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Statement by Chargé d’Affaires Robbins on the New Religion Law in Kazakhstan

Despite assurances from the Government of Kazakhstan that the new law on religion would be in keeping with its OSCE commitments and its international obligations and commitments regarding freedom of religion, the United States wishes to express its serious concern that the new law appears to fall short of those measures.

The new law, passed by the Kazakhstani Parliament on September 29, requires that existing religious organizations submit re-registration documents within one year via a procedure that subjects them to an examination of their religious literature. The United States is concerned that this process could be used to restrict the activities of religious groups thereby negatively impacting religious freedom in Kazakhstan.

The new tiered registration system appears to prohibit the registration of religious groups with fewer than 50 members in each location. Other provisions appear to allow strict oversight of missionary activity, government reviews of religious literature and texts, and restrictions on the location of places of worship.

When governments unduly restrict religious freedom and freedom of expression, or when societies fail to take steps to promote tolerance and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they risk alienating religious believers and emboldening extremists.

We urge the government of Kazakhstan to work with ODIHR to address these concerns in order to ensure that this law does not improperly restrict freedom of religion or belief in any way that is inconsistent with the country’s OSCE commitments and its international obligations and commitments.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


Statement by Chargé d’Affaires Robbins on the Invitation by the Russian Federation for International Observers for the Duma Elections

The United States welcomes the timely invitation by the Russian Federation Central Election Commission for international observers, including an Election Observation Mission from OSCE/ODIHR and Parliamentary Assembly, for the December 4 State Duma elections.

Free and fair elections that adhere to international standards are a necessary part of a healthy democracy. OSCE’s participating States have an obligation to ensure that elections throughout the region meet these standards and that citizens have the freedom to cast their votes. We are committed to the support of free and fair electoral processes that allow political parties to operate freely, that allow citizens to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and protest, that enshrine the importance of an independent media, and that enjoy the protections of an effective judicial system.

All OSCE participating States have committed themselves to the implementation of 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.

Domestic and foreign observers play a critical role in documenting that these principles are upheld during elections, and ODIHR has become the gold standard for election observation.

We urge all participating States to support the secondment of long-term observers to follow the elections process throughout Russia and to contribute to the provision of short-term observers to follow Election Day proceedings. We would also welcome robust participation by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. We urge the Russian Federation to facilitate timely visa issuance to all Mission members.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


Statement by Chargé d’Affaires Robbins on Violence in Egypt

The United States is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces. We express our condolences to the families and loved ones of all who were killed or injured, and we stand with the Egyptian people in this painful and difficult time.

Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt. As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities—including Copts—must be respected. All people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom.

We also note Prime Minister Sharaf’s call for an investigation and his appeal to all parties to refrain from violence. We echo these calls and stress the importance that the investigation be a transparent and credible process beginning immediately and holding accountable all responsible parties with full due process of law. To further protect religious freedom, we also support the Egyptian government’s decision to consider a Unified Places of Worship Law governing church construction and an anti-discrimination law within two weeks.

The tragic violence that has marred Egypt’s transition should not stand in the way of timely elections and the country’s continued transition to democracy.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


Statement by Chargé d’Affaires Robbins on the Sentencing of Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine

The United States is deeply disappointed with the conviction and sentencing of former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko through a politically motivated prosecution. The charges against Mrs. Tymoshenko and the conduct of her trial, as well as the prosecution of other opposition leaders and members of the preceding government, have raised serious concerns about the Government of Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and rule of law.

The United States strongly supports the goal of the Ukrainian people to become a democratic and prosperous European state, and we remain dedicated to strengthening bilateral cooperation based on shared values and shared interests. Democracies are built on checks and balances, fair and impartial institutions, judicial independence, sound election laws, and an independent media and civil society. Ukraine, however, cannot reach this goal without redoubled efforts to protect and advance democracy and the rule of law for all its citizens.

For these reasons, the United States urges the release of Mrs. Tymoshenko and the other political leaders and former government officials. They should have an unrestricted ability to participate fully in political life, including next year’s parliamentary elections.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


Statement by Chargé d’Affaires Robbins on the Geneva Discussions on Georgia

Statement to the OSCE Permanent Council

The United States continues to support the Geneva Discussions as an important forum for improving security and humanitarian conditions in Georgia. We urge all of the parties to continue constructive engagement in the Geneva Discussions and the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRMs) in order to foster agreement on international security arrangements, to enhance confidence-building measures, and to promote both strengthened humanitarian initiatives and a sustainable and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

We continue to call on Russia to abide by its commitments under the 2008 ceasefire agreement and its September 2008 implementing measures, including the withdrawal of Russian troops to positions held prior to the start of hostilities and the facilitation of humanitarian access to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia.

The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia is a crucial stabilizing factor, and plays a key role in the implementation of the IPRMs. The EUMM also is critical to the international community’s efforts to monitor compliance with the cease-fire and implementing measures. Unfortunately, these efforts cannot be fully realized as long as Russia denies international observers access to the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia.

The United States continues to urge free and unhindered humanitarian access to the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia, as agreed in the August 2008 cease-fire. We call for full respect of all individuals’ human rights in the conflict areas, and for the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of internally displaced persons.

In closing, let me reiterate that the United States remains committed to helping Russia and Georgia find a peaceful resolution to the conflicts in Georgia, and we will continue to support Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


Chargé d’Affaires Robbins’ Statement on the Release of the July to December 2010 International Religious Freedom Report

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

On Tuesday, September 13, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton transmitted to the United States Congress the July to December 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom. We hope this report will serve as a useful resource for delegations and the OSCE Secretariat.

The annual report highlights both the admirable protections for, and the unjust violations of, religious freedom across the globe. Throughout the OSCE region, the report reflects concerns regarding anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment; increasing restrictions on religious expression, such as bans on attire; and the justification of restrictions due to national security concerns. In numerous countries, the administration and requirement of formal registration obstructs the activity of certain religious groups. The report addresses police raids and arrests for peaceful religious activity. It also highlights improvements in some participating States.

We welcome the opportunity to collaborate on initiatives that improve religious freedom and promote religious tolerance. But we should be equally wary of efforts to criminalize statements or publications deemed offensive to a particular religion.

Through our bilateral relationships, our work in international fora, and our ongoing engagement with NGOs, religious groups, civil society leaders, and scholars, the United States will continue to actively promote religious freedom for all as essential to human dignity, a robust civil society, and democratic development.

It is our hope that the International Religious Freedom Report will encourage existing religious freedom movements in the OSCE Region and promote dialogue among governments and within societies on how best to accommodate religious communities and protect each individual’s right to religious freedom. It is another valuable tool to assist participating States in the evaluation of their efforts to fulfill our common commitments.

This year, we published the report on our website www.humanrights.gov which will be included in our distributed statement.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 
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Charge d’Affaires Robbins’ Response to the Secretary General’s Report on the Implementation of the 2004 OSCE Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States joins other delegations in expressing appreciation for this very comprehensive report. We would like to thank the Secretary General, the Gender Unit, ODIHR, the High Commissioner for National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and all those in various OSCE structures who contributed.

The United States strongly supports efforts to make gender issues a priority in all three OSCE dimensions, including in the politico-military and the economic and environmental dimensions, where women are still significantly under-represented. We attach great importance to the discussions of gender and security in the FSC and the Security Committee this past year and would like to see them continued.

The United States commends the Secretariat’s continuing development of tools and methodologies to help participating States implement their commitments on gender equality. A growing number of field operations focusing on integrating a gender perspective into OSCE policies, programs and field work and the appointment of gender focal points in field operations are noteworthy examples of progress in mainstreaming gender issues. We likewise applaud the March 2011 conference on Women’s Entrepreneurship in the OSCE: Trends and Good Practices and the continuing publication of the newsletter “Gender Monitor” to highlight best practices.

We also commend the steady increase in the recruitment of women to higher management positions and hope to see improvement also in the representation of women in OSCE field missions and institutions. The United States has been a strong advocate and actor in pursuing this goal. According to the report more than half of all OSCE staff seconded by the United States is female. We believe more can and should be done. As the CiO’s Special Representative on Gender Affairs Wendy Patten highlighted in March, the severe under-representation of women among Heads of Mission and Deputy Heads of Mission remains a matter of grave concern. We urge participating States to nominate more qualified female candidates to fill these and other critical positions in top OSCE leadership and management. We appreciate the increasing number of gender-inclusive projects and programs conducted in the field missions across all three dimensions, but we believe that additional attention can be paid to initiatives that boost the participation of women in conflict prevention, crisis management, conflict resolution, and post-conflict rehabilitation efforts. Programs initiated by OSCE missions in Armenia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia are noteworthy examples.

Similarly, we commend ODIHR for the development of its Human Rights, Women and Security Programme as well as its focus and training on Women in Armed Forces within its new Handbook on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel. Marking the 10th Anniversary of UN Resolution 1325, the U.S. delegation co-sponsored a side event at the Review Conference in Warsaw to discuss successful strategies for involving women in security, conflict resolution and peace building. OSCE participating States have yet to implement all gender-related OSCE commitments and we strongly encourage continued efforts to help participating States reach gender equality, prevention of violence against women, women’s political and economic participation, and inclusion of women in conflict prevention, crisis management and post conflict reconstruction. In concluding, I quote Secretary Clinton on the occasion of the centennial of International Women’s Day in March of this year: “.., the United States continues to make women a cornerstone of our foreign policy. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity. Investing in them means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone – the world over.”

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 
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Charge d’Affaires Robbins’ Response to Recent Events in Northern Kosovo

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States welcomes the EU and NATO coordinated plan to reintroduce normal customs controls at Kosovo’s northern border crossing points with Serbia, which have remained interrupted since the attacks on the gates in early 2008. We strongly welcome steps being taken to restore a fully functioning customs regime throughout Kosovo under Kosovo law, which should be the goal of the international community and all member states here today.

Let us be clear, Kosovo is a sovereign country and even those participating States which have yet to recognize Kosovo’s independence must acknowledge that Kosovo is a separate and single customs territory under UNSCR 1244, recognized as such by the EU as well. The presence of Kosovo customs officers at the gates is fully in accordance with international law. Planning for these arrangements was carried out in full coordination with the international missions, EULEX and KFOR, which are acting completely in accord with their mandates. The reopening of the crossings and implementation of the customs stamp agreement reached through the EU-facilitated dialogue on September 2 is also being done in full coordination with the international community. It is misleading to assert than any steps being taken are “unilateral” in nature, or to draw false comparisons to the events of July 25. Kosovo customs officers will be present at the gates alongside EULEX, just as they were present alongside UNMIK in 2008 at the gates before they were burned.

The free movement of people and goods is in Kosovo’s and Serbia’s interests – and in keeping with each country’s EU aspirations. The arrangements offer strong opportunities to both sides to benefit from two-way trade, which was interrupted by Serbia in 2008, and to combat smuggling across the border. It is in everyone’s interest to see the development of transparent, professional and effective border control mechanisms.

The United States has serious concerns about the inflammatory rhetoric coming from certain participating States, which could potentially incite violence in Kosovo, putting at risk civilians and international personnel on the ground. This is unacceptable. In this context, we underscore again the need to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of the Kosovo police officer in July and the arson attack at the border gate. The Permanent Council must be clear that threats of violence are counter-productive to peace and stability in the region. Again, we urge restraint and caution on the part of all parties and encourage all actors to use their influence to foster calm on the ground. The United States greatly appreciates the work of the EU, KFOR and OMIK. We call on all member states to support the work of these missions in Kosovo as they exercise their responsibilities.

We also encourage the Governments of Serbia and Kosovo to focus on utilizing the EU-facilitated dialogue to resolve issues of practical concern that impact the lives of people in the region, and to strive to continue building on the notable progress achieved in the dialogue to date.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 
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Statement on Demolition of IPD Offices in Baku and Conviction of Activists

The United States joins the EU in expressing its objection to the August 11 demolition of the offices of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) in Baku. Of particular concern, the demolition took place despite a May 24, 2011 injunction by a district administrative court forbidding the expropriation or destruction of the property in question. Moreover, the owner of the building was out of the country. Staff present in the office were denied permission to recover private and professional property and records before the demolition of this property, which also contained the owner’s residence.

We urge the authorities in Azerbaijan to investigate this case thoroughly and to open a dialogue with citizens affected by this and other recent demolitions to ensure that property rights are respected. We underscore that full respect for the rule of law–including due process–is a core OSCE commitment and one of the foundations of a free and prosperous society.

Recalling the statements we made following the peaceful demonstrations of April 2, 2011, in which we expressed concern about continuing restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, we note with concern the August 25 conviction of six activists for their role in the April 2 demonstrations. We join the EU in calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure a fair, transparent, and evidence-based appeal process, and to respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression for all its citizens, as enshrined in the Azerbaijani Constitution and in Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments.

The United States will continue to follow developments concerning respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms closely. We reiterate our dedication to assisting Azerbaijan in fulfilling its OSCE commitments.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 
 

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