all forms of dissent against the state. Authorities recently arrested peaceful protesters and continue to detain, harass and imprison human rights lawyers. We look forward to the first report by Special Rapporteur Shaheed at the next Council session.

-In Burma, the government denies its citizens basic rights, including freedom of speech, movement and association. There are roughly 2,000 political prisoners, and ongoing attacks against ethnic minority populations have resulted in the displacement of millions of people, both internally and in the region, over the past five decades. The newly formed National Human Rights Commission should work closely with the HRC and other bodies to investigate human rights abuses and take concrete steps to begin a national reconciliation process. The United States urges the Burmese government to follow its words and commitments with concrete actions that lead to genuine reform, national reconciliation and respect for human rights.

-The DPRK maintains draconian controls over almost all aspects of citizens’ lives. It denies fundamental freedoms including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, religion, and movement and fails to respect worker’s rights. The government must immediately take significant steps to end the egregious violations of its people’s human rights.

-China arrests and detains lawyers, activists, and writers for exercising freedom of expression and for defending their internationally recognized rights, and uses extralegal measures to silence even peaceful dissent. The government places tight restrictions on civil society and significantly limits the rights of religious believers to practice their faiths. The government limits freedom of association and imposes forced labor on prisoners. China maintains policies that threaten the Tibetan and Uighur languages, religions, and cultures, and presses other governments to forcibly return Chinese citizens seeking asylum in third countries.

-Cuba uses short-term detention and arbitrary arrests to prevent groups from meeting and disrupt peaceful protests. It deploys increasingly violent government-orchestrated mobs to suppress dissent, most notably against the Damas de Blanco. Media remains under state control, internet access is monitored or blocked, and police routinely intimidate and harass journalists limiting public access to independent sources of information. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned for over 22 months.

-The Venezuelan government has placed severe restrictions on civil society and actively persecutes political opposition, thereby undermining freedom of association and expression, and weakening democratic institutions. Executive interference erodes judicial independence, as the imprisonment of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni demonstrates.

-In Zimbabwe, politically motivated violence and bias of the police, state prosecutor, and military in favor of ZANU-PF and against other political parties remains an obstacle to citizens’ free and equal participation in elections. Without concerted attention to creating the conditions for free, fair, and peaceful elections, the rights of Zimbabweans will continue to be threatened.

The United States stands by the victims of human right abuses around the world and calls on all countries to uphold their human rights obligations.

Thank you, Madame President.

 


The Human Rights Situation in Belarus has Deteriorated Sharply Since 2010 Elections

Remarks delivered under Item 4: Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Oral Report on Belarus

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States thanks High Commissioner Pillay for her oral report on the grave human rights situation in Belarus. We are deeply disappointed the Government of Belarus has failed to take steps to meet its human rights obligations since the Council’s last session. The government continues to routinely suppress freedoms of expression and of assembly and association. It has ignored the resolution this Council adopted in June, just as it has ignored similar resolutions by other international bodies including the Council of Europe.

The human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated sharply since the December 2010 elections, which failed to meet international standards. The government initiated a wide-ranging crackdown against the political opposition, civil society activists, independent unions and media during the post-election period. Security forces detained hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. Authorities harassed and raided the offices of dozens of nongovernmental groups, seizing documents and equipment. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, politically motivated trials, and long prison sentences for many of the country’s most prominent opposition figures and civil society leaders became the norm. These abuses have continued unabated ever since.

To protest this turn of events, some Belarusian citizens decided to stand silently – to say nothing publicly; others decided to stand in parks and clap their hands. These citizens have also been arrested. In Belarus, citizens are arrested and deprived of their liberty for standing silently or clapping their hands.

The United States considers those arrested on politically motivated charges during and after the December 2010 crackdown to be political prisoners; we call for their immediate and unconditional release. We further call upon the Belarusian government to stop harassing civil society, independent media and the political opposition, and to open space for the free expression of political views, the development of a civil society, and greater media freedom.

The United States is firmly committed to supporting the democratic aspirations and universal human rights of the Belarusian people. We urge the Government of Belarus to end its self-imposed isolation and to respect, protect, and uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on this important subject, Madame President.

 


U.S. Deeply Concerned about Use of Force Against Peaceful Protestors

Remarks delivered during a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States is deeply concerned about violent repression of peaceful protests in a number of countries around the world. The fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association are enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The violent repression of peaceful protests is a clear violation of those human rights, and those responsible for such violations must be held accountable.

Over the past several months, as we have seen hundreds of thousands of people protest peacefully in various countries – particularly across the Middle East and North Africa – the United States has consistently opposed the use of violence against peaceful protesters and supported the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and the right to participate in the affairs of the state. We have strongly condemned the killing, torture, arbitrary detention, and abuse of peaceful protestors. And we have made clear our view that people’s legitimate demands and aspirations must be met by positive engagement from governments in the form of meaningful political and economic reforms.

In Syria, we are witnessing a brutal and sustained onslaught against the Syrian people, who have bravely demanded reforms by protesting peacefully in the face of tanks and gunfire. Their courageous exercise of their universal rights has exposed the Asad regime’s flagrant violations of human rights and disregard for the dignity of Syrians. Though this Council has mandated a fact finding mission and an independent commission of inquiry, the Asad regime continues to grossly violate the universal rights of its citizens. We must ensure that this Council’s mandates are fully implemented and supported, and that all means of leverage are applied to help ensure that governments like the Asad regime cease their acts of repression and are held to account for their human rights violations.

In addition to Syria, a number of other states, including Iran, Belarus, China, and Burma, regularly repress peaceful protests. Such cases of systematic repression of peaceful protests must also be addressed.

We encourage the Special Rapporteurs to focus on urgent situations, like Syria, as well as persistent violators of the rights of peaceful protesters. We urge this Council to take decisive and principled action to promote and protect the rights of peaceful protesters and call on all countries to respect the human rights of their citizens.

Thank you, Madame President.

 
 

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