Margaret Pollack on International Protection at UNHCR’s Executive Committee meeting agenda item on protection
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I would also like to thank the Assistant High Commissioner for her remarks today.
The United States’ commitment to the protection of refugees, asylum seekers, displaced populations, stateless persons, and other persons of concern to UNHCR remains strong. As we mark the 60th anniversary of UNHCR’s creation, the U.S. Government is proud of our long history of support to UNHCR as it has pursued its mandate to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Protection is an intrinsic goal of the humanitarian diplomacy and programming of the United States. While U.S. protection efforts may not always achieve the results we desire, we know beyond doubt that our work in concert with UNHCR and Member States has saved countless lives during the past six decades and has protected tens of millions of people from persecution and violations of their rights during their search for safety.
None of us here today is new to the challenges — and the imperative — of providing protection. To better prepare ourselves within the U.S. Government for the complex protection challenges facing us today and into the future, we adopted last month, for the first time, an internal policy on protection that will push us to consider more affirmatively our protection goals and to articulate more clearly what protection means to us as UNHCR’s partner. I want to underscore that this does not signal that the U.S. Government is significantly altering its promotion of protection. Rather, our written internal policy on protection will serve as a tool — a strategic framework — that we will use to help organize our approach and maximize our efforts as we work to address the broad range of protection threats that confront the large and diverse populations of concern to UNHCR and my government.
We have defined protection as follows: “Measures to safeguard the rights of…populations of concern by seeking to prevent or end patterns of violence or abuse; alleviate the trauma and related effects of violence and abuse; identify and promote durable solutions; foster respect for refugee, humanitarian and human rights law; and ensure that humanitarian actions uphold human dignity, benefit the most vulnerable, and do not harm affected populations.” This definition draws upon basic protection principles expressed by UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and various nongovernmental organizations. The U.S. Government will apply these principles in our own efforts to fulfill protection commitments as we monitor the efforts of UNHCR and other states.
Our protection policy articulates four broad goals. The first is to address or prevent violations of human rights and acts that undermine humanitarian principles. It is well understood that effective protection seeks to prevent violations before they occur or stop abuses that are taking place. In our pursuit of this first goal, we will continue to work with UNHCR and Member States to address the most egregious violations affecting populations of concern. We will encourage UNHCR to respond and report aggressively on instances of refoulement and forced return. We will continue to speak out, unilaterally and with other Member States, against incidents of armed attacks and gender-based violence which violate international law, and seek to ensure unhindered access for humanitarian agencies. The emergency in the Horn of Africa is currently the most prominent example of the challenges we face collectively in addressing and preventing serious protection concerns.
Our second policy goal is to fill protection gaps. This refers to the need to strengthen the tools, the systems, and the international architecture that already exist to render protection. In pursuit of this goal, the U.S. Government will continue to support and promote universal adherence to international law obligations under international refugee law, humanitarian law, and human rights law, and acts consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and other principles such as fair refugee status determination procedures, family reunification, registration and documentation procedures for populations of concern, and the pursuit of durable solutions. Wherever these basic protection tools are ignored or applied incorrectly, a protection gap exists.
Third, we aim to strengthen and monitor standards, indicators, and institutional capacities for protection. This goal applies directly to the management and operational functions of UNHCR and other humanitarian partners. We will continue to encourage interagency protection coordination, improved protection skills and capacities, and establishment of appropriate indicators to measure protection impact. We will monitor UNHCR’s performance on all these fronts.
Our fourth protection goal is to address more effectively the distinct protection challenges posed by diverse populations of concern. We support UNHCR’s deeper engagement with internally displaced populations, mixed migration flows, and statelessness issues in recent years, as well as UNHCR’s efforts to develop improved policies and guidelines to protect unaccompanied and separated children, urban refugees, LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups and individuals. Vulnerable migrants often face appalling abuses yet may not fall under traditional definitions of refugees or displaced persons. Some who begin their journey as economic migrants are rendered especially vulnerable due to lack of immigration documentation; their status should not make them any less deserving of protection. UNHCR’s own Ten-Point Plan of Action laudably addresses these very issues. And we welcome the MOU signed by UNHCR and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, as reflected in the year’s Note on International Protection, with a particular focus on combating racism and related xenophobia as a key protection priority. While we affirm that broad protection principles apply to all populations of concern, we are sensitive to the fact that each population group is prone to encounter unique or distinct protection threats and may therefore require different solutions. We recognize that UNHCR staff, as well as our own personnel, require a sophisticated degree of knowledge and enhanced skills to protect this diverse range of populations.
Mr. Chairman, as we pursue these goals, we will continue to work with UNHCR, other governments, and partners to advance durable solutions for protracted refugee situations. For example, many speakers have raised the of Bhutanese refugees this week. We remain unwavering in our support for Bhutanese refugee resettlement. At the same time, we believe the right of refugees to return to Bhutan is important. We strongly urge the Government of Bhutan to do its part to contribute to a solution to the protracted refugee situation of Bhutanese refugees by immediately accepting for repatriation refugee cases of special humanitarian concern.
In conclusion, the United States is motivated by a determination to be as strategic, relentless, and formidable as possible in our efforts on behalf of international protection. With this policy as our organizing framework, we will continue to work with UNHCR and other Member States to strengthen protection of the world’s persecuted and uprooted people. This December, Member States will have a unique opportunity to signal their respective commitments to international protection at the ministerial-level meeting to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the Statelessness Convention. We challenge everyone in this room to do their part in preparing pledges for this historic event.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, we’re really pleased to have you here and honored to have you on our show, Al-Hayat Al-Youm, and it’s exciting times in Washington, it’s exciting times even in Cairo.
I’d like to ask you about your assessment – after nearly eight months after Egyptian revolution. How do you in Washington look at what’s happening in Cairo?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Amer, for having me on this show and giving me a chance to talk with you. And I want to say that from our perspective, we are very impressed and encouraged by what we see happening in Egypt. We know this is a difficult transition period and, in the great span of Egyptian history, one of the most important moments of your history. And I think it’s essential that all of us look at how much has been accomplished in the last eight months and the fact that elections are scheduled, that there is a path forward for this very vibrant, new democratic change is very encouraging and we think it’s on the right track.
QUESTION: You’re talking about the very positive things that’s been taking place, however there are so many among the Egyptian politicians and intellectuals, some fears or concerns about the extension of the military rule. How do you think SCAF is holding up and managing the transition period?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they took on an enormous responsibility that they never expected they would have to shoulder. But the fact that they are moving toward elections, I think, is not only important, but essential. I expect them to fulfill the promises that they have made to the Egyptian people because you cannot have the democratic governance that you are seeking unless you have a fully free, fair, transparent set of elections that then empowers the people who have been elected. But this is what we expect to see happen, and of course, we will express concerns if we don’t see it happening. But there is a schedule we believe needs to be followed.
QUESTION: Speaking of elections, how do you (inaudible) the elections process especially that – as you – of course, you’ve been following – you have new players, the fundamental Islamic political movements. How do you (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s important that peoples’ voices be given an outlet to participate in the political system. But I also think that there must be a commitment to respecting human rights, to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, to the rights of women, and there has to be an agreed-upon understanding of what it will take for Egypt to go from where you are today to where I would like to see Egypt. I really believe that Egypt’s always been a leader of the Arab world – Egypt can become a world leader. There is a difference. Egypt could, with the right political and economic reforms, become one of the top 20 economies in the world, maybe even eventually one of the top 10.
There is so much that is in the potential, it can be so easily derailed. As you said, somehow not permitting the elections to go forward, military rule continuing, having one election one time that empowers people who have no interest in continuing to modernize the society, rejecting the rights of all Egyptians in favor of one particular point of view – that’s what the Egyptian people have to be careful about. You want an Egypt where people are free to be liberal, fundamentalists, conservative, progressive, whatever their particular views are, but showing respect for the state, for the institutions of the state, and the rights of the people. And that’s what I see you searching for and moving toward.
QUESTION: Will you be ready or prepared to sit in with a government with members of the Muslim Brotherhood as members or other Islamic (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We will be willing to and open to working with a government that has representatives who are committed to non-violence, who are committed to human rights, who are committed to the democracy that I think was hoped for in Tahrir Square, which means that Christians will be respected, women will be respected, people of different views within Islam will be respected. We have said we will work with those who have a real commitment to what an Egyptian democracy should look like.
Now, we don’t expect your democracy to mirror ours – every country is unique historically and culturally – but we do think, from long experience around the world, there are certain pillars to a democracy: free press, free speech, independent judiciary, protection of minority rights, protection of human rights. All that was in the air in Tahrir Square.
So we hope that anyone who runs for election, and certainly anyone who’s elected and joins the parliament, joins the government, will be committed to making Egypt work and be open to all Egyptians no matter who you might be.
QUESTION: You’re looking at things very positively and that’s the same, maybe, atmosphere back in Egypt, with some fears of course.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: It’s the main feeling there. According to reports released a couple of weeks ago, the congress will be always waiting for your words in a report to assess the kind of U.S. aid that’s been given to Egypt. How do you (inaudible)? Is the U.S. aid, be it civilian or military, really jeopardized in the next – in the future?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I do not believe so. I very much support continuing aid. We have provided aid, both for civilian and military purposes, going back many decades now. And it’s been bipartisan; Republicans and Democrats have supported it. We believe in aid to your military without any conditions, no conditionality. I’ve made that very clear. I was with the foreign minister, Mr. Amr yesterday, and was very clear in saying that the Obama Administration and I personally am against that. I think it’s not appropriate. At the same time, we do have a long experience in understanding what works and what doesn’t work. And I’ll give you an example.
You were asking questions about what happens if certain people are in the government. Well, it’s really going to be up to the Egyptian people as to how they organize themselves for these elections. But I think it’s fair to point out that if there is an organized Islamic party and 40 other parties that divide up all of the votes, then I think one party will have a stronger position.
And I have been speaking with, when I was in Cairo some months ago and since then, young activists from Egypt. Our Embassy has certainly been reaching out. Because going from being demonstrators for freedom to being political actors – that’s not an easy –
SECRETARY CLINTON: — transition. And so we want to help people get themselves organized so that they are able to participate effectively, and again, with the conditions of nonviolence and all the others that I laid out, but no conditionality on our aid.
QUESTION: Yeah. When helping the others, this is something that might fuel some concerns in Egypt about funding NGOs. Why do you really fund NGOs in Egypt?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s a – it’s something that we have done for many years, and we have learned from long practice that when you have a transition, a democratic transition, many people want to be active in politics. They don’t know how to do it. They don’t know how to register voters, how to form political parties. It’s not part of the experience that has been the daily life of Egyptians.
So we have several organizations that have worked all over the world. We do not take positions. We’re not for or against any party or any individual. It’s more the nuts and bolts; how do you run an election? Because you’ve had elections, but they were not free or fair or transparent, and they didn’t build confidence in the Egyptian people. We want Egypt to have the best election it’s ever had, and so our experience, particularly coming out of the fall of the Berlin Wall, where countries in Eastern and Central Europe came to us and said, “Help us do this,” the democratic transition in – across Africa, where we were helpful – we don’t have any stake in who’s elected. We wait to see who the people choose. But we think our nongovernmental organizations have a lot to contribute. We are more than happy to follow the rules of Egypt, but –
QUESTION: I was just going to ask about that. Because it’s against the law, and there’s so many NGOs that working outside the law and certain regulations.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: So how are you going to do that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we would like our NGOs to be registered. We would like for them to be under Egyptian law. I will say it’s a little ironic, because President Mubarak didn’t want us to have NGOs that were working with people either, so we think that Egypt is strong enough and resilient enough that appropriate regulation can recognize who the NGOs are that are working for the betterment of Egypt. Because I said to the foreign minister yesterday, “You know we’re there. You know we are saying look, we want to help people know how to run elections. We know that there are groups and countries that are funneling money into Egypt and nobody knows about it. You know what we’re doing, and we’re going to be as transparent with the government as possible.” But I would ask that everybody in Egypt say, “Look, the Americans are here to help us decide who we want to elect. Some people are trying to determine who gets elected.” There’s a big difference.
QUESTION: Okay. I wanted to ask you, you’re speaking right now on – about your reflections in Tahrir Square. When did you really feel that Mubarak has no chance?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I was as surprised as everybody else in the world that this happened as it did. Because I knew something would happen someday, but I didn’t expect it so soon. I had given a speech in Doha just a few weeks before saying that the foundations of these authoritarian regimes in the region were sinking into the sand. And then we saw Tunisia, and we saw Egypt, and then Libya. And we see all of the aspirations of the people coming forth.
But I think we were trying very hard, and our military was communicating directly. I was communicating directly with officials in the Mubarak regime to urge no violence against demonstrators, to urge that people be treated respectfully, that they had a right to demonstrate peacefully. And when you think about it, for as large a country as Egypt, what happened was remarkable, the way that it transitioned so quickly. And I think that we all saw it happening before our eyes, and we were doing our best to try to make sure that there was limited or as little bloodshed as possible and some agreement on a way to go forward that would permit people’s feelings and opinions to finally be heard and then to have a democratic transition and now that’s what we’re seeing.
QUESTION: But what was the – was there a certain point? Because we all remember your first statement when you were thinking – and everybody was thinking at the same time the same thing – is that we do have a stable government (inaudible) in Egypt. And a few days ago, everything just changed.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: When was that point for you?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think for me it was when I concluded that there wasn’t any way that President Mubarak and the people closest to him could understand what was really happening, and there was no –
QUESTION: They were out of touch.
SECRETARY CLINTON: They were out of touch, and it was becoming clearer and clearer because of the responses. I mean, I had many conversations with many high-level officials, as did others in our government, urging, “You must, first of all, protect people. But secondly, you must change, and you’ve got to recognize that this has to – the new Egypt is being born.” It was just no way to communicate that. And we tried. We sent very direct messages.
QUESTION: I know you’re running on a very tight schedule. I have one more question to go. Everybody was looking to the Obama Administration when – I think you had a problem with high expectations. (Laughter.) How are you going to deal with the Palestinian application to the United Nations, especially that everybody’s maybe really think it will go through the General Assembly?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me reiterate that President Obama and I very much want to see a Palestinian state, and I have been publicly on record in favor of that since the 1990s. I was the first person associated with the United States Government to do that. And President Obama is also very committed. But we, I think, are realists that no matter what happens or doesn’t happen in the United Nations, unless we can get the Palestinians and the Israelis to negotiate over the boundaries of the state, the security provisions, what happens in Jerusalem, what happens with refugees, water, all of the issues we know so well have to be resolved, we’re going to raise expectations without being able to deliver.
I mean, if the United Nations passes a resolution which says we want to see Palestinians become a state and maybe we upgrade their status or maybe we recognize them, the next day nothing changes in Ramallah, and I want things to change. I want the Palestinians to have their own state; I want them to govern themselves; I want them to continue developing economically to be a real example, to work with Egypt for the betterment of people in the region, and we know that won’t happen.
So what we have said is very straightforward. We want to see both sides back at the table, and we criticize and make absolutely clear we don’t want to see provocative actions. We’ve said that about the recent announcements from the Israeli Government, but we also know that the Palestinians have to be willing to negotiate. And it’s hard for them because they feel like they’ve been at this for a while and nothing has happened. Both sides have their case to be made. Make it at the negotiating table. And that’s what we’re pushing for.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, we thank you very much for being with us today, for the time you’ve given us. We hope to see you soon in Cairo and have the same chance again.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. I would look forward to that.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
The eighteenth session of the Human Rights Council came to an end in Geneva on September 30, 2011. This was the seventh regular session since the United States joined in September 2009. Though much work remains, in particular ending the Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel, U.S. engagement thus far has resulted in significant improvements to the Human Rights Council as a multilateral forum for promoting and protecting human rights. Accomplishments include groundbreaking resolutions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, preventing discrimination against women, LGBT human rights, religious tolerance, and the creation of monitoring mechanisms for Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Iran, and Syria. Key accomplishments at this session include:
Sudan: The United States worked with the Africa Group on a consensus resolution that renews the mandate of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan for one year, expresses international concern at the humanitarian situations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and calls upon all parties to immediately end violence and halt clashes. The United States underlined our core message regularly during the session: we are deeply concerned about ongoing reports of human rights violations and abuses, including unlawful killing and other violence with impunity, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, and restrictions on freedom of assembly. In Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where there are credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the United States will continue to support an independent and credible investigation to hold those responsible to account.
South Sudan: The United States joined South Sudan and the Africa Group on a consensus resolution that welcomes South Sudan as a new State and member of the United Nations and also welcomes the government’s commitment to strengthen national human rights mechanisms. The resolution calls upon the government to strengthen ongoing cooperation with the UN Mission in South Sudan on human rights issues, and also invites the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist the new government.
Libya: The United States worked closely with Morocco, Libya, and others on a consensus resolution that recommends the UN General Assembly lift Libya’s suspension from the Human Rights Council. The resolution also welcomes the commitments made by the new Libyan government to uphold its obligations under international human rights law and to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the international Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council at the February 2011 Special Session on Libya.
Yemen: The United States worked with delegations from Yemen and the Netherlands, as well as others on a consensus resolution that calls for a rapid political transition and transfer of power, as outlined in the plan drawn up by the Gulf Cooperation Council, and condemns ongoing violations of human rights in Yemen. The resolution notes the Yemeni government’s announcement to launch transparent and independent investigations, which will adhere to their international obligations. The resolution also calls upon the Government of Yemen and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop a framework for dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights.
Syria: At an interactive dialogue on Syria, the United States welcomed the prompt formation of the Commission of Inquiry mandated at the August 2011 Special Session on Syria. The U.S. government called on the Syrian authorities to allow the Commission of Inquiry, international humanitarian agencies, and international media unrestricted access to report on the abhorrent conditions inside Syria. The United States called on the Asad regime to step aside, and to stop killing and torturing the Syrian people immediately.
Israeli/Palestinian Issues: The United States continues to believe the disproportionate focus on Israel diminishes the credibility and effectiveness of the Council. The United States continues to strongly oppose the permanent agenda item devoted to Israel-related issues, which is the only agenda item devoted to a specific country. There were no resolutions under the Israel-specific agenda item at this session.
Fighting Racism: The United States worked with Brazil to co-sponsor a consensus resolution that urged States to fight against racism and strengthen democracy. The United States is committed to working with our global partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. The United States also recognized the importance of tolerance and reconciliation, citing the powerful example of Nelson Mandela, as tools in the effort to foster more just, tolerant, and equal societies.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We warmly welcome Ambassador Vollebaek back to the Permanent Council and we thank him for his comprehensive report.
The treatment of minorities is at the heart of many of Europe’s potential, current, and continuing conflicts. As you noted, your work plays a critical role in conflict prevention, particularly in providing early warning. The persistence of tension and conflict over minority issues should compel us to do even more to address not only the causes, but also the conditions that can exacerbate conflict.
This applies most urgently in the case of Kyrgyzstan. President Otunbayeva recently spoke in the Permanent Council about the ongoing challenges her country faces, which are rooted in high levels of nationalism and intolerance. We share your concerns that persistent nationalism will undermine stability in southern Kyrgyzstan, particularly during the upcoming Presidential election.
We believe that the OSCE, together with the international community, must redouble efforts to help restore rule of law and ensure the safety of all persons. We welcome your recommendations for continued OSCE engagement on understanding the June 2010 events, policy reforms affecting minority rights, and police training. We also hope to see the important work of your office to aid in the process of mediation and reconciliation desperately needed in Kyrgyzstan.
We strongly support your continued engagement in Georgia, where your efforts to call attention to the rights and needs of ethnic minorities and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are particularly important. We share your concern over the deteriorating situation in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and continue to urge full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We continue to call for a greater international presence throughout Georgia, to include the OSCE and other international actors.
Over the years, the situation for minority populations has generally improved as democratic norms have taken hold. Unfortunately, however, the situation for some minorities – including Roma and Sinti – has deteriorated, sometimes significantly. Protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma everywhere has long been a personal commitment for Secretary Clinton and, under the Obama Administration, it is a stated priority of the United States. Like all people, ethnic Roma should have the opportunity to live free from discrimination, enjoy equal access to education, healthcare and employment, and pursue their full potential.
We also share your concerns over persistent violations of minority rights in other OSCE states. It is clear from your report that, while definite advances have been made, there are still significant problems related to minority education in the OSCE area. The divisive education policies observed in several participating States, including restrictions on the ability of persons belonging to national minorities to have adequate opportunities to be educated in their mother tongue, are cause for concern. Such restrictions are always worrying, but particularly so when they take place in separatist areas such as Abkhazia and Transnistria, where the situation is already tense.
We agree with the High Commissioner that such restrictions have the potential to further increase tensions in the region.
Ambassador Vollebaek, your efforts play a crucial role in reducing tensions within and among states through addressing sensitive issues related to national minorities. We are encouraged by the interest expressed by the governments of a number of participating States to implement your recommendations.
We continue to support you and your team, your persistent and even-handed focus on improving education, participation by minorities in public life, the conditions of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area, and relations between states and minorities in neighboring states with whom they share affinities.
We also look forward to continuing discussion of these issues at the upcoming Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I have just completed my second trip to Burma.
During my two-day trip, I met with a wide variety of stakeholders inside the country. In Nay Pyi Taw, I held consultations with the Minister of Science and Technology, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Information and the Spokes Authoritative Team, the Union Election Commission, the Labor Minister, and the head of the USDA.
In Rangoon, I met with a number of community leaders of ethnic minority groups, the National League for Democracy, key members of the diplomatic corps, NGOs, a variety of political players, and Aung San Suu Kyi.
This trip comes as part of a process the Obama Administration launched last year. In February 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that we would undertake a review of our Burma policy, stating clearly that neither sanctions nor engagement, when implemented alone, had succeeded in influencing Burma’s generals. Over the course of the seven months of the policy review, we consulted widely and deliberately in order to seek the best ideas from around the world and at home. The result of that extensive review was to launch a policy of pragmatic engagement with Burma’s leadership. We have engaged in senior-level dialogue with the regime. Yet we have not lifted sanctions, nor have we abandoned our commitment to the people of Burma. Our strategic goal for Burma remains unchanged: we wish to see a more prosperous, democratic Burma that lives in peace with its people and with its neighbors.
The United States has approached this engagement with goodwill. We continue to consult and coordinate closely with key countries, including those within ASEAN, the European Union, with India, Japan, China and others, and a number of players outside governments seeking a more positive future in Burma.
The key objective of my trip to Burma was to underscore the purposes and principles of our engagement, and to lay out the reasons for our profound disappointment in what we have witnessed to date.
During various discussions with Burma’s senior leadership, we have outlined a proposal for a credible dialogue among all stakeholders in Burma that would allow all sides to enter into such a dialogue with dignity. Unfortunately, the regime has chosen to move ahead unilaterally – without consultation from key stakeholders – towards elections planned for this year. As a direct result, what we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy. We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections.
We have also asked for greater respect for human rights and the release of political prisoners. The regime has detained many of Burma’s brightest and most patriotic citizens, citizens that could contribute greatly to ensuring a more prosperous future for their country. Instead the regime has silenced them, dispersing them to remote locations throughout the country where the generals hope they will be forgotten. They are not.
We have raised our persistent concerns about the increasing tensions between Burma’s ethnic minorities and the central government that have resulted in violence along the country’s borders. The regime has ratcheted up the pressure on Burma’s ethnic groups in preparation for this year’s elections, forcing countless innocent civilians to flee. Burma cannot move forward while the government itself persists in launching attacks against its own people to force compliance with a proposal its ethnic groups cannot accept. The very stability the regime seeks will continue to be elusive until a peaceable solution can be found through dialogue.
Finally, we have urged Burma’s senior leadership to abide by its own commitment to fully comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1874. Recent developments call into question that commitment. I have asked the Burmese leadership to work with the United States and others to put into place a transparent process to assure the international community that Burma is abiding by its international commitments. Without such a process, the United States maintains the right to take independent action within the relevant frameworks established by the international community.
Although we are profoundly disappointed by the response of the Burmese leadership, I remain inspired by those outside the government with whom I met. I admire the resolve of Burma’s ethnic groups that wish to live in peace and to have a representative stake in the future of their own country. I respect the difficult decision Burma’s political parties have taken regarding the upcoming elections. Some have decided to participate, some will not. It is the right of a free people to make those decisions for themselves, and the United States respects their decisions.
I would like to take a moment to applaud the leaders of the National League for Democracy – a political party that has struggled for more than two decades to improve the lives of the Burmese people – with whom I held a lengthy meeting. Although having been denied a legal framework in which to operate by the regime’s own flawed rules, its leadership remains committed to working on behalf of and for the Burmese people. The United States will continue to stand behind all those working to support Burma’s people, including the National League for Democracy, however it may constitute itself in the future.
Finally, I was again moved by the perseverance and the commitment Aung San Suu Kyi has shown to the cause of a more just and benevolent Burma and to the Burmese people themselves. She has demonstrated compassion and tolerance for her captors in the face of repeated indignities. It is simply tragic that Burma’s generals have rebuffed her countless appeals to work together to find a peaceable solution for a more prosperous future.
The strength and resilience of those who struggle continue to inspire us. The United States stands by the Burmese people in their desire for a more democratic, prosperous, and peaceful nation.
MODERATOR: Thank you for coming today. My name is Steve Labensky. I am the Public Affairs Officer for the United States Mission to the OSCE. It is a pleasure to welcome you to our first press briefing and it is my honor to introduce you to Thomas O. Melia. Mr. Melia is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and is the head of the United States delegation to the Astana portion of the review conference being held in the run-up to the summit. Mr. Melia will speak briefly about his activities and experiences as the head of delegation and will then take questions. I ask each of you to identify yourself when you ask your question, giving both your name and your media affiliation. This press event will be in English and Russian.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Thanks Steve, and thanks to all of you for coming out this afternoon. I am going to give you a few observations about the review conference that just concluded and I will then be glad to take your questions.
Following on the input we received on Friday morning from the NGOs who are gathered for the purpose of advising the government delegations, we spent three lengthy sessions discussing and examining issues of media freedom in the OSCE region, the problem of trafficking in persons, and the issue of intolerance of migrants and minorities in the countries of the OSCE. All three are big and growing as problems in our region and greater cooperation is vital. In particular, the pressures on independent media are of concern because restrictions on freedom of expression impede our efforts to solve all other problems. Dunja Mijatovic of Bosnia, who is the Representative on Freedom of Media for the OSCE, noted in her report to the review conference that freedom of expression is not measured simply by the number of publications in a country but by the degree of editorial independence they enjoy.
I will also note that, in my address to the closing plenary earlier today, I emphasized the important role played by civil society in the OSCE framework. This organization is unique in the world in the prominence that it gives to civil society in its official deliberations. It is one of the strengths of the OSCE. Accordingly, I went this morning to observe the opening session of the Parallel Civil Society Summit that is being organized by CIVICUS and a number of other well-known international NGOs. At the opening session this morning, I saw the group addressed electronically by two of the world’s most famous and well-respected human rights defenders. Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group spoke directly to the conference participants and also Yevgeniy Zhovtis spoke from his prison cell to the group, and I should say that both of these highly regarded and well-known activists were warmly received by the more than 100 delegates who were participating in that conference.
The other point I would make about civil society and its importance to the OSCE and to the United States government is that our Secretary of State will be meeting with civil society upon her arrival on Tuesday afternoon in a town hall kind of event at Eurasian National University as she does everywhere she travels in the world. Underscoring an initiative that she launched in a speech in Krakow last July, the United States government is extending its support – both political and moral as well as material – to independent civil society around the world. We think that the problems that we all face as nations can only be solved with appropriate input from independent experts and NGOs and human rights groups.
So, it has been a very successful review conference. We are prepared for the summit when the more senior heads of delegation will be arriving from all the participating States, and so I think we are in a good position going into the summit.
With that, I would be glad to take questions and respond to your inquiries.
QUESTION (Tselina newspaper): Could you please tell us what Yevgeniy Zhovtis said and what conclusions did you reach after listening to his speech? Unfortunately, his speech was not available to us.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, I do know that his remarks are being distributed at the conference and will be posted on the website, so I am sure you can get the exact text of what he said. But, that said, he welcomed the meeting of activists here in Kazakhstan and wished them well in the conference that they were just beginning. I think it was an important connection that was drawn between the international and national groups that were there and one of Kazakhstan’s most famous individuals.
QUESTION (Novoye Pokolenie newspaper): How do you assess the development of civil society in the post-Soviet states, and in particular, in Kazakhstan?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, that is a good question, and I think, like any civil society gathering, we heard a variety of views. That is how you can tell when you have a genuine meeting where people are free to express their opinions because they will present alternate points of view and sometimes disagree about what reality really is. So, that is a good sign. I think that spoke well to the gathering on Friday morning.
I think we all know, and this is reflected not only in the reports that our State Department issues every year, the Human Rights Reports, on every country but also in the reports by independent think tanks and NGOs, that there are a variety of constraints on freedom of association and the work of civil society in many of the countries of the former Soviet Union. This is one of our challenges. This was one of the topics of discussion at the OSCE in the review conference and will certainly be part of the summit discussions.
The reason that Secretary Clinton launched her Civil Society Support Initiative in July was precisely because the threats to independent civil society are growing in the world these days. So, as we talked about modernizing all our countries, there are some ways in which we are becoming more modern and more successful, and there are other aspects of our societies in which we are moving backwards. I think in too many countries there are new laws being put in place that restrict the operation of NGOs making it more difficult for them to receive funding, setting the basis for more frequent and intrusive investigations by tax authorities or police, etc. This is a problem in Kazakhstan but it is not unique to Kazakhstan, and I think, for the OSCE to fulfill the commitments that all of our governments have made at Helsinki and in Paris and in Moscow and on so many occasions over the years, it is important that real practical steps be taken within each country to enact the proper democratically-based legislation and then to realize that these different views from civil society can actually strengthen a society and help solve problems, the other problems that we talk about, whether that is trafficking or toleration or other issues.
So, this is a real problem in Kazakhstan as elsewhere, and the degrees to which countries want to be identified with the founding principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the OSCE itself they will move forward to modify legislation and change the climate for the operation of civil society.
QUESTION (Tselina newspaper): We have a perception here that if an NGO is funded by the United States, it can undermine the foundations of the state. What do you think about this?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, I come from a country where many of the successful businessmen and women have put aside money that supports charitable and independent activities by NGOs. Sometimes, this private philanthropy is not enough to support independent civil society and some governments in Europe and elsewhere, like the United States, also make grants available to support the work of civil society. I have been involved in these kinds of grant programs myself personally for many years, and I know that the success of any of these NGOs depends on their connections to society and the countries in which they work. I would not judge organizations so much on the basis of where their funding comes from as on the work that they do, and, if civil society groups that depend on grants from outside the country, whether private or government, I think the important thing is what are they doing with that money? What kind of educational activities are they undertaking? What kind of policies or reforms are they advocating? That will tell you the value of those organizations and the work they do. Not every grant recipient is an angel or is effective, but I think many are, and so I think I would judge each organization based on its own record of accomplishment.
QUESTION (Lyudmila Piskorskaya): What is your opinion about the level of democratic development in Kazakhstan? How fast is Kazakhstan moving towards democracy? How would you assess the role of Kazakhstan as Chairman of the OSCE?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, as I said, there are a lot of independent assessments by scholars and think tanks about the political situation in every country, and I think not all experts will agree. I think Kazakhstan, and I think Kazakhstani officials as well as NGOs here, would agree that there is a lot of development to do in Kazakhstan’s democracy. The government has said so. It has developed a “National Human Rights Action Plan” as part of a partnership between civil society and the government, and I think that there is an acknowledgement by all parties that there is a lot of work to be done here, and I think we would encourage Kazakhstan to move forward with implementing the “National Human Rights Action Plan” that was developed with outside government officials and independent NGOs, like Yevgeniy Zhovtis was part of that process, one of the leading drafters of that plan. I think that reflects a consensus among Kazakhstani people that there are improvements to be made in a kind of a path forward.
You asked about role of this in the chairmanship. The awarding of the decision to have Kazakhstan take a turn as Chairman-in-Office does not necessarily represent a kind of democratic standard of achievement. It represents a taking of a turn as the chair – as other participating States have done – in order to chair the meetings in which we discuss how all of our states move forward. Ultimately, the success of the Kazakh chairmanship will be assessed by historians based on what happens next, based on the steps that Kazakhstan takes to modernize and democratize its legislation and create the space necessary for independent journalists and civil society to contribute to the life of the nation. So, I think the success of this chairmanship will be measured by the accomplishments to come, and I hope they come soon, and I hope they are significant.
QUESTION (Strana I Mir newspaper): According to the United States, what are the OSCE goals? In some U.S. reports we see the expression “OSCE effectiveness.” What does this mean? The United States is not even a member of the OSCE; it is not European. Why is it concerned?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: : Well, first of all, yes, the United States is a member of the OSCE. The United States participated at Helsinki in the adoption of the Final Act that has set us on this road, and so we are fully participating along with, now, the 55 other states.
The discussions that are underway and the conclusions that will be presented and the documents agreed at the summit I think will clarify the way forward on strengthening the institutions of the OSCE. In particular, we are looking for a reaffirmation and renewed support for the important work done by ODIHR, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, that has played such an important role in monitoring elections and strengthening civil society and enabling independent voices to be heard, so that would be an important sign of strengthening the OSCE overall as an organization.
There are other things that my colleagues are working more directly on that relate to security measures and cooperation on economic and technical matters. So, there are a number of things that are being discussed in various subgroups, but there are clearly some important opportunities to strengthen the institutions of the OSCE so that it will be even more successful going forward.
QUESTION (Kazakhstan TV): I would like you to evaluate the activities of Kazakhstan as Chair of the OSCE and share your expectations about the upcoming summit. Some pundits also say that the baskets of work of the OSCE could be somewhat altered or expanded to include, besides the three main baskets, scientific or research work. What do you think about that?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: The Kazaskhstan government as Chairman-in-Office for this last year has done a credible job in organizing the meetings and in facilitating all of our work, and we are grateful to them for their hospitality this week and on previous occasions. As I said, the ultimate measurement of the success of this chairmanship will be on, as for all the other countries, how Kazakhstan moves forward to implement the fundamental commitments that are contained in the Helsinki Final Act and in all of the subsequent documents. As Kazakhstan strengthens the independence of the media and the autonomy of civil society and the openness of the political competition, it will be fulfilling the promises made in the third basket of OSCE process.
I do not have a view on the research proposal, and I know there are discussions about other functions for the OSCE, but, in our discussions in the last couple days in this review conference, we really concentrated on how well each of our countries are doing in living up to the promises we have already made and the commitments we have undertaken to strengthen the human dimension of our societies, that important aspect of our overall security.
QUESTION (Karavan newspaper): Mr. Melia, I would like to ask you about the first basket of OSCE. Usually there are many discussions in regards to the third and second baskets. Very little is usually said about CFE [Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe] and that after the Istanbul summit many countries have not yet signed off on that document. Will there be any movement on this particular issue here at the Astana summit?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: My colleagues, especially our Ambassador to Vienna to the OSCE, Ambassador Ian Kelly, is very intensively involved in these very discussions. So, I would defer that question to him. I know that this is one of the issues going into the summit. So, I will have to defer to Ambassador Kelly on that.
MODERATOR: We will have several officials from the United States government here who will be able to address that issue. I hope in the next few days to arrange a briefing with one or more of them.
QUESTION (Tengri News): The Russian Federation insists on the necessity of broadening OSCE membership and reforming the organization. Don’t you think that the OSCE should become a Eurasian organization rather than an European one?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Again, there are a number of discussions underway and lots of ideas being put forward by different governments, and I think I would again defer to my colleague, Ambassador Kelly, on the larger questions about proposals to revamp the organization. Again, in this review conference that we have just concluded, we were really focusing on how well we are doing on implementing the things we have already agreed to implement, and that means not only celebrating the fact that the OSCE has come to Central Asia but it also means examining how well the OSCE values are being implemented in Central Asia. So, I think that is enough for us to do in this part of the conference, and I will defer that to other colleagues.
Is there a final question?
QUESTION (Tselina newspaper): I have not a question but a suggestion: to organize more exchange programs for the journalists and invite more journalism speakers to Kazakhstan.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: I agree that we should have more exchanges between Kazakhstan’s journalists and American journalists and all those kinds of things; I am sure my colleague Steve Labensky agrees as well. He is involved in precisely this area of our work, so we can talk about that more after the meeting. But, that is an excellent idea for building cooperation between our two countries.
MODERATOR: That is also an idea that you should raise with the U.S. Embassy here in Astana.
Well, if there are no further questions, I would like to thank you for your attendance at today’s briefing. As I said earlier, I am hoping that during the next week I will have other principals from the United States Department of State and other agencies who will be able to brief you on issues relating to the summit. Thank you very much for coming.
Implementation of the OSCE Action Plan on Roma and Sinti National Minorities Preventing Aggressive Nationalism, Racism and Chauvinism
As the 1991 Moscow Document stated, human rights are the direct and legitimate concern of all participating States. That is particularly true when we examine this morning’s subject.
In April of this year, Secretary of State Clinton said, “Protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma everywhere has long been a personal commitment for me, and under the Obama Administration it is a priority of the United States.”
Roma have come to the United States since the colonial period, and they have been part of every wave of European migration since then. They have come seeking jobs and opportunities, religious freedom, and refuge from war and conflict. They are part of the fabric of my country. Unfortunately, Romani people in the United States also face prejudice and discrimination, as they do elsewhere in the OSCE region. But it is the job of our governments to combat prejudice, marginalization and exclusion of all persons, including Roma – not foster it.
In March, the Government of Turkey convened an unprecedented and historic gathering of more than 10,000 Roma to discuss housing, access to education and other issues. We welcome the Turkish cabinet’s meeting with Roma, and the opportunity it presents for meaningful initiatives.
Despite progress over the past decade, many of Europe’s millions of Roma still live on the margins of society, and continue to experience violence and discrimination. Too often, they lack identity documents or citizenship papers, which effectively excludes them from voting, social services, education, and employment. We are hopeful that recent debates will also create an opportunity to focus collective attention on the need for continued, practical progress. We are concerned by comments by officials in some European states implying Roma by nature have criminal traits. The de jure or de facto segregation of Romani school children – such segregated schools exist in Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria and elsewhere – is also an obstacle to progress and to allowing all children to reach their full potential. In recent weeks, there has been vigorous public debate about the situation of Roma living in France following the French government’s action to close unauthorized camps and the transfer of hundreds of Romani EU citizens back to countries of origin. Similar debates continue in other European countries. Nonetheless, we are heartened by the strong commitment, which we have heard from numerous NGOs and governments, here in Warsaw, Hungary, Slovakia, and all over Europe, to work cooperatively on behalf of the Roma for a better future.
Protecting and promoting the human rights of all persons, including the Roma, is a priority of the United States, as Secretary Clinton has said repeatedly. We strongly welcome increased European-level engagement in the plight of Roma, and commend the recent involvement of the European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. Activities have included the European Roma Summit in Cordoba, the comprehensive reports of the OSCE Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues, and a series of ECHR decisions reinforcing equal rights of Roma throughout Europe. We commend the ODIHR’s efforts to focus on early childhood education. We welcome the Council of Europe’s plan to convene European leaders to discuss Roma concerns later this month. We recall that OSCE participating States have, in their national capacity, clear obligations to protect human rights.
The United States has committed a variety of tools to this cause, including development assistance and international visitor exchange programs. For example, our Roma education program in Macedonia provides preschool education for 250 children each year and has provided tutoring and out-of-school support to 1,500 primary school students. Following a series of unsolved killings of Roma in Hungary last year, local authorities asked the United States to send F.B.I. profilers to assist in the investigation, and local police subsequently arrested four persons in the case. In August, the State Department supported a new initiative to expand access to legal services for Roma in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia. We will continue to work with our partners in government and civil society to help make universal respect for the human rights of Roma the norm across Europe.
Our commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen Document would be empty, self-serving celebrations if not balanced by the acknowledgement of the 15th anniversary of the single greatest violation of Helsinki’s principles and provisions ever to occur: the genocide at Srebrenica in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ever since, the OSCE has increased its focus on and resources to the Western Balkans, including deployment of field missions. While significant progress has been achieved in the region during the last decade, the job is not yet complete. Two individuals indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide remain at-large, denying thousands of survivors the ability to put the past behind them.
The situation of the Serb and minority communities in Kosovo remains a focus of attention for the United States, as are the challenges of consolidating democratic development and rule-of-law in that country. U.S. Delegations to Human Dimension Implementation Meetings have consistently raised where we see shortcomings in the protection of human rights in Kosovo, regardless of the ethnicity of the communities affected. And we will continue to do so. This points, however, to the notable and unfortunate absence of representatives of Kosovo at the table as a participating State in this pan-European organization. It is in the interest of all the communities of Kosovo and indeed all participating states here today that Kosovo, like all other countries of the region already OSCE members, have a seat at this table to answer to issues and events within its borders as measured against OSCE commitments. Being an OSCE state is supposed to be more a means than an end. How many participating States here today joined the OSCE while their democratic institutions were in their infancy and whose development benefited from being accorded the accountability and respect that comes with OSCE membership? The opportunity to move forward in strengthening human rights and freedoms for all of Kosovo’s people should no longer be sidelined by those that would seek to reopen definitively resolved questions of Kosovo’s status.
The United States welcomes the positive pronouncements issued by the Government of Turkey concerning that country’s Kurdish population and urges Ankara to undertake concrete measures to improve the situation of Kurds and other ethnic minorities in its territory. The United States congratulates Greece on its new laws opening up acquisition of citizenship for long-term residents and giving resident non-citizens the ability to run for local public office and vote in regional and municipal elections. We encourage Greece to build on its OSCE commitments, including the ability of individuals to identify their nationality without disadvantage.
Finally, moderator, I would like to address the credible reports coming from Kyrgyzstan that ethnic Uzbeks in some southern areas are being targeted and arrested arbitrarily, sometimes with the aim of extorting money from their families. Once in custody, they are denied access to counsel and there are reports of torture and even death. Attorneys and human rights activists who assist them often face pressure and threats of arrest from the authorities. These reports underscore how much still needs to be done to protect minorities in that county and the need for the participating States to remain attentive to these human rights issues outside of the Vienna Ringstrasse, even as efforts to prepare for a summit intensify.