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.
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.
( As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 8 )
It has been often stated that elections in and of themselves do not a democracy make. However, free and fair elections are a necessary part of a healthy democracy. A country where elections fall short of being free and fair and where the voice of the people is not permitted to be heard simply cannot be considered a democracy. Moreover, technically well-run polling does not mean that the election process is democratic; a genuine electoral process also requires an open pre-election environment in which citizens can participate fully, political parties can operate freely, independent media can flourish, and an independent judicial system operates effectively.
All OSCE participating States have committed themselves to holding genuinely free and fair elections. As set forth in the 1990 Copenhagen Document, and reaffirmed at the Astana Summit, this includes: universal and equal suffrage; secret ballots; and non-discriminatory access for parties to the media. Free, transparent and credible elections have become a global norm, and domestic and foreign observers are critical parts of an electoral process.
Despite the substantial progress that has been made in democratic election practice in many OSCE countries, too many elections in participating States have serious shortcomings. Some participating States have flagrantly ignored their commitments, and serious manipulation of the election process has taken place over the past year.
The December 19th, 2010, Belarusian presidential elections were the latest in a long line of fundamentally flawed and fraudulent elections in that country. OSCE observers concluded that “Belarus still has a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments.” While the voting process itself was judged as good or very good in the majority of polling stations observed, the critical vote count was judged as “bad” or “very bad” by nearly half of the precincts observed, and was especially notable for its lack of transparency. While the run-up to the election showed some procedural improvements and an easing of restrictions on normal political activity, the electoral machinery at every level remained firmly under the authorities’ control. The dominant state-controlled media disproportionally favored the incumbent and opposition representation on precinct and territorial election commissions was virtually non-existent. In addition, the aftermath of the election was marred by repression of peaceful political and civil society opposition to the government.
Given the lack of independence or impartiality of the Central Election Committee, the restrictive and uneven playing field for media, the lack of transparency at key stages of the electoral process—and the unprecedentedly brutal election-night crack down—the United States does not recognize this election as legitimate.
The April 2011 presidential election in Kazakhstan was also not fair and free. According to the OSCE, the “needed reforms for holding genuine democratic elections still have to materialize as this election revealed shortcomings similar to those in previous elections.” Among the OSCE findings were that “the legal framework has key shortcomings inconsistent with OSCE commitments, including restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression,” and on election day “international observers noted serious irregularities, including numerous instances of seemingly identical signatures on voter lists and cases of ballot box stuffing. The vote count and tabulation of results lacked transparency, and procedures were often not followed. International observers were sometimes restricted in their observation.” Local authorities intervened in the election process in order to increase turnout. In addition, no detailed election results have been published, which seriously diminishes the transparency of the electoral process as a whole.
In Azerbaijan, according to the Final Report of the OSCE’s election monitoring mission, the November 2010 parliamentary elections were marred by a deficient candidate registration process, limits on freedom of assembly and expression, a restrictive political environment, skewed media coverage of candidates and falsified vote counts. These matters undermine the authenticity of elections and require a demonstration of will to end the pattern of deficient elections. We urge the government to take definitive steps to ensure the free and full exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in connection with electoral processes.
In Armenia, we welcome the release of individuals jailed in connection with the disputed 2008 Presidential election and its aftermath, as well as the relaxation of restrictions on free assembly. However, we note that to date no one has been held accountable for the ten deaths related to the post-election protests. We urge the government to promote a political atmosphere that is truly conducive to democratic electoral processes in which lawful political activity and expression are unhindered, well in advance of the upcoming national elections. We also urge Armenia’s authorities to improve the administration of elections, including the conduct of the vote and the vote-counting processes, and to ensure fair, effective procedures for complaints and appeals, so that Armenia’s upcoming elections are free and fair and the public can have faith in the electoral process.
Such a political environment also is crucial in Georgia, which between 2012 and 2013 has the potential to undergo the country’s first fully democratic transfer of power. Ensuring free, fair, and transparent electoral processes should be Georgia’s top priority and would be an important step toward achieving its European and Euro-Atlantic goals. We urge that efforts to revise the electoral code be done through an open, participatory and inclusive process, which would establish confidence and could be seen as an immediate step toward achieving those goals.
The OSCE region did see some smoothly conducted elections with minimal problems, or demonstrating an overall good-faith effort to conduct free and fair elections. Among examples of well-conducted elections were early parliamentary elections in Macedonia held this past June, and in Moldova, held last November, which were competitive, transparent, and well-administered, and met most OSCE commitments.
In Kyrgyzstan last October, OSCE observers declared that the parliamentary elections “constituted a further consolidation of the democratic process.” They were characterized by “political pluralism, a vibrant campaign, and confidence in the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda,” and “fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, were generally respected.” The parliamentary elections and a credible constitutional referendum were held against a history of poor elections in the country, which demonstrates that electoral credibility is principally a matter of exercising principled political will. We hope that the upcoming presidential election in Kyrgyzstan will show further progress in electoral reform, and we particularly hope that the government will ensure a climate conducive to political participation by ethnic Uzbeks and other minorities or marginalized individuals, such as persons with disabilities.
The October 3, 2010, elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were generally conducted in line with OSCE commitments and international standards, although some aspects of the process could benefit from further improvements. Since the elections, the political parties have been unable to reach agreement on the formation of a new governing coalition at the state level. The United States calls on all political parties in the country to find this agreement now, and to begin undertaking the practical reforms necessary for European integration.
In Ukraine, local elections on October 31, 2010, did not meet standards for openness and fairness set by the country’s presidential elections earlier in the year. Domestic and international election observers reported numerous procedural violations on Election Day. They also cited a newly-passed local election law, which created complicated registration and voting procedures, and blocked participation of new parties. The government recognized the problems and has acknowledged the need to bring electoral legislation into line with international standards. Again, we urge in Ukraine, as in Georgia or any nation, that electoral reform be conducted through an open, participatory and inclusive process thereby building public confidence and avoiding the suspicions and deficiencies that accompany laws drafted to serve narrow interests and behind closed doors.
The United States welcomes the progress that did occur in the conduct of the May 8 local elections in Albania, and the resolution of the closely contested mayoral race in Tirana. However, we note that the United States, along with our OSCE and European partners, expressed our concern at the time to the Government of Albania that the legal basis for a controversial decision to count “miscast ballots” was unclear and appeared politically-motivated.
My delegation would like to express its desire and hope that, with the elections process now complete, all the parties will focus sharply on developing and enacting a stronger Electoral Code in line with reforms prescribed in the 2009 and 2011 OSCE/ODHIR election final reports. The Electoral Code developed in 2008 is inherently weak and left open the door for the sort of irregularities that occurred in the vote counting process this year. The law needs to be reformed prior to the 2013 parliamentary elections through an open, participatory and inclusive process that takes into account OSCE/ODIHR recommendations and those of concerned citizens and other credible sources. We are glad to see that the parties have begun to put forward representatives to begin these negotiations. We trust that Albanian opinion leaders—be they in Government or opposition—will be open to further work with the OSCE presence and the Venice Commission, among other providers of democratic assistance, to help ensure this. As Albania celebrates its 100th anniversary of statehood next year, its citizens—at home and abroad—deserve a government that they can trust and leaders who put the needs of the people first.
Thank you very much for that introduction. I am thrilled to be here today and to get the chance to talk with and meet so many of you.
My mom grew up here in Philadelphia so I have always felt a sense of connection to this city. And of course as a human rights guy, I feel lucky to get to give a talk here. Philly has what you might call a strong brand; it’s a city of principles—of liberty and of brotherly (and sisterly) love—core principles that reflect some of our most sacred moral intuitions; principles that undergird a commitment to democracy and human rights.
I want to start today by bringing you greetings from Secretary Clinton—I know that you invited her—a world superstar; historic figure; longtime champion of the human rights of LGBT people. And you got me. What can I say–these things happen. Let’s make the most of it.
More seriously, I know that Secretary Clinton would have liked to have been here today because she is deeply committed to breaking new ground in the quest for LGBT equality in her current job, and I know that she sees, as I do, the role that you play as journalists as critically important to that effort. But one of the nice things about her not being here is that it gives me a chance to brag on my boss a bit.
I was sworn in November of 2009, and from the moment I started my job, Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and the team they lead at the State Department have been 110% behind a major push to integrate the human rights of LGBT people into American foreign policy. For Secretary Clinton, this is in part the continuation of a trajectory that included her being the first First Lady to march in a Pride parade in 1999, her work on behalf of LGBT citizens of New York as Senator, her honest and open discussions on the campaign trail in 2008, and now her role as America’s chief diplomat. It is also a continuation of a lifelong commitment to advance a more inclusive idea of who counts—from her early work as an activist for marginalized children, to that truly epic moment when she rejected enduring efforts to put women’s rights to the side, saying plainly “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”
For a casual listener, that line can sound like just a little bit of wordplay. But it’s not. It’s a crucial philosophical assertion. To say that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights is to put forth two important truths. First, that women’s rights aren’t special, or optional, or separate. They’re human rights that attach to women because women are people. And second, is the fact that women count, that when we talk about human rights, every woman is part of that universe of humanity to which human rights apply. Human rights belong to women, too.
So it wasn’t just an opportune echo, it was a significant advance, when last year—remarking that she didn’t understand why it wasn’t self-evident, but that if it needed to be said, she’d surely put it just as plainly as she had in Beijing—she said “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”
The human rights of LGBT people aren’t special or separate or optional—they follow from and are part of universal commitments. And LGBT people count as people. LGBT status is irrelevant to one’s claim to human dignity. It is irrelevant one’s deserving respect.
Secretary Clinton’s leadership has been crystal clear. And in the first two and a half years of the Obama administration, senior officials from the State Department have engaged diplomatically with heads of state and cabinet ministers from dozens of countries around the world on behalf of the human rights of LGBT people. We have reached out to encourage protection of those under threat and investigation of hate crimes; we have won support for endorsements of the human rights of LGBT people in international fora, including, two months ago, the first ever UN resolution supporting these rights at the Human Rights Council in Geneva—I was on the Council floor that day and it was an incredibly dramatic moment. There was no doubt that those on both sides of the resolution understood that a tide was changing, unstoppably. We have matched our diplomacy with ramped up efforts to support those advocates and activists on the ground, often in the most difficult places, to organize and advocate for LGBT equality in their communities. Our ambassadors have publicly supported and participated in Pride celebrations. We’ve stood up a new fund that gets emergency assistance to those who are targeted for their advocacy, and we are developing programs that will help network LGBT groups on the ground and build their capacity for advocacy, strategic litigation, and organization building. Our embassies around the world are re-invigorating their efforts to reach out to local actors; we’re developing a toolkit to help Embassy staff maximize the effectiveness of their engagement; and we’re continuing to beef up our reporting in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that my bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor publishes each year.
I am a lucky guy. A generation ago, I couldn’t have been an openly gay man in my job. Today, not only do I get to serve in a State Department that is transformed, I get to serve under a Secretary and a President who are committed to progressive change, to amplifying the move toward equality here at home and around the world, and to insisting that LGBT people count.
Before I came into government, I was a professor. By training I’m a philosopher and political theorist. So I have to be mindful of tendencies to stray into the abstract and theoretical. Most of us grew up in history classes that—falsely, I think—taught us that the engine of modern history has been a series of contests between abstractions—contests of religion, contests between capitalism and communism, contests between colonialism and self-determination, and so on. Surely these contests are not meaningless fabrications—they are lenses that help us understand and make sense of collections of events. But the engine of history isn’t ideas; it’s people. And in my work as a diplomat, as I travel the world and meet with foreign leaders, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, and others wherever I go, I see that without a doubt, progress—by which I mean real change on the ground for real people—depends not on the beauty or elegance of your ideas; progress depends on the stories you tell about people, about their real lives, their joys, their pains, the injustices they suffer. The way that we come to know that dignity is something supremely valuable is that we come to know stories of people who have had theirs violently and vulgarly denied and trampled and we know stories of those who have courageously, against all odds, stood up to defend themselves or the dignity of others. The stories make ideas real. The narrative precedes the analytic.
I am the first to defend and be enthralled by the elegant aesthetic of the concept of rights that attach to each of us equally in virtue of our shared humanity. However, human rights don’t start with an abstraction, no matter how elegant. Human rights start with the stories we tell.
I want to say a bit more about the role of journalists in this respect. And about the intersection between journalism and free media and human rights. Most often in conversations about human rights, we talk about journalists as rights-holders—as persons entitled to freedom of expression and freedom from retribution—and often we talk about the ways in which journalists, in many, many countries around the world, continue to be abused, harassed and even killed for doing their jobs. And of course it is in this light that one of the indicators we use to tell whether a society respects human rights, including freedom of expression, is that it has a free press, and that journalists can practice their craft.
Our commitment to freedom of expression is grounded in the fact that it is a fundamental freedom, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is part of that fundamentally human basket of entitlements: the rights that make a life recognizably, distinctively, human. In that sense, we believe in it not because it is productive or instrumentally good, but because it is simply what human dignity demands. Free expression is a right independent of whatever other benefits we see free expression producing.
Nonetheless, if asked, most of us could readily suggest ways that societies that protect freedom of expression benefit from doing so. Some might say that such societies are less likely to have problems with public corruption or exploitation by the most powerful. Others might point out that a free press is critical to the political competition that produces democracy’s dividends. Anyone who has lived in a censored press environment would be able to tell you that a free press is undoubtedly more interesting. Editors of today’s tabloids could probably forgive Pravda for being untrue—it was the fact that it was dull that would have been the real deficiency.
But one of the benefits that is less likely to be mentioned is the fact that in societies in which the stories of individual people are freely shared in the public sphere, there is a perennially refreshed set of reference points for understanding and knowing the human experience. Those stories, in highlighting the joys and pains, particularly of so-called ordinary people, remind us of their humanity, and remind us that human lives are really quite extra-ordinary. They remind us that underneath our shared experience resides a common humanity—the common humanity that grounds a shared set of individual rights and common duties to one another.
Conversely, in societies where the freedom of expression and a free press are curtailed, the stories of people are suppressed—and much more often than not, it’s not just the freedom of expression that is curtailed. Governments that fail to respect the freedom of expression fail to respect the rights of citizens more generally. In order to hold authorities accountable for protecting and respecting rights, we need to know more than that the laws of the land include human rights and that leaders pay lip-service to these commitments in the rhetoric of political speeches. We need to know the stories of real people, and whether they conform to the states’ commitments and obligations.
This is why the stories that you tell as journalists are so important. The stories you tell give a human face to the wrongs perpetrated by governments against the vulnerable. They expose failures to protect. They make plain for readers, listeners, and viewers the costs of the failure to respect human rights. The stories you tell embarrass leaders, outrage citizens, and make undeniable the gaps between rhetoric and reality.
But equally importantly, and often simultaneously in the very same story, by providing an account of particular episodes in particular lives, you paradoxically remind your audience of the universality of the human experience. When we are moved to tears by the story of a mother in Somalia watching her fourth child die of starvation, it is not because she is different, it is because she is the same. And that sameness is fundamental to both the philosophical truth underlying human rights, and to motivating human beings to do more to protect and defend human rights in the here and now.
The stories you tell highlight wrongs and their costs. They also highlight the humanity of specific people, and in so doing, give us cause to believe in the humanity, and human rights, of all people.
In the context of the human rights of LGBT people, I think it’s particularly important that we not lose sight of the role that journalists play in affirming the common humanity of all people, not by making political arguments for equality, but by telling stories about individual lives that provide the evidence for that claim.
Let me give a familiar example—a few years back, when the New York Times announced that it would start carrying wedding announcements for gay couples, a lot of people saw that as important for the political statement it made. The New York Times was endorsing a notion—an abstract one—that gay partnerships were substantively similar to straight ones.
But I would argue that the more powerful effect, particularly in changing the minds of those who didn’t already buy the abstract argument, was in the stories that followed on the pages. Both because the stories about gay couples—meeting, falling in love, taking a break, sorting through a misunderstanding or a logistical challenge, and ending up together—were pretty much the same as the familiar stories of straight couples and the evolution of their relationships, and more simply, because the protagonists in those stories were gay people who were just, well, people, plain and simple.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and I’m probably going to be the first student of human rights or public official to link the wedding section to human rights, but the simple truth is: In whatever part of journalism you find yourself—from TV news to local radio to photo spreads to the wedding section—the stories you tell are part of the foundation for human rights, because they are the most prevalent and popular public account of what it is to be human. Human rights start with the stories we tell about what it is to be human.
Before concluding I want to say a quick word about not the stories you tell, but rather about the stories you bring to your craft. After all the organization under whose auspices we meet today is as much about shared identity as it is about shared endeavor. And there are a lot of folks who might be understandably skeptical of that. “I’ve never joined,” a friend in D.C. who works for a major newspaper told me, “I’m not a gay journalist, I’m a journalist.” Most of us have had similar thoughts—I have whenever I have participated in LGBT groups organized around my profession. Given that in so many cases, the goal is to get others to not pay attention to something that should be irrelevant to rights or job advancement or acceptance, it can seem odd or even counterproductive to call attention to the supposedly irrelevant. But of course, on the other hand, my friend is wrong—he is a gay journalist. And like any journalist, where he’s come from, including not only being LGBT but having been raised on a farm, having gone to a particular college, having grown up reading certain books, the places he’s traveled to, etc, all shape the way he tells the stories he tells because they shape how he sees the world.
For my own part, I hope that having spent an adolescence often characterized by feeling different and fearing exclusion has enhanced my compassion and empathy for others in my role as a teacher, manager, and diplomat. And in your work, of course, the lives you’ve led inevitably are the prism through which the lives you examine and write about are refracted. The stories you bring are part of the foundation you work from in the stories you tell.
Thank you for inviting me here today. Thank you for the work you do to capture the human story through an ongoing and ever-expanding collection of accounts of individual lives, their joys and their sorrows, their failures and their triumphs. It’s through the stories of others that we come to see their humanity, that we arrive at our intuitive understanding of what human dignity is, why it applies to each of us, and what it demands of each of us. Thank you for the stories you tell.
Secretary Clinton’s Remarks With Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov After their Meeting
PARTICIPANT: The Secretary and the foreign minister are today signing an agreement between the United States of America and the Russian Federation regarding cooperation in adoption of children.
(The document was signed.) (Applause.)
The Secretary and foreign minister are now signing the protocol to extend and amend the Agreement on Cooperation and Research on Radiation Effects for the Purpose of Minimizing the Consequences of Radioactive Contamination on Health and the Environment of January 14, 1994.
(The document was signed.) (Applause.)
The Secretary and foreign minister are now exchanging diplomatic notes to bring the Agreement Concerning the Management and Disposition of Plutonium Designated as No Longer Required for Defense Purposes and Related Cooperation along with its 2006 and 2010 protocols into force.
(The document was signed.) (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you very much. And again, it’s a pleasure for me to welcome the foreign minister back to Washington, and we’ve had a very constructive day of conversations. Before I begin on what we have discussed, I want to say a few words about today’s bombings in Mumbai, India. We condemn these despicable acts of violence designed to provoke fear and division. Those who perpetrated them must know they cannot succeed. The Indian people have suffered from acts of terrorism before, and we have seen them respond with courage and resilience. We are continuing to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of American citizens. Our hearts are with the victims and their families, and we have reached out to the Indian Government to express our condolence and offer support.
I will be traveling to India next week as planned. I believe it is more important than ever that we stand with India, deepen our partnership, and reaffirm our commitment to the shared struggle against terrorism. Neither of our countries – the Russian Federation or the United States – unfortunately are strangers to terrorism. And it has been a mutual goal of both of our presidents to increase our cooperation in order to prevent terrorists from wreaking their violence on innocent Russians, Americans, and others, and to bring those who do so to justice.
I also would like to convey condolences on behalf of the American people, to those who suffered from the tragic sinking of the boat on the Volga River. I am particularly, as a mother, extending my thoughts and prayers to all those mothers and fathers who are suffering the terrible loss of children.
Let me begin by saying that the past two and a half years has been a time of great strides in the relationship between our countries. We have signed a historic arms control treaty and opened a vital new land and air supply route to Afghanistan. We are cooperating on addressing Iran’s nuclear threat, working to coordinate our diplomatic approach to Libya, consulting closely on the changes unfolding in the Middle East. Across the world, we are not only working bilaterally but multilaterally on so many important issues, from counterterrorism to nonproliferation.
Our challenge now is to continue and maintain the momentum in order to deliver more results for both of our people. To that end, Minister Lavrov and I discussed missile defense cooperation. I believe we do have an opportunity to address common challenges in a way that makes Russians, Europeans, and Americans safer, and we are committed to working with both Russia and our NATO allies to do so.
We also, of course, discussed the broader range of issues on which we are cooperating beyond security and arms control. For example, we strongly support Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Russia’s membership would allow us to increase trade and deepen our economic ties. Thi is a high priority, and a priority for President Obama and the Administration. It’s part of our broader global effort to promote a rules-based system of economic competition.
We also discussed the increasing emphasis within Russia on democracy, and we obviously, as I have said many times, as our two presidents have discussed, support the rights of Russian civil society to assemble and speak freely, of Russian journalists and bloggers to monitor and report on official actions, and of lawyers and judges to work independently to uphold the rule of law.
I am especially pleased that we were able to reach several new agreements. First, we are signing an agreement on inter-country adoptions. We take very seriously the safety and security of children that are adopted by American parents, and this agreement provides new, important safeguards to protect them. It also increases transparency for all parties involved in the adoption process. And I want to thank Senator Mary Landrieu, the leader of the adoption caucus in the Senate, as well as Congresswoman Karen Bass, who are present with us.
Second, our negotiators have now concluded a visa agreement. We think this is especially important for our businesses, so that business men and women can travel multiple times between our two countries over 36 months on a single visa. This is a big deal for those who are doing business, and we are laying the groundwork for even more trade and travel.
Third, we exchanged diplomatic notes on the U.S. Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. This brings into force a protocol that Sergey and I signed last year that commits both of our countries to dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium on each side, the equivalent of some 17,000 nuclear weapons.
And fourth, we are renewing the protocol on the effects of radiation, which allows our scientists to collect and analyze epidemiological data together with the cancer risks that come with exposure to radiation.
Fifth, our national aviation agencies today signed an Air Navigation Services Agreement that will increase air traffic control cooperation, enhance information sharing, and ultimately make even more air traffic between our countries even safer.
This relationship, then, now involves cooperation in many different areas, and the Bilateral Presidential Commission that Presidents Obama and Medvedev began, that Minister Lavrov and I have the honor of co-chairing, has emerged as an important vehicle for pursuing our common interests. And we are very committed to continuing to move our relationship forward. And again, I thank the minister for the excellent work that we have done together.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to say that I fully support the words of Hillary Clinton about the shelling in Mumbai. We condemn the people who organized this act, and we extend our condolences to India and the Government of India.
Counterterrorism has a special place in our cooperation with the United States, and we will be building up this cooperation everywhere, including Afghanistan, Middle and Far East, and other regions in the world. Also, I would like to express my gratitude for the condolences that Madam Clinton has just pronounced about the tragic shipwreck on the Volga River. We appreciate these feelings of the American people towards us, and we are grateful for the warm reception to me and my delegation in the framework of this official visit.
This was a very useful visit and very busy visit. I met Mr. Obama in the White House, and I had negotiations with the State of Secretary yesterday. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Senate of the United States of America, and yesterday, I also met Russian Americans who have a lot of interesting projects that aim to promote closer cooperation of our countries and also went to the broadcaster who is a Russian broadcaster, Voice of America, and they are starting broadcasting in English in Washington. So we thank you very much for all the cooperation.
And speaking about our talks, I fully agree with the assessment of presidential commission. This was a very effective tool created by the two presidents as being coordinated by the State Department and the foreign ministry. There are 18 working groups who are working to the fullest extent in cooperation – in cooperating. And they have created two additional groups, one for innovation, which is very important for the positive agenda and our cooperation, and the second one is for legal issues, which is also very important in our bilateral dialogue.
We have considered the current priority issues in our relationship, including the situation with – I hope that we will be concluding the process of Russia’s accession to the WTO. And just recently here in Washington, Minister of Economy of Russia Elvira Nabiullina, was here, and during her meeting with President Obama today in the White House, we have fully agreed on the necessity to conclude all the necessary formalities.
We have all the opportunities to do so, and as far as I understood today, there is the political will from the United States, and now experts must be working and they must use the political impulse and translate it into practical agreements on paper. We have paid a lot of attention to strategic stability, and we see that the agreement is being followed closely, is being executed, and the mechanism is functioning quite effectively. This is a bilateral consultative committee which has made a number of practical steps that are being stipulated by the agreement. And we also discussed the importance of mutually acceptable solutions on missile defense. We have noted that President Obama has confirmed his readiness to reach understanding – together with Mr. Medvedev to reach an understanding of common policy and creating strong political framework that will let us to start practical cooperation in this important sphere.
And I would like to also highlight the fact that today, we have signed a number of very important agreements. First of all, I would like to note the agreement on adoption issues. Our negotiating teams have been working very effectively. This was the Russian Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Education and Science, and Ombudsman for the Rights of Children Mr. Astakhov, who is today present here. And I think that we will be going towards implementing this agreement, and this will help us get rid of the irritants that have been emerging quite rightfully in the public opinion connected to the destiny of Russian children who were adopted in America. We are very grateful to our American partners for helping us to reach this agreement.
And there are yet – there are two and other agreements that we have signed and prolonged. They have very long names, but they are all about very simple and necessary for everyone. Every person things – those are lowering, minimizing of risks that are connected with radioactive contamination, on health and environment. And the second thing – the second agreement concerns plutonium. It is a very real contribution to nonproliferation regime and enhancing nuclear security.
As the Secretary has just said, we have completed our work on visa regime. It will be formalized very soon. Everything is ready, everything has been agreed, and I may say even that this will open the way to developing our dialogue towards visa-free regime. This aim had been mentioned during Vice President’s – Biden visits to Moscow, and although two years ago probably this idea would have been deemed impossible, today we see that we have all the opportunities to have this kind of aim in our cooperation with the United States, which is being discussed by the European Union today. And about 100 states all over the world have visa-free regime with Russia, including Israel, and this is the precedent.
So concerning bilateral issues, we have made an important stride today towards exercising all those agreements and instructions by the presidents, made at their recent meetings about adoption and visa simplifications. The international part of our discussion concerned not only some specific questions, but systematic problems – the new situation in the international relations, the problems that emerge in different regions, and that are very much connected with the discussion of the way we can use the democratization and rule of law principles to our policies. And I believe it was a very useful conversation about what role of – the United Nations has in these processes. The United States and Russia have confirmed that the – as permanent members of the Security Council, we are very much interested in promoting peace and security globally.
We have discussed many other topics; for example, the situation of the Iranian nuclear threat and Korean Peninsula. This is very important for nonproliferation regime, and this will help us avoid other conflicts. And we also talked about Libya and situation in other eastern and African countries about the situation in Afghanistan. We have been operating – cooperating very closely in various areas. And in the light of Quartet’s meeting yesterday in Washington, which was very useful and it helped our experts to prepare specific documents. We have also discussed the topic of conventional arms in Europe. We are very much interested in finding mutually accepted framework to reach an agreement on the new control of conventional arms in this very important treaty and – which is crucial for Russia and the United States. And I would like to note that we had a very useful – we also talked about our cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic, which is also very important. Also we identified that there is a possibility to bring our positions closer in the issues where we still have some misunderstandings like bilateral cooperation and international agenda. And in comparison to previous years, we see these problems as workable, and we understand that in some spheres we do not have converging interests, but we promote same aims, and we maintain dialogue about how to most effectively move to those aims.
And in the end, I would like to say about one symbolic thing. It is 13th of July today, and in 1728 this day, the first expedition of Vitus Bering to Kamchatka started, which proved that Eurasia and America are divided by a gulf. And these days, a group of Americans and Russians are going through the Bering Gulf in commemoration of this historic date. And the day after tomorrow, on the 15th of July, we will mark another memorable day. It’s 270 years since the second St. Paul ship crew headed to Kamchatka leaded by Aleksei Chirikov.
And we talked about Alaska a lot today, and we have a principled solution of presidents about the necessity to develop cooperation in our trips through Bering Gulf, and we spoke about specific projects and events that might be organized that would be very much interesting for people who live in Alaska and Chukotka, and we discussed this today. And also I think this means that we have a new quality to our cooperations. We not only think about strategic things; we also care about our citizens, and I think that this is a lesson for us – the lesson for our cooperation for many years ahead.
MS. NULAND: We have two questions on the American side and two questions on the Russian side. First on the American side, Kirit Radia please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. A question for the both of you. Your French counterpart has said that Colonel Qadhafi is looking for a way out of Libya. There are reports that he is running out of resources, out of fuel for his troops. Can you tell us if you know anything about him being on the ropes? Is there any diplomatic play that could get him out of the country?
And a question for the minister on Syria. Could you explain why Russia has blocked action in the United Nations to condemn the Syrian Government for the crackdown on protestors in Syria? Is it now not time for international action with now more than 1,000 people killed? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: So instead of one, there are three questions.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, yeah. That’s the way it is. I know.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: Yeah. I know.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me take the one you directed at me about Libya. The foreign minister and I discussed at length and compared notes today on our respective diplomacy with the TNC, and we very much appreciate the diplomatic work that Russia is doing through its special envoy. We are still getting contradictory signals from Colonel Qadhafi’s camp. He has yet to meet the redlines that are set by the international community to cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces, and step down from power. So although neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Qadhafi will leave power, we do understand and agree that his days are numbered. We will continue to work closely with our international partners, including Russia, to increase the pressure on him and his regime, and we will keep looking for a way to achieve a ceasefire, end the military action, give the Libyan people a chance to plot their own way forward, and I think both Sergey and I believe that the United Nations needs to be in the lead and needs to be helping to organize the international community so that we are ready when that does finally happen.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) And I would like add that for sure the situation around Libya is the case where our position is a bit diverging. This is all about the way the resolution of Security Council is being followed. But in the parentheses, I would like to say that on this topic, we have less misunderstandings with United States than with some European countries. We are unite in that we have to start political process as soon as possible, and we have different channels – official and not very official channels to work through to create conditions for this process. We have voiced out our position for many times, and there is a special presidential envoy, Mr. Margelov who is working actively in the region with both sides of the conflict, and I think that the whole set of the measures being taken by NATO members and Russia and the regional countries as well and also African Union, whose initiative we support, will lead to an agreement to reach a ceasefire and to start negotiations. There is no other way to solve this issue, as any other issue in the modern world.
And speaking about Syria, you are asking why Russia is blocking the resolution that would condemn Asad. Diplomacy does not exist to condemn and start putting on political scores; our goal is to solve problems, but just condemning people without any solution will not lead us to anything. So we believe that the example of approach is our common feeling toward Yemen and our actions with Yemen, we do not propose to condemn – we do not to take – do not want to take resolutions to support one or other country. Russia, European Union, and the Arab League and the Persian Gulf states insist that opposition and the other side would start negotiations and would start following the roadmap, and I’m sure that, for the destiny of the region, for all of our interests, it is absolutely important that we are responsible but not wishy-washy to this situation. And I just want you to understand our position on this.
MS. NULAND: Fayed Andrey Cherkovsky.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My question is to the leaders of the both delegations. You have just signed the adoption agreement; does that mean that the moratorium for adoption by the American families will be lifted soon? And why did it take so long to draw up this document? You even spent less time to work out the START agreement than this issue. Why does it happen so?
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) First of all, statistically speaking, it’s not right to say that we worked longer than at the START agreement. I think we managed to do it a bit quicker. And speaking about the second thing, this is the first agreement of such nature that we agreed with Italy, and we prepared it for four years; and today we are going to sign such kind of agreement with Israel. And we reached agreement with the United States not overnight because we had to take into account the legal peculiarities of American legal system, because there are different states who have different legislations that, even for the beginning of the negotiations, we needed to take a very serious political will about American partners.
And that’s why this agreement has become equal, absolutely bilateral; it has guarantees and safeguards for the both sides that would allow people to make sure that an adoptive parent is psychologically stable, that the family has come through a special filter of authorized bodies authorized by the United States Government, and that the adoptive parents provide access of Russian diplomats to the children living in the United States. These are the most important components of this issue, and it is going to be in force very soon. It is now going to be ratified in U.S., but we will be ratifying it so we discussed some technical details that will allow us to speed this process up.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Interruption in audio) – is that I think it was a useful process to share (interruption in audio) common problems. We both want the same outcomes. We want all children – whether they be Russian children or American children – to be able to have loving homes with families that will take good care of them. And, of course, the United States wants to be sure that we meet all of the concerns that the Russian side raised, and we believe we have.
MS. NULAND: From the American side, Arshad Mohammed from Reuters. Please.
QUESTION: Mr. Lavrov – excuse me – yesterday at the Russian embassy you described an approach toward Iran on the nuclear issue, one of what you called a step-by-step process whereby the Iranians might take steps to address some of the IAEA’s concerns, and the P-5+1 in return would take steps to ease the pressure of sanctions. Can you shed – can you give us detail on the kinds of steps you would like to see the Iranians take under such an approach? And Secretary Clinton, can you address the possibility of easing sanctions early in the process? Historically, I think the Administration has been reluctant to do that, because of the feeling that to do so would be to give up your leverage at the start of a negotiation.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) This is yet another example of the fact that there are problems in our agenda. We have the same final aims; this aim is to avoid proliferation of nuclear arms, but, at the same time, we do have some individual approaches concerning the way we move to this goal. And we have some coinciding points here; we have a collective document of 5+1 or 3+3 – whatever you call it – which is supported by the Russian Federation, which contains the proposal of the six to Iran about how to settle all the issues that will allow all of us to see that the character of their nuclear program is absolutely civilian, and restore their rights to this activity. This document has been given to the Iranian side about two years ago as far as I remember, and it specifies everything that has to be done by the Iranian side. It is available for studying; there is nothing sensational about it.
Because everything Iran has to do is based on the requirements of the IAEA, and everything is well known, and these requirements were supposed by the Security Council of the UN. When we of Russia say about the necessity to follow a phased and mutual process, we do not doubt this mutual position of the 3+3 group; we propose, on each requirement of the IAEA, to create some kind of a roadmap, starting from the easiest questions and in the end there will be the most difficult ones that would require time. And we are sure that the response to each specific step of Iran would be followed by some reciprocal step, like freezing some sanctions and shortening the volume of sanctions. And we have formulated our proposals. It has been handed over to American and Chinese partners in the framework of 5+1. Today we discussed this, and we said that the experts will inquire into these things and make a decision.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think as the minster said, we both share the same goal and we have worked together with others to achieve that goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. And we will be sending a team of our experts to consult with Russian experts to discuss ways that we can move forward. I have told Minister Lavrov that we are concerned by the failure of the responses thus far, from Iran to High Representative Ashton, and the resistance of Iran to IAEA requests for further access regarding military-related activities. But nevertheless, we are committed to our dual track of both pressure and engagement, and we want to explore with the Russians ways that we can perhaps pursue more effective engagement strategies.
MS. NULAND: The last question from the Russian side for Maria Tabak of RIA Novosti.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Question is to the – both leaders. You said that you’re going to sign a new visa agreement. Would you please specify the terms of the signing? And what is your prognosis about some obstacles on the way to this agreement, knowing that businesspeople and citizens support the visa simplifications?
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Well, the answer is simple. This will happen this year, this is for sure, and it will happen before Christmas, even Catholic Christmas. Speaking about obstacles, there are no such. As I have said, the agreement is absolutely ready. We just have to follow through some formalities, some technical issues. That’s it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s absolutely right, and we are very pleased about this step toward greater visa liberalization between our two countries, and look forward to all the Christmas travel that we’ll see. (Laughter.)
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
The United States warmly welcomes you back to the Permanent Council today, Representative Mijatovic. We thank you for your detailed report, evidence of your tireless dedication to advancing the cause of media freedom throughout the OSCE region. You and your staff tirelessly promote best practices, conduct valuable training exercises, and provide excellent technical advice that serves as guideposts for participating States to fulfill their commitments to media freedom.
We are pleased by the several instances of governments cooperating with your office to discuss, investigate, and address worrisome trends and policies affecting media freedom. However, your report also highlights continuing threats to media freedom within the OSCE region.
The most troubling trend continues to be violence against journalists. We continue to hear reports of violent assaults and threats of violence against journalists in the OSCE region. All too often, cases of violence against journalists go unresolved. We welcome the news from Russia of important advances in the separate murder cases of Anastasia Baburova and Anna Politkovskaya, and urge the Russian Federation to continue to address the problem of impunity for those who attack journalists. In this regard, we hope the recommendations from the Conference on Safety of Journalists, coupled with the pending catalogue of best practices, will aid all participating States in creating a safer environment for journalists. As noted by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia there, “Governments bear the fundamental responsibility to ensure that journalists are free to practice their professions without interference or reprisal…and to combat violence against journalists from any quarter.”
Another troubling trend in the OSCE region is the continuing use of legal mechanisms such as tax codes, registration requirements, criminal defamation laws, and other legal or administrative obstacles on free speech in order to prosecute journalists for their work, or to punish or intimidate those with whom a government may disagree. The United States joins with you in calling for the release of all journalists imprisoned for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression. We are also disturbed by government efforts to shut down independent media outlets through law suits, disproportionate fines, confiscation of materials, and closure of printing houses.
We particularly welcome your efforts to ensure freedom of expression and association on the Internet, which is becoming an increasingly important platform for the full exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the 21st century.
In Kyrgyzstan, which has taken measures in the past year to increase media freedom, Parliament last week adopted a resolution calling for an independent news site to be blocked on the basis that it incites ethnic hatred. In fact, what will help foster ethnic reconciliation is greater availability of information, not less. Fortunately, a wide range of influential voices inside and outside governmental institutions in Kyrgyzstan have spoken out publicly against possible censorship of the media. We are glad to see that Representative Mijatovic added her voice as well.
With respect to media freedom in Tajikistan, we join you in welcoming the decision of three judges to drop their lawsuits against three independent papers. However, we are seriously concerned about the detention of and denial of counsel to BBC journalist Urunboi Usmonov who, after reporting on the arrests of religious extremists, is now imprisoned on charges of extremism. The criminal case against Asht District journalist Makhmadusuf Ismoilov, who has been jailed since October 23, 2010, goes on. Mr. Ismoilov was arrested after publishing reports alleging local government corruption. We note the lack of progress in the investigation into the violent assault on Hikmatullo Saifullozoda on February 7. We also find it troubling that the Justice Ministry forced independent newspaper Paykon to close on May 6. A high ranking Ministry of Interior official’s lawsuit against Asia Plus newspaper remains open.
We again note that your report makes no mention of Turkmenistan or recent reports that individuals associated with RFE/RL have been the targets of intimidation by Turkmen government agents apparently because of their work as, or relationship to, journalists. As we said previously, this lack of mention should not be perceived as a positive indication, but rather a reflection of the nearly complete lack of media freedom in Turkmenistan. We call upon the government of Turkmenistan to engage with your office and to take immediate steps to uphold its OSCE commitments on media freedom.
Finally, we share your concerns over the critical state of media freedom in Belarus, and call on authorities there to end the harassment of independent journalists and to take seriously its OSCE commitments.
Thank you again, Representative Mijatovic. We applaud the dedicated work of you and your staff in advancing media freedom within the OSCE. You can count our full support as you continue this critical work.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States warmly welcomes back to the Permanent Council the Project Coordinator in Ukraine, Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj. We thank you for your comprehensive report and we appreciate your dedication and strong leadership.
The United States supports your excellent work in all three dimensions. The broad range of projects demonstrates that your office is a cost-effective and useful mechanism for advancing Ukraine’s implementation of OSCE commitments. We commend your efforts to strengthen your partnership with the Ukrainian government, international donors, OSCE participating States, and other international organizations to improve implementation and avoid duplication of efforts.
We also commend your strategic approach to addressing democracy development, good governance, and rule of law concerns. Ukraine had made significant strides in areas such as freedom of association, speech, and the media, and it is important that this progress be continue. We are aware of recent assessments of the state of democracy in Ukraine, which have raised concerns about some disturbing trends. The Government of Ukraine has responded, saying it is open to fair criticism, and stressed that reforms should not be implemented at the expense of democratic processes, nor infringe on human rights or freedom of the press. In this region, we hope the anti-corruption, human rights, and institutional capacity building activities carried out by the PCU will continue to be supported by the Government of Ukraine.
With important Parliamentary elections coming in 2012, we agree that your office should continue its election project in 2011 to provide expert advice and assistance to election-support activities, including strengthening training capacities of the Central Election Committee and election law reforms. We urge the Ukrainian government to approve its continuation. We recommend you utilize the expertise of ODIHR in these efforts whenever possible and appropriate.
We note your important work on media freedom through training journalists about self-regulation, helping Ukrainian broadcasters prepare for the digital switchover, and consulting with key stakeholders on the implementation of the Law on Access to Public Information. Working closely with the Representative on Freedom of the Media and Ukrainian partners, your office can provide valuable assistance to strengthen further Ukraine’s independent media.
We also strongly support your substantial work of the PCU in the area of building capacity and awareness of state institutions and civil society organizations, including your emphasis on facilitating dialogue and cooperation between civil society and national and local governments. In particular, we note the emphasis in your report on the project to strengthen the rule of law. This is an area that warrants special attention.
We also commend the Office’s continued efforts in the politico-military, economic, and environmental areas. In this regard, we strongly support any Ukrainian authorities’ efforts in rehabilitating areas contaminated by Explosive Remnants of War. We urge enhanced efforts to ensure that there is no duplication of effort between the OSCE and the NATO Partnership for Peace Trust Fund or any other similar activities.
We welcome your activities aimed at supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces as they downsize, and we are pleased at the success rate of 74 percent of retired military service persons finding employment within three months of training. We are pleased to learn that you have handed over some parts of this project to the Ministry of Defense and that the training programs are in place to increase sustainability.
We are glad the U.S. Government has been able to support the first phase of the project entitled “Assistance in Increasing the Efficiency of the Risk and Criminal Analyses Systems of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine” project. We would urge other participating States to consider extra-budgetary support for this project.
We are interested in your continuing work in promoting e-Governance solutions, and look forward to learning of its results. We see value in enabling citizens to use information and communication technologies to receive better quality services from authorities and improve business development regulatory frameworks, including those relevant to foreign direct investment.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you all for coming. I have welcomed the opportunity to visit Bahrain. I have had a very productive set of meetings with a wide range of Bahraini officials and citizens.
Bahrain is an important partner of the United States. We have a long-standing alliance based on shared political, economic and security interests. Both countries benefit from stability and prosperity here, and from a society where all people are able to express their views peacefully and contribute to the political process. It is in this context that President Obama met with the Crown Prince last week in Washington, and welcomed his announcement of the government’s intention to begin a national dialogue on reform in Bahrain next month. The challenge now will be how to initiate a dialogue that involves representative leaders on all sides and to ensure that the dialogue addresses and begins to resolve divisive issues.
I have come here as a friend of Bahrain and the Bahraini people and raised these concerns in the spirit of that friendship. We are mindful of the pressing need here for everyone in this society to begin an engagement that will start to rebuild tolerance, mutual respect and a process for navigating divisions. We understand the difficulty of this task, and we also know that no outsider can make it happen. It is for the Bahraini people to forge their own future. Yet it is important for us that Bahrain, our strategic and political partner, succeeds in this endeavor, and that we provide the Bahraini people and government whatever help we can to assist them in building a peaceful and prosperous future.
The United States and Bahrain — and every other sovereign government in this interconnected age — face constantly evolving security challenges. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear time and again that respect for human rights and pursuit of national security interests are not in conflict; to the contrary, they are best advanced in tandem. This is the message I conveyed here this week — in all my meetings with government officials, NGOs and a wide range of private citizens.
In recent months we have seen a clear link in this region between national stability and security and the ability of governments to meet the legitimate aspirations of their people, including the desire of people everywhere for dignity, justice, economic opportunity, universal human rights and a voice in shaping their own future.
There are several positive developments that have occurred here in recent weeks. We welcome the release of some detainees who were not charged, the restoration of some scholarships, and the reinstatement of a number of employees who were wrongfully dismissed from their jobs. We also welcome the announcement by the government that it will investigate deaths of people in custody, including one case where five prison guards are under investigation. The Government of Bahrain also has promised to investigate allegations of mistreatment of detainees in custody.
On the other hand, we continue to receive reports about some students being expelled from universities and some workers being dismissed merely because they have exercised their political rights. We remain concerned about the continued detention of a number of Bahrainis who have neither been charged nor tried, about the treatment of those people in detention, and about reports that some have been subjected to physical abuse during interrogations. I urge Bahrain to abide by its commitments to transparent judicial proceedings conducted in full accordance with both local law and Bahrain’s international legal obligations. I also expressed my concerns for the government to take tangible steps to rebuild confidence and trust in the medical system.
Meaningful dialogue can only take place in a climate of respect for the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly — principles articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a number of treaties that Bahrain has ratified. In the coming weeks, all parties here will need to create an appropriate environment for national dialogue, and all parties must participate to forge a just future for this country.
Leadership is also required by the local media and social media. Throughout the world, we have seen how media freedom raises public awareness, identifies problems, opens discussion, and brings problems to light so that corrective action can be taken. We note with concern the arrest and in some cases continued detention of some journalists. In a number of countries around the world, the dissemination of messages of hatred have also had unfortunate consequences and have taken years for societies to heal themselves. Mindful of the peril of misinformation and misuse of media that can exacerbate divisions within society, I urge all responsible parties here to refrain from and denounce hateful speech, which can and often does lead to violence. I emphasize that in order to create positive conditions for national dialogue here, local media and social media must play a constructive role in reconciliation and cease from actions that are divisive or inciting.
I benefitted from my visit here and I look forward to sharing what I have learned with colleagues in Washington and continuing my involvement here in addressing these important issues. I welcome your questions.
Co-Chairman Surkov, Co-Chairman McFaul, distinguished fellow participants in the Civil Society Working Group (CSWG): Welcome to you all. It is a pleasure to see many of you again and to meet new colleagues. I hope our deliberations today will deepen and expand the discussions we held last year in Russia.
I would like especially to acknowledge Ombudsman Lukin and thank him for his principled and dedicated efforts on behalf of the rights of his countrymen and women. His valuable and constructive support of the role of Russian civil society is helping to establish the foundation for a democratic Russia in the 21st century.
The working group discussions last year included an exchange on experiences from both countries, set in the context of relevant international obligations and commitments. Today, I would like to build on those discussions and on the exchange of views that are taking place today and offer some thoughts on the way forward.
The working group best exemplifies what President Obama called for in his meeting with civil society activists at the parallel summit in July 2009—a reset not only between our two governments but between our two societies. He recognized that the reset needed to be broader than arms control and security, to focus on common opportunity and “the future of progress and prosperity that we build together.”
Each of the working group topics – child protection, corruption, migration and prison reform – is compelling and complex in its own way. None of these issues is unique to Russia or the United States; they are shared challenges. Yet, we know that every choice or model or measure that works for Russia is not going to work for the United States. But in the many meetings and discussions we have had over the last year on these subjects, we are demonstrating that we can learn from each other.
Moreover, by helping to facilitate partnerships between American NGOS and activists and their Russian peers, we are giving them the chance to show that the best ideas and solutions come from engaging at the grassroots level, with ordinary citizens who are involved in their communities and in their countries to mobilize change.
There are many other opportunities for partnerships and there are still many challenges that we should be meeting together.
Each of these topics is also relevant to the broader topic of security and human rights. We expect our governments and law enforcement to provide a basic level of security to our people – for example, to protect them from those who would do harm, such as terrorists or criminal elements. At the same time, many societies, including the United States and Russia, are grappling with the appropriate mechanisms and venues for detention, interrogation and prosecution of those suspected of national security violations.
In the United States, we have been engaged in a sometimes painful national debate about the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The Obama Administration remains committed to transferring or trying all suspects and eventually closing the facility at Guantanamo, but the process has proved much longer and difficult than we had anticipated.
In the post 9-11 world, we face other new challenges, as does every sovereign government. We seek to regulate migration into our country to ensure that it takes place legally, but also safely and in a manner that ensures the safety, dignity and human rights of migrants. That is a huge challenge for a country such as ours with long borders and one of the most open societies in the world. Our country has been enriched culturally and economically by migration. American families and businesses have extensive ties overseas. We strive to strike the right balance between security and our openness, which serves both our interests and reflects our values as nation.
As noted in President Obama’s National Security Strategy, we reject as false the choice between the pursuit of our security interests and our values. In all of the areas that our working groups are discussing today, we strongly believe human rights values and security interests are more likely to be effectively advanced when governments and civil society work together. Indeed, we believe that respecting and supporting human rights at home and abroad is integral to our domestic wellbeing and our national security.
Fundamental to our success will be sustaining vibrant and open civil societies. I believe the way forward — for Russia, the U.S. and other nations — lies in getting five crucial elements right:
First, consistent with our meetings here today, there must be an engaged and informed civil society. Governments must meet their responsibilities in each of these spheres, but governments alone cannot resolve all of these challenges. They must work in partnership with experts and advocates from civil society. Many of you here today can attest to the value of initiatives resulting from such interaction and partnership. We note with regret that even as U.S. and Russian activists are gathered in Washington to discuss these issues, a brutal attack took place in Moscow against Bakhrom Khamroyev, an activist of the highly-respected Memorial human rights enter. Mr. Khamroyev was badly beaten by unknown assailants in what appears to be a clear attack against him for the work he was doing on behalf of Memorial. We condemn this attack on Mr. Khamroyev. We call on the authorities to work quickly to bring the perpetrators to justice. Governments must take extra measures to protect human rights defenders when they come under attack.
Second, progress requires a free media. Media freedom is essential to raising public awareness, identifying problems, opening discussion, and bringing problems to light so that corrective action can be taken. The role of a free and independent media is especially crucial — and especially challenging — in combating corruption and other abuses of power, whether on the part of elements of government or powerful corporate interests. I came of age in the Watergate era, a tumultuous time both socially and politically in this country. Two tenacious and courageous journalists and their newspaper exposed abuses of power at the highest levels of our government. And, in the end, our constitutional system of checks and balances allowed us to address official misconduct. The role of media as watchdog is not always comfortable for me or other government officials and for powerful private interests, but an independent media is essential to the integrity of any democracy, U.S. democracy included. The state needs to be in the forefront of protecting freedom of the press, providing a secure environment that ensures the safety of journalists who investigate corruption or criticize government officials or policy. When journalists die in war zones, it is a tragedy, but in some ways understandable, as they are placing themselves in harm’s way to report the story. But when journalists in a country at peace are nonetheless the victims of violence because of their work, it should serve as an alarm bell to governments.
This year, the Committee to Protect Journalists noted that Russia has made measurable progress in addressing serious problems of impunity for violence committed against journalists. Senior Russian investigative officials reopened several unsolved cases involving journalists who were murdered. Prosecutors won convictions in the 2009 murder of reporter Anastasiya Baburova and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov. And last week’s arrest in the case of Anna Politkovskaya was an important achievement. But as civil society activists are advocating, there also needs to be progress in bringing to justice the perpetrators of the remaining unsolved murder cases, such as those of journalists Paul Klebnikov and Natalia Estemirova.
Governments must also protect those journalists working in new media. In this regard, as our colleagues here in the anti-corruption field can attest, the growth of the Internet has brought tremendous opportunities for journalists and bloggers to shed light on corruption and for governments to become more transparent. Increasingly, these bloggers develop a following, like Alexei Navalny, who has captivated Russia with his innovative approaches to combating corruption. But they also have suffered physical attacks as a result of their work, and there are far too many efforts by the state to harass or bring charges against them in an attempt to pressure them to stop their inquiries. Both President Obama and President Medvedev have embraced the potential of the Internet in connecting government with the public and in combating corruption. We share the challenge and obligation of protecting those journalists who criticize us.
Third, an overarching climate of respect for the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly is fundamental to a robust civil society and a free media. These principles are also firmly rooted in international human rights instruments, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Here in the United States we have a long history of citizens who assemble, sometimes in the face of brutal resistance, to press for their rights. Peaceful demonstrations were instrumental in achieving women’s suffrage, labor rights, civil rights for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and people with disabilities. And we have learned through our national experience — at times a painful experience — that our democracy is the better for it. Today, we have a vocal citizenry that consists of individuals who exercise their right to assemble and express their views, often in large numbers.
People in our country express passionate views on every conceivable issue, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to political figures and their agendas, to globalization, the environment, health care, migration reform, and tax policy. The overwhelming majority of these demonstrations take place without any significant incident or restriction. Police work to ensure that all demonstrators can exercise their rights in safety and that other citizens are able to proceed with their activities. In the relatively few cases where there are allegations that unreasonable restrictions have been imposed on demonstrators, or law enforcement has overstepped its authority, these charges are taken seriously and investigated.
Governments, including through law enforcement, must work to ensure an environment in which all citizens can exercise their fundamental freedoms. Our primary emphasis must be on the exercise of rights, not on the restriction of those rights. Of course, there are times when it is challenging for local governments to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly and make sure demonstrations can be held in a peaceful fashion. You may have read about the case of Terry Jones, a Christian pastor who has burned the Koran and who attempted to hold an anti-Sharia demonstration in front of a mosque in the city of Dearborn, Michigan, which has a large Muslim population. The city denied him permission to hold the demonstration in front of the mosque on the grounds that it could incite a riot, saying he could demonstrate elsewhere, and Jones is appealing a court decision requiring him to than pay a $1 peace bond. Civil society groups have held inter-faith demonstrations in support of the Muslim community of Dearborn, and civil liberties groups have defended Jones’ constitutional right to free speech even though many Americans deem what he is saying to be highly offensive. So Dearborn has been having a lively public debate and the media have been covering the story very closely.
And as the Dearborn example shows, in our country it seems that each generation rediscovers for itself the value of the freedom of assembly – the universal right of people to gather together, voice views, share ideas and urge change. And each generation learns that this freedom is essential to a strong society that taps the talent and creativity of its people. We have been following the Strategy 31 demonstrations held in various Russian cities, so named after Article 31 of the Russian Constitution which protects freedom of assembly. Like others in Russia and in the international community, we have observed that authorities in Moscow are allowing some Article 31 demonstrations, while disrupting others. Freedom of assembly takes on even greater significance in this pre-election season. We echo serious concerns expressed by many members of Russian civil society that last week’s demonstrations in St. Petersburg and Moscow were broken up by police. We also noted that last month, for the sixth year in a row, Moscow authorities refused permission for an NGO to hold a parade for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender pride. We believe these and all individuals have equal rights to hold peaceful protests and see no legal justification for denying such a request. We also share concerns about reports of and attacks by private security guards, police, and other parties on activists associated with the Khimki Forest environmental campaign. Whether in Dearborn or Khimki Forest, our governments have the obligation to protect peaceful demonstrators, even when they are critical of government or expressing unpopular views. Freedom of assembly is integral to freedom of religion. We share concerns about police raids on places of worship and subsequent detentions of minority religious groups.
The fourth essential ingredient for progress is adherence to the rule of law. Within our society, we frequently see that the rule of law, including an independent judiciary, is a powerful recourse for the most vulnerable, including the people that many of you work with — children, migrants, persons in confinement and minorities of all stripes. The rule of law and an independent judiciary help protect their human rights, obtain justice, and redress grievances.
For example, a few weeks ago the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a court order mandating a state prison population reduction in California. This was necessary to remedy violations of persons’ constitutional rights resulting from overcrowding in California’s state prison system. The court ordered the prison system to reduce the number of prisoners held by 55,000 within three years. This court decision made the front pages of our major newspapers and headlined newscasts on our leading television networks. It underscores the fact that an independent judiciary can and does protect the human rights of all individuals. This is an important corrective mechanism.
We applaud President Medvedev for speaking out in support of the rule of law and judicial reforms and for creating an atmosphere that has permitted progress in some areas. We hope the Russian media and Russian organizations and institutions, like their American counterparts, will continue to scrutinize the justice system, support improvements and speak out about challenges. For example, we continue to be concerned by the lack of progress in the investigation into Sergei Magnitsky’s 2009 death of deliberate medical neglect in a Moscow prison. We join President Medvedev’s in calling for justice in Magnitsky’s death, when he said last month that there “should be an objective, thorough and comprehensive investigation conducted quickly and its findings must be presented to the public.”
The fifth requirement for countries to succeed in a 21st century world is transparent, accountable, responsive government. By this I mean governmental systems with built-in checks on abuse of governmental power, independent oversight structures, and free and fair contested election processes that permit a free airing of issues of concern. The run-up to elections is always a season of heightened civic awareness and activism. Media and public interest in social and political issues intensifies. This is a good thing – it connects people to their governments and prompts politicians to respond to the issues their voters care about, and that is precisely what makes democracies work better for their citizens. Free and fair elections renew and reinvigorate the compact between citizens and their government. In this country, we already see the parties, the political hopefuls, the public and the press organizing themselves for our Presidential elections in November, 2012. We welcome international attention to our elections and international monitoring of them.
When the five elements that I have just described are present – a robust civil society, media freedom, respect for fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and accountable government – we are convinced countries tend to be more resilient, adaptive and capable of addressing tough issues, including the challenging ones on which all of you are working. Citizens feel the system will treat them fairly, and that gives them a stake in its success. Investors feel the legal system will treat them fairly, and they are more inclined to invest and reinvest. But where civil society is weak, government is unresponsive, corruption corrodes the rule of law and undermines citizens’ trust in authorities and institutions, and marginalized populations have little expectation that they will be treated fairly, citizen have less stake in the success of their own societies. And these countries tend to be less able to cope with change, less stable and ultimately, less successful.
Of course these five elements of sustainable democracy are much easier to describe than to put into practice. Even under the best of circumstances, progress on these complicated issues will take years of concerted effort by governments and citizens alike. But as Secretary Clinton has said: “Democracies demonstrate their greatness not by insisting they are perfect, but by using their institutions and their principles to make themselves… more perfect.”
President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton all have expressed their strong support for a democratic, modern and successful Russia governed by the rule of law. Expanding the ability of Russian individuals and groups to exercise their basic rights will help Russia become the strong, rules-based, peaceful and prosperous democracy we all desire.
And now, I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you, Dunja, for the warm welcome and for all the work that your office and our Lithuanian hosts have put into making this conference a reality. I am grateful for your including me today on this panel of experts. I value the input that my colleagues have shared today, and I hope to build upon their helpful remarks by sharing some thoughts of my own, as a government official, on what we, the participating States, must do to ensure the safety of journalists.
I am sorry to say that the topic of this conference is all too fitting and necessary. We know, unfortunately, that the threat against independent broadcast, print, and online journalists in our region is very real.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, in its global campaign against impunity, has noted that 546 journalists have been killed around the world with complete impunity since 1992. Three countries from our 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. These murders are the most tragic cases, but there are hundreds more involving non-fatal violence against journalists that compounds the chilling effect.
Government officials in our region too often cast the reporting of what is happening in their countries as the problem to be addressed, rather than to focus on the underlying social issues that are being reported. Restrictive laws and administrative measures constrain the fundamental freedom of expression and independent media outlets and their employees are subjected to government harassment, as well as threatening actions by private actors tolerated by governments.
Last October a court in Uzbekistan convicted Voice of America stringer Abdumalik Boboyev of “libel and insulting the Uzbek people,” and fined him approximately $8,000. Boboyev told the Committee to Protect Journalists the conviction was in retaliation for his critical reporting on the widespread government corruption, human rights abuses, the weak economy and flaws in the Uzbek healthcare system. In May, the government denied Boboyev an exit visa to travel to Germany, where he had been awarded a scholarship from the Hamburg Foundation for the Politically Persecuted.
In April, Turkmen authorities confined 80-year old Amangelen Shapudakov, a Radio Free Europe contributor, to a psychiatric hospital after he criticized a local government official for corruption in an interview with Radio Azatlyk, RFE’s Turkmen Service. Still, we welcome the Government of Turkmenistan’s pledge to the Chairman-in-Office during a meeting in Ashgabat last week to welcome a visit by Dunja Mijatovic before October, and hope for a frank discussion of this and other cases.
You all well know the challenges – many of you are journalists yourselves, working under repressive conditions despite the grave risks – and we are here today to broach solutions that may well involve governments and journalists working in partnership. I want to note with appreciation the presentation this morning by Professor Mikhail Fedotov, Chairman of the Russian President’s Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. He presented an analytical framework describing the various components of journalists’ safety, including physical, legal, informational, economic and psychological dimensions of safety. He also spoke about the shared responsibility for journalists’ safety on the part of government, the media, businesses, civil society, and the journalists themselves. Let me be clear: Governments bear the fundamental responsibility to ensure that journalists are free to practice their professions without interference or reprisal by state authorities. We must be frank about this basic governmental responsibility as an essential step in mustering the necessary political will – to combat violence against journalists from any quarter.
As one of the few government officials on this panel today, I wish to focus on three areas where the participating States must take action: First, and quite simply, we have a responsibility to uphold the solemn OSCE commitments we all have made in the area of media freedom. These commitments clearly outline the importance of pluralistic, independent media and reflect our pledges – reaffirmed on multiple occasions – to foster it, not muzzle it. We owe it to ourselves and to our citizens to make them a reality. No excuses and no delay.
Second, we have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute violence against journalists, whether the suspected perpetrators are to be found inside or outside of government. Debates may rage in this room about when it is necessary or whether it can ever be appropriate to restrict speech, but none of us have laws on our books that make murder of, or violence, against citizens – including journalists – acceptable. When cases of violence against journalists languish, when justice is denied for the killing or beating of a journalist just because authorities do not like what he or she says, the rule of law that is necessary for modern societies to function successfully is undermined. Impunity must end.
We welcomed the news from Russia last week that a third suspect in the 2006 murder case of journalist Anna Politkovskaya – apparently the trigger man – had been apprehended, and we hope this will lead to a full public description of the crime and accountability for all involved. We call on Russia to take further steps towards addressing the problem of impunity for those who attack journalists, and will continue to raise the cases of Paul Klebnikov and Natalia Estemirova.
On February 7, unknown assailants attacked and seriously injured Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda, press secretary of the opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan and editor of its newspaper. The United States and the European Union called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation of the attack and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.
Third, we have a responsibility to ensure a public, political climate that is conducive to the functioning of independent, pluralistic media. Condemning and prosecuting violence against journalists is one key way to create such a climate. Fostering open, frank public dialogue and debate on the whole range of domestic and foreign issues is also crucial. Government officials can lead by example, set the tone, and make it clear that they respect the role of free media in society, even when they disagree with a journalist’s reporting or views. Government officials can ensure that their ministries and departments establish professional press offices, make documents available to the press, and hold press conferences where journalists can ask – and even sometimes receive answers to – important questions about the functioning of government. Our governments need to do much more than apprehend murderers of journalists; we need to treat journalists as the vital partners in public service that they are.
Unfortunately, that is clearly not the case today in Belarus. The government there continues to severely restrict media by on-going efforts to close two of the few remaining independent newspapers in the country, Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volya. In addition to threatening and detaining local journalists, the government continues to expel foreign journalists and ban their re-entry. President Lukashenko recently criticized Belarusian journalists who work with foreign organizations and ordered the government to “make sure those media organizations no longer work on our territory.” This is taking Belarus further away from Europe and from the norms of democratic society enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and many subsequent declarations, including most recently the 2010 Astana Commemorative Declaration.
Political leaders in my own country are often the most disparaged and lampooned of public figures, and are often made to feel as if the press will never give them proper credit for their accomplishments. Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘The President Can’t Swim.’”
The laws and policies that we as government officials are pursuing may be slowed down as public debate rages about them, questions and criticisms fly, and we are forced to more clearly articulate why something is necessary or beneficial – or to reconsider our policies or plans. I understand this all too well, as I came to government after spending much of my career in the non-governmental sector. I went from a life of criticizing and advising governments (not least my own) to a position where I am obliged to explain, to our Congress and to the press, what our policies are and why they sometimes don’t seem to be as effective as we would hope. Having been on both sides of the public dialogue, I can say that in either case, the role of the media is indispensible for illuminating facts, exposing abuses so that they may be corrected, explaining perspectives, and generating public momentum behind deserving policies. We need to commend the work of journalists in the effective governance and development of our societies, not constrain it.
As diplomats, journalists, or civil society representatives, we may cajole each other, point fingers, or win adherents to our sides of the argument in debates around media freedom or the press in gatherings such as this. But that cannot substitute for governments living up to their commitments and demonstrating the will that is necessary to ensure that journalists are protected, that our societies are open, and that the free flow information and ideas serves as a force for innovation, reform, growth and development within our countries, across the region and around the world.
I look forward to the rest of this conference and the ideas it will generate in support of media freedom, the work of journalists, and a successful future for our region. Thank you very much.