DCSIMG

News Archives






U.S. Foreign Policy and the OSCE: From Astana to Vilnius

As prepared

Chairman Smith, Co-Chairman Cardin, Members of the Commission: Thank you very much for inviting me here today to discuss our agenda for the OSCE. Let me also take this opportunity to thank the excellent Helsinki Commission staff members who have worked long, hard, and in cooperation with their State colleagues to safeguard the principles and commitments of the OSCE, and to hold participating States to account.

I will focus my remarks today on the OSCE in the aftermath of the December, 2010 Astana Summit. I will begin by looking at our core foreign policy goals for the OSCE, reviewing the achievements of Astana and looking forward to the OSCE’s Ministerial meeting in Vilnius this December.

OSCE: Shared Values, Inconsistent Implementation

Nowhere does the United States have better or more valuable partners than in Europe. The U.S. and Europe share common values, our economies are intertwined, and our militaries work together to address common security challenges. U.S. bilateral engagement with our European partners is complemented by our work together in key multilateral regional institutions. Our engagement with NATO Allies – including operational military cooperation – on the full gamut of security issues has no equivalent anywhere else in the world. Through the OSCE we are able to engage on such U.S. priorities as advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms, building democratic institutions in the Western Balkans, combating trafficking in persons, as well as North Africa and Afghanistan, to name just a few. In this age of a tight budget and many demands, multilateral approaches often present a more effective alternative to unilateral engagement.

The OSCE was founded on the principle of comprehensive security, that is, the conviction that true security has an economic and environmental dimension and a human dimension, in addition to the political-military dimension. As the world’s largest regional security organization with membership that stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok, with partners in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, the OSCE has unmatched scope to advance this concept and strengthen security across all three dimensions and increasingly beyond the OSCE region itself.

Today the principles and commitments enshrined in the founding document of the OSCE – the Helsinki Final Act – are facing serious challenges from both inside and outside the organization. From within, there is uneven application of the Helsinki principles, and I regret to say that there are OSCE participating States where journalists can find it too dangerous to report the news, where political activists are beaten and incarcerated, where religious and minority groups, such as the Roma, continue to face persecution, and where economic growth is stifled by endemic corruption. Regional crises and transnational threats are proliferating. Efforts to resolve the protracted conflicts in Georgia, Moldova, and Nagorno-Karabakh continue to face frustrating obstacles. The OSCE’s inability to reach consensus on ways to address these issues is increasingly identified by critics as evidence of the organization’s ineffectiveness.

This Commission – and your able staff – know well the reasons why OSCE decision-making is complicated and how easy it is for one nation to use the organization’s consensus rule to prevent timely and effective action in a situation of crisis. Russia’s determination to limit the role of OSCE in Georgia, for example, has diminished possibilities for international engagement in this region where transparency and confidence-building are sorely needed.

Problems like these make headlines, but they offer only a partial picture of the role OSCE plays in Europe today. The OSCE has deepened and strengthened European and Eurasian security through initiatives to enhance rule of law, provide for free and fair elections, develop an independent media, respect the rights of minority groups, and improve the ability of citizens to exercise their fundamental freedoms. The OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE’s field missions have been at the forefront in assisting OSCE participating States to strengthen their democracy and thereby their security.

In concert with those bodies, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the High Commissioner for National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Chairmanship’s Special Representatives on Tolerance and Gender Issues make for a powerful set of instruments to help participating States live up to their commitments and thus bring security to the region.

The OSCE has made tremendous strides toward building a zone of prosperity and stability that stretches from western Canada to the Russian Far East.  Although it is at times stymied by a lack of sustained political will and attempts by some participating States to constrain its flexibility, the OSCE nonetheless remains uniquely positioned to build confidence, promote good governance, and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe and Eurasia.

Moving Forward from Astana

At the Astana Summit last December – the first OSCE Summit in eleven years – the 56 participating States issued the Astana Commemorative Declaration – a strong reaffirmation of the Helsinki principles and commitments and the entire OSCE acquis. This included the first-ever explicit affirmation by the former Soviet states of the declaration originally made in the OSCE’s 1991 Moscow Document that makes human rights conditions in individual OSCE participating States matters of “direct and legitimate concern” to all of them. The final document also tasked future OSCE Chairmanships to build on efforts last year to develop an action plan to address a range of common challenges that notably include the protracted conflicts, conflict prevention and crisis response, counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, issues facing media freedom, anti-Semitism, treatment of minorities such as the Roma and Sinti, and trafficking in persons to name a few.

The Astana Summit also underscored the vital role that civil society plays in the OSCE region, as numerous human rights activists from some of the OSCE region’s most embattled corners engaged constructively with government delegations and provided input to the work of the Summit. With strong U.S. support, NGOs and civil society representatives participated in the final three days of the Human Dimension portion of the Review Conference preceding the Summit, as well as in a civil society forum and an independently organized parallel NGO conference. Secretary Clinton also held a vibrant, standing-room only town hall event at Eurasian University with NGO and civil society representatives.

The Astana Summit opened a new chapter for the OSCE. It provided renewed impetus for action to make the OSCE space – including the Central Asian space –even more democratic, prosperous, and secure for our citizens. The Administration has remained deeply engaged in the work of the OSCE across all three dimensions. We are seeking ways to sustain the momentum that was generated – in both government and civil society networks – by the Astana Summit.

Lithuania’s Chairmanship

In 2010 and 2011, crises in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan demonstrated the ongoing need for the OSCE to hold its membership to the highest standards of human rights performance and comprehensive security. The tragic case in Russia of Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in pre-trial detention, is most illustrative of the problems facing the judiciaries of too many member states, and a problem that we are seeking to address in close consultation with Senator Cardin and others on this committee.

We will continue to press for greater implementation of OSCE commitments in Europe. The Arab Spring has shown us vividly the link between democracy and security, and we will look for opportunities to offer OSCE expertise in democratic transition and institution building to the countries of North Africa and to the OSCE’s other partners, such as Afghanistan.

Soon after the Astana Summit, Belarus presented the first challenge for the OSCE as its government launched a sustained, brutal crackdown against opposition politicians and activists, civil society, and independent media after a flawed presidential election. Since then, we have worked closely with the Lithuanian Chairman-in-Office, the EU, and like-minded OSCE participating States to manage and address these issues. Despite rhetoric that it was willing to cooperate with the OSCE, Belarus refused to extend the mandate of the OSCE Office in Minsk, claiming that the Office’s mandate had been completed. At the government’s insistence, the OSCE office in Minsk officially closed in March. In stark contrast to the stunning events unfolding during the Arab Spring in Northern Africa, Belarus seems to have entered a prolonged winter of backpedaling on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In response, we joined with 13 other participating States to invoke the Moscow Mechanism, a tool established in the 1991 Moscow Document that allows for special rapporteur missions to address concerns about the implementation of human rights commitments. Together we appointed a rapporteur to investigate the crackdown by the Government of Belarus against opposition candidates, civil society representatives and journalists, and the mass arrests that followed the December 19 presidential election. Though Belarus refused to cooperate, the rapporteur was able to conduct his fact-finding mission and reported back with a number of constructive recommendations that holds the Government of Belarus accountable for its failure to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, prohibiting torture, and upholding the rule of law. We continue to work to ensure that the OSCE and the international community focus on the concerns raised in the report.

Dramatic developments in OSCE’s partner states have captured headlines. Working closely with the Lithuanian Chair, we have supported engagement with Tunisia and Egypt in order to offer OSCE expertise to nascent democracies emerging in North Africa. We are taking a realistic, pragmatic approach offering advice and guidance on issues such as democratic elections and human rights monitoring. Assistance could come through sharing of materials such as handbooks and guidelines, visits by subject matter experts, and participation in OSCE meetings, conferences, seminars, as well as specific projects – either in the OSCE region or in the Partner State. At the request of Egyptian activists, ODIHR is already organizing a workshop for Egyptian civil society on international standards and tools of election observation, in advance of Egypt’s November parliamentary elections.

Goals for Vilnius

In December, the OSCE will meet in Vilnius, Lithuania at the level of foreign ministers to review results achieved since Astana and take decisions for future work. The United States is working with like-minded partners to achieve specific results in all three dimensions:

In the political-military dimension, we want to agree on a substantial update of the Vienna Document, which will be reissued at Vilnius for the first time since 1999. Building on the existing measures, we are re-examining how data exchange, notification, observation, and possibly other measures can offer greater security and transparency in light of today’s smaller post-Cold War military establishments. Our effort to update the Vienna Document is part of our broader commitment to improve military transparency in Europe and ensure arms control and the confidence and security building measures regime are relevant to the challenges of the 21st century. U.S. efforts to find a way forward on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty are separate from this work on Vienna Document, but they are motivated by some of the same goals and concerns: we want to achieve greater military transparency and cooperation on conventional forces in Europe as a route to increased confidence and trust.

In the economic-environmental dimension, we want to endorse greater economic transparency, good governance and anti-corruption measures, as well as identify ways to better empower women in the economic sphere. Citizens must be able to trust their governments to develop economic and environmental resources in a responsible and equitable manner. We hope that at Vilnius all OSCE members will endorse the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative endorsed by the G-8 in Deauville, and agree on goals and best practices to promote the economic empowerment of women.

In the human dimension, we hope to take the Helsinki Final Act into the digital age. We are seeking consensus on a declaration that would explicitly acknowledge that human rights and fundamental freedoms can apply to online activity as they do to offline activity. This includes, in particular the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. Even more urgent is the need to reaffirm and strengthen governments’ commitment to the protection of journalists. Both of these goals address priority issues for both the OSCE Representative on the Freedom of Media and the Lithuanian Chairmanship.

We also want to see the OSCE give greater attention to Central Asia, including addressing longstanding challenges to democracy and human rights in that region. The OSCE can and should assist Kyrgyzstan’s fledgling parliamentary democracy and play a greater role in helping stabilize and secure Afghanistan, particularly in the area of border management.

Of course, we envision that the Vilnius Ministerial will be an opportunity for OSCE Ministers to declare formally our support for Mediterranean Partners, such as Egypt and Tunisia, and offer to assist them in democratic institution building and electoral reform.

Finally, the OSCE must continue to play a direct role in resolving the protracted conflicts in Georgia, Moldova, and Nagorno-Karabakh. As the 2008 war in Georgia showed, these conflicts hold the devastating potential to destabilize security in the OSCE region, and their resolution must remain a high priority for the OSCE and all its member states. We intend to use the meeting in Vilnius to highlight progress made on each of these conflicts this year and the challenges that remain to be addressed. This is difficult and frustrating work. But OSCE is one of a handful of international institutions that has the political standing to engage on the protracted conflicts, and it has the ability to shine a light on the human and security situation in these regions. Impartial, comprehensive, accurate reporting is not something to be feared or avoided, and that is what OSCE is ideally suited to deliver, if it can get unhindered, status-neutral access to regions of conflict. If the OSCE’s role is undermined, the international community is diminished; the United States will stand firmly against that. We will continue to push hard to improve the OSCE’s ability to respond to crises in a fast and effective manner, including preventing the development of new conflicts in the OSCE area.

OSCE Moving Forward

We all know that a consensus-based organization with 56 participating States sometimes moves in baby steps when we want to see larger and faster strides. We can take comfort that whether the OSCE is working to eliminate rocket fuel in Ukraine, advocating for journalists and bloggers in Azerbaijan, or developing a multi-ethnic police force in Serbia and Kyrgyzstan, those small steps can result in impressive progress over time, and thus deserve our sustained attention.

The OSCE enables its participating States to address issues of concern in a forum which allows for a full and open debate. The issues can seem intractable but exchanging words beats the alternative of exchanging bullets. We have had bullets exchanged in the OSCE space in the last three years and that is something the OSCE participating States need to eliminate in the future. The potential of the OSCE has not yet been fulfilled – and therein lies its promise for the future.

The Helsinki Commission – you, the Commissioners, and the experts on your staff – play a vital role in ensuring that the participating States keep the promises they made at Helsinki. With your support, the United States will continue to play a leading role at the OSCE, to strengthen and build upon the progress the participating States have made over the past 35 years, and bring us closer to a truly stable, secure, and prosperous OSCE region.

I am happy to take your questions at this time.

 


U.S. Policy and the OSCE: Making Good on Our Commitments in the Human Dimension

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Distinguished Members of the Commission: I appreciate your calling this timely hearing on the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as we plan for the December Ministerial Meeting in Vilnius and beyond. I have the privilege of working for a former Helsinki Commissioner, Secretary Clinton, and it is my honor to serve as the Helsinki Commissioner for the Department of State. The Commission’s efforts help strengthen my hand and that of my State Department colleagues as we work with other governments, civil society advocates, and the private sector to defend and advance human rights and democratic government across the OSCE region.

Mr. Chairman, I would ask the Commission to consider my testimony today in conjunction with that of Assistant Secretaries Gordon and Vershbow. If I may, I will direct my comments today in particular to the OSCE’s Human Dimension – the principles that animate it, the challenges that confront it, and what all of us can and must do to defend and advance it. As the only regional forum with a membership that stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok, the OSCE constitutes a vital platform for raising concerns about human rights and democratic governance in key countries of concern, such as Belarus, Russia and Uzbekistan.

A Pioneering Process, Then and Now

The Helsinki process was launched 36 years ago next week, in the midst of a Cold War and in a different century. The past twenty years since the end of Soviet Communism have seen profound changes in the OSCE region and the world. With them came an opportunity for the participating States to increase in number, establish and develop the OSCE as an organization, and, most significantly, agree to ground breaking commitments in the areas of human rights and democratic governance. These commitments remain a global high water mark. The OSCE has not been merely a reflection of the great post-Soviet geopolitical changes. The OSCE’s comprehensive concept of linking security among states to respect for human rights within states, and the citizens monitoring movements that the Helsinki process inspired, helped create and shape the new reality in Europe and Eurasia.

And I would submit, Mr. Chairman, that the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security, the human and democratic values at the core of the Helsinki process, and its recognition of the vital role and contributions of civil society — remain inspiring and innovative concepts in this new century, not just to men and women within the OSCE region, but to people around the world.

Time and again, most recently in North Africa and the Middle East, we see that governments’ respect for human rights and their responsiveness to the aspirations of their citizens are essential to security, stability and peace. The OSCE, and the civil society groups associated with the Helsinki process, can make useful contributions of experience and expertise to our partner Mediterranean States undergoing transformations. Even as we speak, OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is holding its first workshop for Egyptian civil society representatives interested in election monitoring in support of the Arab Spring.

The Enduring Importance of Implementation

As Assistant Secretary Gordon noted, the participating States at the Astana Summit last December, including those that joined the OSCE in the post-Soviet period, reaffirmed in the Summit’s Commemorative Declaration the principles of Helsinki and all the commitments made to date. They also reaffirmed that human rights are not solely a domestic issue, but also a matter of “direct and legitimate” interest to other States. Secretary Clinton, Assistant Secretary Gordon, Ambassador Kelly and his outstanding delegation, and I worked intensively with like-minded counterparts to ensure that the Commemorative Declaration was strong and unequivocal. I believe that we succeeded.

But we all agree that reaffirmation is not enough. We must continue to address serious problems of implementation within OSCE participating States, through our bilateral diplomacy and through the OSCE and other multilateral organizations.

All countries, including our own, have room for improvement in living up to our OSCE commitments and all have a responsibility to do so. That said, the work and resources of the OSCE should focus most on the areas where implementation remains weakest and where humarn rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals and democratic principles of government face the greatest challenges. This is not a reflection of political bias or double standards. It is not a matter of “East of Vienna versus West of Vienna” — as some participating States assert. The divide that concerns the OSCE is not between East and West; OSCE must address the gap between commitments and practice. Human rights are universal, but they are not universally respected in the OSCE region. That is the truth, and the OSCE must address it.

Advocates of human rights, democracy, and labor who seek to help their fellow citizens know and act upon their rights are targeted for persecution, even murder, in some participating States. Laws are wielded like political weapons against those who expose abuses or express disagreement with official policies and practices. Judicial independence and the rule of law have yet to be established or fully respected in practice. NGOs are subjected to increasing legal restrictions and burdensome administrative measures that impede their peaceful work, reflecting a disturbing global phenomenon. There are human rights and humanitarian aspects of protracted conflicts that must be addressed as essential elements of settlement and reconciliation processes.

Media – particularly independent media — are under pressure to be silent or to self-censor. For practicing their profession, journalists are victims of brutal, sometimes deadly, attacks, often carried out with complete impunity. Countries in the OSCE region are also part of a growing global trend by governments to restrict Internet Freedom, and thus the exercise of freedoms of expression, association and assembly via new media. Too many people in the OSCE region are denied the opportunity to access a range of sources of information. The Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, who testified before you a few weeks ago, deserves special mention for raising awareness and pushing to protect journalists and an independent media throughout the OSCE space.

Democratic development is uneven across the OSCE region. Not all elections meet OSCE’s standards. Not all officials and government institutions operate in an accountable and transparent manner. The next few years will see national elections in a number of OSCE States, including my own country. The United States continues to welcome ODIHR observers and we hope our fellow participating States will do likewise. We are pleased that Russia recently has invited ODIHR to conduct a needs assessment for an elections observer mission in the lead-up to December’s parliamentary elections, and we urge Russia to extend a formal, unrestricted invitation for this observation mission once the assessment is completed. We also look to Russia to invite ODIHR to do the same for the presidential elections in 2012. Similarly, we hope that ODIHR will be invited to observe the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine, and the presidential elections in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

Not surprisingly, participating States with serious implementation problems do not like to have their records in the spotlight, as we see so clearly demonstrated by Belarus’s refusal to extend the mandate of the OSCE Office in Minsk, its refusal to cooperate with the Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur, and now its resistance to joining consensus on the detailed agenda for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw. The Representative on Freedom of the Media has not been allowed to visit Belarus since the crackdown last December. Belarus rejected a fact-finding mission by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Working Group on Belarus and the Working Group’s Chair was denied a visa to observe trials of political prisoners. Such obstructionist behavior only draws more attention to Belarus’ lamentable human rights record.

The report of the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur on Belarus contains a wealth of constructive recommendations, which we urge Belarus to accept so that it can increase its integration into the OSCE community, instead of deepening its isolation.

With respect to Russia, we have spoken out in the OSCE Permanent Council and other OSCE fora about the continued assaults on fundamental freedoms of the press and assembly, and the rule of law. We repeatedly have expressed our concerns about: the many unsolved cases of murdered journalists like Paul Klebnikov and human rights activists like Natalia Estemirova; corruption and impunity as exemplified by the tragic case of Sergei Magnitsky; and restrictions on freedom of assembly for members of groups like Strategy 31, the Khimki Forest Defenders, and for members of various Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender groups. We have raised our concerns about Russia’s disappointing decision to deny the opposition group PARNAS registration so that it can compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections and we urge Russian authorities to reconsider that decision.

We continue to monitor and speak out about the treatment of minorities in Russia, including the application of the so-called “law on extremism” to peaceful religious groups. We also are concerned about inter-ethnic tensions and incidents of violence between ethnic Russians and minority groups, as well as by reports of serious human rights violations in the North Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya. These reports include disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and retribution against those who report abuses.

Mr. Chairman, as we set our sights on the Ministerial in Vilnius, I want to emphasize that our interest in human rights and democratic development in Central Asia did not begin or end with the Astana Summit. The United States remains committed to working bilaterally and within the OSCE with the participating States of Central Asia and with civil society in that region to advance domestic democratic reforms, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. We also will continue to work with Central Asian states to reinforce border security to counter transnational threats such as narcotics and terrorism, and to bolster security in Afghanistan, an OSCE partner. We have stressed that Kazakhstan’s legacy as the 2010 Chair of the OSCE will be determined by the continued efforts it makes, now that the spotlight has left Astana, to deliver on the pledges made there to reinvigorate comprehensive security and protect the human rights of citizens. We strongly encourage OSCE representatives, as well as high public officials from the participating States, including the Members of this Commission and Members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, to seek opportunities to engage with the governments and citizens of Central Asian states to advance Human Dimension issues.

We have seen that such engagement can yield results. Most recently, the Government of Kyrgyzstan decriminalized libel, an issue on which the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media had persistently focused. We applaud Kyrgyzstan’s becoming the first Central Asian country and the 13th OSCE participating State to decriminalize defamation. This measure will strengthen freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan and set an example for the rest of the OSCE community. Kyrgyzstan also deserves recognition for its support of the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, which operates according to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Kyrgyz government and the OSCE. The United States joined the Academy’s Board of Trustees in March 2011 and since its foundation in 2005 we have been strong supporters of the excellent work the Academy is doing to provide graduate studies to Central Asian and Afghan students. Coupled with the steps Kyrgyzstan has taken to ensure inquiry into the abuses committed during the June 2010 conflict, we think that the positive trajectory for Kyrgyzstan’s democratization can continue. The OSCE remains well-poised to assist.

Mr. Chairman, the comprehensive security we seek in the OSCE region, and in Central Asia particularly, will remain elusive until serious human rights problems are addressed. We will continue to press for the implementation by the Central Asian states of OSCE commitments in all three dimensions, and to offer our assistance toward that end.

For example, Uzbekistan continues to exhibit a poor record on media freedom, freedom of religion, and a wide range of human rights and fundamental freedoms. We regretted the Uzbekistan Supreme Court decision in June to close the Human Rights Watch office in Tashkent. We have raised in the OSCE and elsewhere the cases of Dilmurod Sayid, a journalist imprisoned for writing about corruption, and Maxim Popov, who remains incarcerated for working to decrease the incidence of AIDS in the country, and we will continue to advocate for fair treatment and due process in those, and similar, cases.

We also remain deeply concerned over the arrests of religious adherents, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Protestants and members of some Islamic groups in Uzbekistan. Reported raids on the homes of members of non-majority religious groups, coupled with bans on the import of some religious publications and the confiscation or destruction of religious literature, further chill the climate for religious expression.

We will continue to use the OSCE as a platform for pressing these and other human rights challenges in Uzbekistan, including ongoing reports of torture in detention and the use of child labor in the annual cotton harvest.

Mr. Chairman, looking across the OSCE, community, we see intolerance and hate crimes against religious and ethnic minorities, including Roma and Sinti. I wish to commend the essential work of OSCE’s three tolerance representatives: Rabbi Andrew Baker, on Combating Anti-Semitism, Dr. Massimo Introvigne, on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions, and Ambassador Adil Akhmetiv, on combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims. I also salute the efforts of the OSCE’s Contact Point on Roman and Sinti Issues. Violence against women and assaults on individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are widespread problems. People with disabilities experience discrimination and tend to be relegated to the margins of society. The OSCE region is both a source and a destination for human trafficking. Men, women and children are forced into servitude within its borders.

To meet all of these challenges of implementation, participating States must strengthen their political will to honor their commitments. We and other like-minded governments must work vigilantly to ensure that the capacity and integrity of ODIHR, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and other OSCE institutions are strengthened, not weakened, and that full use is made of the OSCE’s good offices, mechanisms, and field missions. Today, for example, the High Commissioner is working to prevent ethnic tensions from boiling over again in Central Asia and to ensure that children can receive an adequate education in their language in Slovakia, Serbia, and other parts of Europe. And the field missions are standing up freedom of information and human rights ombudsmen who can defend citizens’ rights.

Let me now say a few words about the state of consensus in the OSCE and its prospects for meeting today’s human, economic, and military security challenges. It is evident that some participating States lack the political will to meet the commitments they have already made. They are often reluctant or unwilling to give their consent so that the OSCE can take timely and effective action in key areas of concern, including the persistent implementation problems.

Mr. Chairman, we have encountered such dilemmas before in OSCE’s history. During the Cold War, Human Dimension commitments made by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries were honored more in the breach than in practice. Despite this challenge, the Helsinki process managed to advance, thanks to the moral force of Helsinki monitoring groups as well as the West’s principled, sustained diplomacy. This tenacity ultimately paid off with the emergence of the democracies of Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. And the need for sustained, principled efforts by governments and their citizens is equally compelling now.

Today, we must be steadfast in the face of threats from some participating States to withhold consensus or attempt to water down commitments or weaken OSCE institutions. We will creatively use the full array of existing OSCE authorities, institutions, principles, and precedents to support the efforts of today’s activists on the ground who are pressing for human rights and democratic reforms. Consensus to act on issues of human rights and democracy may be hard to reach at the State-to-State level, but there is a growing grassroots consensus among citizens of the OSCE region and regions across the globe that governments must respect human rights and give their people a meaningful role in shaping the future of their countries.

The Helsinki Process and Support for Citizen Activism

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made support and defense of civil society a global foreign policy priority, and we see our work in OSCE as integral to that effort.

OSCE was the first regional organization to recognize the importance of civil society and provide for NGO participation in its proceedings. Secretary Clinton made a special point of holding a Town Hall with civil society groups in Astana during the OSCE Summit, and we will continue to encourage and defend NGO involvement at the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings and other expert meetings of the OSCE.

Mr. Chairman, the Commission has long championed the vital role that non-governmental organizations play in the OSCE process. I am pleased to report that my own Bureau and Ambassador Kelly have collaborated on a new effort aimed at helping connect civil society activists across the OSCE region through new technologies.

In mid-August, my bureau will be reviewing proposals for a new $500,000 program to create a demand-driven virtual network of human rights and democracy activists in the OSCE region, which we intend to launch in September. We call it Helsinki 2.0. The network would serve as a sustainable coordination platform for reinvigorating human rights advocacy in Europe and Eurasia. A virtual interface will be created to enable activists to have regular engagement with governments beyond the traditional appearances at annual OSCE meetings. We hope that this Helsinki 2.0 platform will enhance activists’ ability to network with one another and with the OSCE. This effort should help extend Helsinki’s Human Dimension and its legacy of citizen advocacy into the Digital Age.

Enduring Freedoms, New Apps

Mr. Chairman, the Commission has greatly helped to elevate the issue of Internet freedom. I very much appreciate your holding a hearing on the subject a few weeks ago, at which my Deputy, Dan Baer, testified. It is vitally important that the OSCE take a principled and pioneering stand on Internet freedom.

In the past, the Helsinki process was a major international platform for defending citizens who expressed dissenting views via samizdat and for protesting the jamming of radio broadcasts. Two decades ago, in response to efforts by the Ceausescu regime to restrict citizens’ access to Xerox machines, an explicit commitment was included in the OSCE’s Copenhagen document pledging that “no limitation will be imposed on access to, and use of, means of reproducing documents of any kind.” Today, email, social networking, and text messaging are new forms of samizdat and tools of human rights advocacy as well as indispensible tools of commerce, education, and global communications.

We applaud Lithuania for making media freedom via old and new technologies and the safety of journalists key themes of its Chairmanship. I want to emphasize that cyber issues are relevant to all three dimensions of the OSCE. As we partner with other governments, civil society, and the business sector on ways we can safeguard against very real cyber security threats, we will do so ever mindful that the measures we take must be consistent with our human dimension commitments to respect the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Mr. Chairman, as Assistant Secretary Gordon noted, the United States advanced language for inclusion in the Astana Summit Action Plan on the exercise of “Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age.” Since, as you know, the Astana Summit ended without the adoption of such a plan, we intend to renew our efforts to get this breakthrough language adopted at the OSCE Ministerial in Vilnius in December. OSCE’s adoption of such language would, I believe, mark the first time that any regional organization formally recognizes that respect for the full range of human rights, and fundamental freedoms must extend to the use of new technologies.

The United States looks forward to working with the Lithuanian Chair, the EU, other participating States and civil society to ensure that the OSCE sends a strong and clear message from Vilnius on Internet Freedom. If I were to distill that message into a tweet to the world, it would be: “Enduring Freedoms, New Apps.”

Promises Made, Promises to be Kept

Mr. Chairman, when he signed the Helsinki Final Act 36 years ago, President Ford famously said, “History will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow — not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” He was right then, and his statement is even more true today.

Europe cannot be completely whole, free and at peace –

Europe and Eurasia cannot become truly integrated –

There can be no lasting security extending from Vancouver to Vladivostok –

until human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully exercised by all people who live within the OSCE community of nations.

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I thank the Commission for its decades of principled work to ensure that the promises made in Helsinki are kept. Now I would be happy to answer your questions.

 


Promises we Keep Online: Internet in the OSCE Region

Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel B. Baer delivers testimony before the Helsinki Commission.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel B. Baer delivers testimony before the Helsinki Commission.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Distinguished Members of the Commission, I appreciate the Commission’s affording me the opportunity to address an issue with profound implications for the exercise of human rights in the OSCE region and across the globe: ensuring a free and open Internet. Your focus on this critical subject is emblematic of the Commission’s strong defense and dedicated promotion of human rights principles enshrined at the core of the Helsinki Final Act and UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. States have an enduring responsibility to respect these principles and their responsibility extends into the Digital Age. In the 21st Century, men and women everywhere are increasingly turning to the Internet and other connection technologies to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

I have valued the opportunity to work with Members of this Commission and your superb staff. The Commission’s efforts greatly strengthen my hand and that of Assistant Secretary Michael Posner and our colleagues in the State Department as we work with other governments, civil society advocates and the private sector to defend and advance human rights and democratic government. The defense of Internet Freedom is integral to our efforts.

If I may, Mr. Chairman, first I will describe the Obama Administration’s global policy of support for Internet Freedom. Then, as you have requested, I will highlight key trends and concerns regarding a number of countries in the OSCE region. Finally, I will describe what we are doing institutionally within the OSCE to ensure Internet Freedom.

The U.S. Champions a Rights-Based Approach to Global Internet Freedom

The United States champions Internet freedom because it derives from universal and cherished rights—the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. An open Internet gives people a neutral platform from which to express their legitimate aspirations and shape their own destiny. We believe that people in every country deserve to be able to take part in building a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic society. In the 21st century, technology is a powerful tool with which to exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms. In turn, ensuring Internet freedom helps create the space for people to use technology to “know and act upon” their rights.

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.”

As we all know, the Internet and other new technologies are having a profound effect on the ability to organize citizen movements around the world. And because repressive regimes understand the power of this technology, they are redoubling their attempts to control it. 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 these new connective technologies.

Governments that respect their citizens have no reason to fear when citizens exercise their rights. And governments that respect the rights of their citizens have no reason to fear a free Internet. As President Obama has said: “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.”

Recently, in Vilnius, on the margins of the Community of Democracies ministerial meeting, Secretary Clinton and I met with activists—including several from the OSCE region — who spoke of the surveillance, hacking, and harassment they face every day.

Mr. Chairman, we are not cyber-utopians who believe that the Internet is the magic answer to the world’s human rights problems. Technology does not change the world; people must. Some governments are using advanced technologies to chill free expression, to stifle dissent, to identify and arrest dissidents. Through our diplomacy and through direct support for embattled activists worldwide, we are helping people stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the brutes who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online.

At the same time, we will continue to speak out about the regimes that resort to such behavior. And we will continue to point out that cracking down on the Internet only undermines the legitimacy of a government in the eyes of its own people – particulary young people. Those who have grown up in the Internet age understand how critical it is that all people everywhere can join in the global discussion and debate. These young “digital natives” understand intiuitively the dangers of an online world where citizens in one country receive only censored information and so form a stilted view of the world. And they understand intuitively the need to protect the promise and the potential of a truly free and global Internet.

Around the world, our embassies and missions are working to advance internet freedom on the ground. We are building relationships with “netizens” and advocating on behalf of imprisoned and arrested online activists. Internet freedom is now a core part of many of our bilateral human rights and economic discussions with a broad range of countries. Fostering free expression and innovation is a core element of the President’s International Strategy for Cyberspace, released in May of this year. As Secretary Clinton said in the rollout of the strategy, cyber issues are a new foreign policy imperative. Accordingly, we are integrating Internet freedom into our engagements on the broader range of cyber issues.

Since 2008, the State Department and USAID have committed $50 million in direct support for activists on the front lines of the struggle against Internet repression. By the end of 2011, we will have allocated $70 million toward these efforts. Our programming responds to the most urgent priorities we hear from activists on the ground – including embattled democracy and human rights activists from OSCE countries. A critical part of our efforts is support for circumvention technology, to enable users to get around firewalls erected by repressive regimes. But circumvention alone is not enough. Users do not just need access to blocked content; they also need to be able to communicate safely with each other, to organize, to get their own messages out. For this reason, we are funding the development of better communication technologies, including secure tools for mobile phones, to empower activists to safely organize themselves and publish their own material. We are funding trainings on cyber self-defense, to train activists in person about the risks they face and how to protect themselves online. And we are committing funding to research and development, so that we stay ahead of the curve in understanding evolving threats to Internet freedom.

We also are working with the private sector, to define the steps that governments and businesses need to take to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms at a time when the technology and its implications are changing constantly.

And, through our multilateral diplomacy, we are playing a leading role in building a global coalition of governments committed to advancing Internet freedom. To that end, we are working at the UN Human Rights Council, in UNESCO, in the OECD, and, of course, within the OSCE.

OSCE as a Pioneering Regional Platform for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age

Mr. Chairman, as you know, OSCE was the first regional organization to recognize that respect for human rights, pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are prerequisites for a lasting order of security and prosperity. And OSCE was the first regional organization to acknowledge the vital importance of civil society. The Helsinki process must continue to be a pioneer for human dignity, civil society and democratic government in the Digital Age.

Challenges to Internet freedom in the OSCE region are illustrative of the issues we are addressing across the globe in our efforts to support an open Internet. Let me now address trends and concerns related to Internet Freedom in a number of OSCE participating States:

Belarus

In mid-2010, Belarusian authorities announced a new legal regime designed to restrict freedom of speech on the Internet, and to harass and intimidate individuals and organizations to deter them from expressing their views through Internet postings, email and websites. The law requires all website owners to register with the authorities, and further requires them to maintain their sites on the government-controlled .by domain. Citizens seeking to use the Internet at public locations including Internet cafes must present their identity documents, and Internet cafes are responsible for maintaining lists of users and the websites they visit. Authorities routinely monitor emails and Internet traffic, and at times block access to websites linked to opposition political parties and independent media groups. On December 19, 2010, the day of the presidential election, authorities also blocked access to popular global sites, including Twitter and Facebook. The same day, denial of service attacks led to the disabling of over a dozen popular Belarusian independent media websites.

In recent days, Belarusian citizens have mobilized via the Internet to organize a series of “silent” protests designed to highlight the government’s continuing repression, the lack of freedom of speech, and the country’s deteriorating economic situation. Since June 8, such protests –in which participants gather silently and clap their hands – have taken place in at least 43 cities and towns across the country. Authorities have responded by dispersing gatherings via heavy-handed tactics and by detaining hundreds of people. Police have ordered the closure of at least seven websites, and reports of denial of service attacks and spear-phishing attacks have also increased. Finding themselves unable to completely suppress free expression via the Internet, Belarusian authorities have created their own Twitter accounts to threaten protest participants, and have flooded the most popular Belarus-focused news feeds with misinformation designed to disrupt plans for further protests.

Yet the protests continue and demonstrators continue to express themselves online. Over 216,000 people joined a group on Vkontakte (the Russian-language equivalent of Facebook), calling for “Revolution via the social networks” in Belarus. The page was shut down on July 3, but a replacement page gained 20,000 members in two days. Bloggers and Internet journalists have continued to post videos of police beatings and harassment of peaceful demonstrators on YouTube. During a recent public protest on July 3, police reportedly arrested nearly 200 people; at least 15 journalists were also detained. During protests on July 13, authorities blocked access to Vkontakte for several hours, but hundreds of demonstrators still turned out to silently protest in locations around Minsk. As Secretary Clinton has made clear, we will continue to press for the human rights and democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. And we will continue our staunch support for those struggling to make their voices heard both online and in the streets.

The Participating States of Central Asia

In the Central Asian region, we continue to be concerned by governments’ efforts to block websites, particularly when information or opinions are expressed via the Internet that are critical of government officials or policies. Media laws and registration requirements are also used to target independent activists and dissidents, which does not accord with the commitments that OSCE participating States have made to ensure freedom of expression. Internet censorship further aggravates the constraints on freedom of expression and other fundamental freedoms that impede progress and development in the Central Asian states. In order for the Central Asia region to prosper, 21st century new media technologies must be harnessed to facilitate citizens’ vibrant ideas and contributions, not governments’ repression.

In Kazakhstan, we have long expressed our concern that the Respublika news portal remains inaccessible to users of Kaztelecom, the government-owned Internet service provider, along with dozens of other independent sites that are intermittently blocked. In Tajikistan too, we have seen the blockage of websites disseminating independent or critical views. And in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, heavy monitoring of Internet content and registration requirements continue to impede free expression. In Kyrgyzstan, despite an end to official restrictions on, or monitoring of, the Internet after the April 2010 change in government, we were concerned by the Parliament’s recent resolution calling for the Fergana.ru site to be banned on grounds that it is inciting ethnic hatred. We believe that full respect for freedom of expression, including via the Internet, can undergird efforts at reconciliation and accountability in Kyrgyzstan.

Russia

We welcome the Russian President Medvedev’s statement at the World Economic Forum in January that: “Any attempts to limit the Internet or stifle innovation will lead the world to stagnation. Russia will not support initiatives that put Internet freedom in question.” The spread of the Internet undoubtedly has had a positive effect on Russian civil society, providing new opportunities for grassroots organizations to connect with citizens and new platforms to voice alternative viewpoints and hold government accountable. However, problems associated with press freedom for print media have begun to migrate to online media as well. Russia is one of the countries “under surveillance” in the 2010 Enemies of the Internet report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Even when technical blocks or filtering are not deployed systematically, if people are punished physically or through legal action for peacefully expressing themselves online, Internet freedom is constrained. The threats to Internet freedom in Russia range from attacks on bloggers to criminal prosecutions of bloggers for ‘extremism’, to the blocking of specific sites by local service providers, denial of service (DDOS) attacks on sites site of opposition groups or independent media, and attempts by security services and some regional authorities to regulate Internet content. For example:

In November 2010, journalist and blogger Oleg Kashin was brutally beaten outside his home in Moscow. Leading human rights organizations in Russia connect the attack with material he had published on his blog.

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta came under a DDOS attack in April, while a wide-scale March DDOS attack on LiveJournal, a blog hosting site, began by targeting the blog of prominent anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. Navalny has also been targeted for prosecution for criminal charges alleging that he had facilitated a 2009 bad investment for a regional government in his capacity as a legal advisor. Rights groups in Russia believe that the charges are politically motivated.

Regional authorities have acted to block sites or prosecute those who produce content that they deem politically undesirable. Bloggers in Oryol, Marii El, Syktykvar, and other areas of Russia have have faced prosecution for posting insults to Prime Minister Putin or other official persons in online forums. Local authorities have acted in multiple cases to compel local service providers to block certain sites that contain materials listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials—a problematic and expanding list of over 700 publications. Regional providers have also temporarily blocked sites of the political opposition, such as the site of the Solidarity Movement and Kasparov.ru, and independent publications like the New Times.

Whistleblowers also face legal retaliation. For instance, Yuri Yegorov, a blogger from Tatarstan and a former employee of the regional government, received a 6-month suspended sentence in May for libel after he alleged corruption and embezzlement on the part of Tatarstan human rights ombudsman Rashit Vagizov. His reports of corruption were later supported by other witnesses’ testimonies, which were ignored by the court.

Turkey

We are increasingly concerned by the restrictions that the Government of Turkey places on Internet freedom. Turkish authorities have blocked over 5,000 websites, many with content on sensitive social and political issues. Much of this blocking is done in accordance with Turkey’s 2007 Internet law, which allows the government to prohibit a Web site if there is suspicion that the site is committing any of eight crimes. These restrictions have been criticized by prominent officials within the Turkish government itself, including President Abdullah Gul.

This year has brought two new proposed restrictions on Internet freedom. Turkish authorities announced a new ban on Internet domain names that contain 138 words deemed offensive based on vague criteria. In addition, the government announced that it planned to introduce a nationwide filtering system to be implemented by Internet Service Providers. The proposal was met with widespread criticism, from the international community and from within Turkish civil society. Although some Turkish Internet associations indicate this decision may be postponed, yet the regulations are still scheduled to take effect August 22. While we understand these restrictions are allegedly designed to protect children from harmful content on the Internet, banning words in an attempt to eliminate undesirable content from the Internet cannot succeed. . Major international Internet companies have voiced concerns over operating in Turkey under such regulations. If Turkey is to ensure a modern, prosperous, and peaceful society, it cannot continue to constrain the potential of the Internet for the exercise of human rights.

Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan, Internet access is not restricted. For example, the government does not restrict web sites such as You Tube or Facebook, both of which are very popular. The government’s release of young blogger-activists Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli last fall and newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev this spring were positive developments.

We are concerned, however, that government officials appear to have monitored certain types of online activity, including postings on social media sites, in order to restrict freedom of assembly, specifically the activities of youth and opposition organizers who used these sites to organize anti-government demonstrations in March and April. Several of these activists – presumably identified from internet postings as organizers – were detained or imprisoned following these events. For example, youth activists Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Jabbar Savalanli were arrested earlier this year after using the Internet for pro-democracy activism. Hajiyev, a candidate in last November’s parliamentary elections, was detained on draft evasion charges pending since 2010 after he was associated with Internet postings related to March 2011 protests. International and domestic observers have alleged that the authorities prosecute draft evasion selectively, and have singled out Hajiyev because of his political activities. He was convicted on May 18 of draft evasion and sentenced to two years imprisonment. This is not the first time Hajiyev has encountered problems with the government after utilizing the Internet for social activism; in 2007 the authorities arrested him after he established a web site to protest price increases. Savalanli, a young opposition Popular Front Party activist, was convicted on May 4 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on drug charges considered to be spurious by human rights groups.

Enduring Freedoms, New Apps

Mr. Chairman, as you know, in the past, the Helsinki process was a major international platform for defending citizens expressing dissenting views via samizdat and for protesting the jamming of radio broadcasts. Two decades ago, in response to efforts by the Ceausescu regime to restrict citizens’ access to Xerox machines, an explicit commitment was included in the OSCE’s Copenhagen document pledging that “no limitation will be imposed on access to, and use of, means of reproducing documents of any kind.” Today, email, social networking and text messaging are new forms of samizdat as well as indispensible tools of commerce, education, and global communications.

As the United States has done since the inception of the Helsinki Process, so, too, in this new century, we stand with those in the OSCE region who seek to peacefully exercise their fundamental freedoms and promote and protect human rights, including via new technologies.

I commend Lithuania, which has made key themes of its Chairmanship media freedom via old and new technologies and the safety of journalists. We are particularly grateful for the tireless efforts of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ms. Dunja Mijatovic and her dedicated staff to ensure that fundamental freedoms can be exercised via digital media, and I am delighted that she is here with us today. Last week, she co-organized with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights a Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Promotion of Pluralism in New Media. Her office is working on a matrix representing Internet laws and policies in the OSCE region to identify and encourage best practices and adherence to OSCE commitments on freedom of expression. Additionally, her office provides critical training to journalists in Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as legal reviews of OSCE participating States’ legislation, to advance broader respect for freedom of expression norms. Perhaps most critically, Ms. Mijatovic has been a voice for bloggers, journalists and other activists who are harassed or imprisoned for their work to disseminate independent information that is essential for democratic development.

Mr. Chairman, the Commission has long supported the vital role that non-governmental organizations play in the OSCE process. I am pleased to say that we are exploring creative ways that we can help connect human rights and democracy activists across the OSCE region through new technologies in order to enhance their ability to network with one another and leverage the contribution of their ideas and insights to the work of the OSCE. On her trip to Vilnius last week, Secretary Clinton spoke at a “tech camp” we organized to help civil society groups from the OSCE region and beyond use these new technologies most effectively.

I want also to emphasize, Mr. Chairman, that cyber issues are relevant to all three dimensions of the OSCE. As we partner with other governments, civil society and the business sector on ways we can safeguard against very real cyber security threats, we do so ever mindful that the measures we take must be consistent with our human dimension commitments to respect the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Mr. Chairman, last year, in the run-up to the OSCE Summit in Astana, the U.S. advanced language for inclusion in the Summit Action Plan stating that the participating States, in fulfillment of their longstanding OSCE commitments, will permit their people to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association through Digital Age technologies. The language did not aim to create new commitments; rather it was designed to reinforce the message that existing commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms apply in the Digital Age. The language represents a conceptual breakthrough in that it recognizes that individuals and members of civil society organizations utilize digital technologies not only to exercise freedom of expression, but also to connect, network, form organizations, and gather in both virtual and real space. The language also highlights a key human dimension priority: defending and supporting the vital role of civil society in human rights protection and democratic development.

In Astana, our negotiators worked to advance our Digital Age language along with highly compatible language from the European Union related to freedom of expression.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Astana Summit did not adopt an Action Plan. We intend, however, to renew our efforts to advance our language on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age with a view to its adoption at the OSCE Ministerial in Vilnius this December. OSCE’s adoption of the Digital Age language would, I believe, mark the first time that any regional organization formally recognizes that respect for the full range of human rights and fundamental freedoms must extend to the use of new technologies.

The United States will take every opportunity to work with the Lithuanian Chair, the EU, other participating States and civil society to ensure that the OSCE sends a clear message from Vilnius on Internet Freedom. If I were to distill that message into a tweet to the world, it would be: “Enduring Freedoms, New Apps.”

Mr. Chairman, when he signed the Helsinki Final Act 35 years ago, President Ford famously said that: “History will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow — not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” He was right then, and his statement is even more true today. In this Digital Age, keeping our promises greatly depends on ensuring that the Internet is open and free.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Now I would be happy to answer your questions.

 


Response to the Report by Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović

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.

 


Response to the Statement on the Passage of the Parental Responsibility Law in Tajikistan

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States wishes to express its concern and disappointment that the lower house of Parliament in Tajikistan approved the “law on the responsibilities of parents in raising children.” Despite repeated protests from Tajikistan’s civil society, its citizens, and the international community, the Parliament has approved a law that grants the state power to interfere in family life and includes a ban on youth participation in religious communities, with very limited exceptions. If the ban is signed into law, it would effectively deny the right to worship to millions of citizens of Tajikistan under the age of 18. We note that the government already supports a de facto ban on women attending mosques. A government’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom are considered the threshold required for a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act of 1998.

As we had advised the government of Tajikistan when it was considering the legislation, clauses in the parenting law constitute a significant violation of Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations, its constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion, and its freely undertaken OSCE commitments. We note that much of the support for the draft law comes from those advocating for the state’s responsibility to provide an education to its youth. Though we concur that states should ensure that every child has access to education, banning participation in religious communities is neither an acceptable nor an effective way of doing so. School attendance and participation in religious communities are not mutually exclusive. Though a state may insist that children attend school, it should not ban participation in religious communities outside of school hours.

We are also concerned, Mr. Chairman, that although thousands of Tajik citizens, including members of civil society and religious communities, expressed their concern with many elements of the law, the draft considered and approved by parliament contained few significant changes from the version proposed by the presidential administration. We call on the Upper House of Parliament and the President of Tajikistan to consider returning the parenting law to the lower house for significant revisions, including a removal of the ban on participation in religious communities.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


Deputy Assistant Secretary Melia at the Conference on Journalists’ Safety in the OSCE Region

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas O. Melia

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas O. Melia. State Department Photo by Matthew G. Miller.

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.

 


Charge d’Affaires Fuller: Statement on Elections in Kazakhstan

Following the results of the presidential elections on April 3 in Kazakhstan, the United States welcomes the preliminary conclusions set forth in the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions issued jointly by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on April 4th.   As we are all aware, the OSCE represents the gold-standard in election monitoring. Therefore, its finding that the latest election in Kazakhstan reveals the urgency of implementing long-awaited reforms should not be ignored. We join in that assessment and urge Kazakhstani officials to implement the recommendations fully before Kazakhstan’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We are pleased that the ODIHR/PA report found the election commissions at all levels, including the Central Election Commission, handled the technical aspects of the election in a professional manner. The report makes clear that ODIHR saw efforts by authorities to improve the election legislation and incorporate some OSCE recommendations. The report also noted that efforts were made to improve the quality of the voter lists by conducting a large-scale door-to-door verification process and by ensuring public review. These improvements are important and need to be built upon for the future. While we appreciate these and the other improvements noted by ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, we nonetheless urge the government of Kazakhstan to address the serious shortcomings they also highlighted.

According to ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly election observers noted serious irregularities, including: – numerous instances of seemingly identical signatures on voter lists; – cases of ballot box stuffing; – lack of transparency in the vote count and tabulation, and the frequent failure to follow proper procedures; – restrictions on the ability of international observers to perform their tasks; and – intervention by many local authorities in the election process in order to increase turnout. I wish to point out that U.S. Embassy observers also witnessed similar irregularities. Such irregularities are not in keeping with Kazakhstan’s OSCE commitments and obligation to its citizens to hold elections that meet OSCE standards.

The statement made by the Parliamentary Assembly and ODIHR and the ODIHR report establish that Kazakhstan still needs to make improvements to meet its democratic commitments, particularly in the fields of freedom of assembly and media.   We note President Nazarbayev’s stated commitment to “political modernization,” and Kazakhstan’s national development program through 2020 as a part of the country’s long-term path to democracy. We hope, therefore, that the government will view the recommendations in the ODIHR report as constructive guidance for future improvements that will help it move forward on that path.

 


Charge d’Affaires Fuller: Response to Statement on Koran Burning in the United States

We would like to thank the delegation of Kazakhstan for bringing this to the attention of the permanent Council, and we join with you in condemning these heinous acts. President Obama condemned the attack on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and ongoing strife in the strongest possible terms. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed, a total of 24, I understand, as of today. The brave women and men of the United Nations, including the Afghan staff, undertake their work in support of the Afghan people. Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.

We have been very clear on our position with respect to the burning of a copy of the Koran. While respecting the fundamental freedom of expression, we condemn such acts as the desecration of a holy text as, in President’s Obama’s words, “extreme intolerance and bigotry.” We are deeply concerned about all deliberate attempts to offend members of any religious or ethnic group or sow division between groups. That said, there is no justification – in any religion or law – for the murder of innocent people! Let me repeat: there is no justification – in any religion or law – for the murder of innocent people, and we categorically reject any rationale for such outrageous actions.

It is disappointing – and, in fact, astonishing – to hear some of our colleagues call for a denunciation of the burning of the Koran and fail to call for a denunciation of the violence and murder of innocent people in the name of religion. The Proclamation of the Pontifical Council for Religious Dialogue, quoted by the Representative of the Holy See, is particularly eloquent on this matter.

We thank the Russian Federation for calling for the criminals responsible for these murders to be caught and punished. We thank the Representative of the Government of Afghanistan for his information on the actions being taken by his Government to this end.

We believe firmly in freedom of religion and freedom of expression. They are universal rights, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights and in our shared OSCE commitments. Religious freedom and religious tolerance, as well as freedom of expression, are fundamental pillars of U.S. society.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


Ambassador Kelly: Response to the Statement by the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States warmly welcomes you to the Permanent Council, President Grybauski. Lithuania has already demonstrated strong leadership in its 2011 Chairmanship of the organization while concurrently presiding over the Community of Democracies, and we look forward to working with you, Ambassador Norkus and his very able team, and the rest of our partners as we move toward the Vilnius ministerial.

We firmly believe our common security must be rooted in our shared OSCE principles and commitments. When we gathered in Astana last December, we recommitted ourselves to building a “free, democratic, common and indivisible” security community, free of dividing lines, where the use of force is unthinkable, human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully respected, and economic and environmental cooperation is the norm. While we have made progress toward this vision, we must do more to ensure full respect for our shared principles and implementation of our shared commitments.

For the United States, the OSCE’s work in the human dimension remains the highest priority, and we strongly support Lithuania’s emphasis on the human dimension. We welcome your commitment to advancing freedom of the media and expression, applaud your recognition of the importance of independent human rights institutions, and support your efforts to ensure that civil society can operate freely. Only by ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms can we guarantee truly comprehensive security in the OSCE space.

In that regard, we welcome Chairman-in-Office Azubalis’s upcoming trip to Tunisia to consult with the government on ways the OSCE might assist their budding democracy. Clearly, the protracted conflicts pose a lingering challenge to our common security. We appreciate Lithuania’s intent to build on the OSCE’s past contributions and look for ways to boost confidence. We remain committed to the restoration of a meaningful OSCE presence in Georgia and to the achievement of concrete improvements in the security and humanitarian situations on the ground.

We also remain committed to the soonest possible resumption of formal 5+2 negotiations on the Transnistria conflict and to the implementation of measures to promote freedom of movement and reduce political-military tensions, even as we seek a larger settlement of the conflict. And we remain firmly committed to a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, under the auspices of the Minsk Group.

Key to the OSCE’s future is a greater capacity to respond to crises and to prevent conflict from erupting or reigniting. We are grateful for the efforts undertaken by Lithuania to ensure the success of the Community Security Initiative in Kyrgyzstan, and we appreciate Lithuania’s approach to following up on the Corfu Process and on discussions before and at the Astana Summit. We are convinced the time has come to take concrete actions, making optimal use of existing resources and tools and addressing areas where gaps have been identified.

Also key to the OSCE’s future are our efforts to strengthen conventional arms control and confidence- and security-building measures. We remain committed to materially improving military transparency by updating the 1999 Vienna Document. Ensuring our common security also necessarily involves efforts to counter transnational threats, such as terrorism and violent extremism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyber attacks, organized crime, and illicit trafficking in weapons, drugs, and people. Responding to these threats – and bolstering stability in states such as Afghanistan – requires sustained cooperation.

In the economic and environmental dimension, we seek to achieve real progress in efforts to prevent or mitigate energy-related crises, promote good governance, and facilitate efficient cross-border trade. Given sufficient political will, Madam President, we believe we can deliver on the promise of the OSCE’s commitments and ensure comprehensive, lasting security. The United States will continue to do everything it can to support Lithuania’s Chairmanship of our organization. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 
 

Disclaimer: The Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State manages this site as a portal for international human rights related information from the United States Government. External links to other internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.