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Ambassador Johnson’s Remarks at the Closing of the OSCE Human Dimension Implemenation Meeting Plenary

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Closing of the Plenary Session)

As we mark the close of this two-week session, we should reflect for a moment on what makes this annual encounter so special, and indeed so essential. There is inherent value in a focused discussion among participating States on the implementation of our shared Human Dimension commitments. But, more importantly, the HDIM exemplifies the critical role that the OSCE has always played in engaging and inspiring civil society, and the necessity—not the nicety—of these links.

As Secretary Clinton stated in Astana last year: “Strong democracies, thriving economies, and stable societies cannot be built by governments alone. There must be a partnership between governments, vibrant institutions and free societies that work together to solve the problems that we face in the 21st century.”

During this meeting, we have heard from members of civil society from across the OSCE space. In plenary sessions and in a wide range of side events they have shared compelling and eloquent testimony. We learned from a Belarusian journalist about the perils of speaking out in a country ruled by a repressive regime. We heard stark accounts from European Roma of growing anti-Roma sentiments and violence. A human rights defender told us about her visit to Kyrgyz activist Azimjan Askarov, serving a life sentence based on a confession coerced by torture. These sorts of exchanges, and the efforts that ensue as a result, are precisely what are needed if we are to grasp and solve 21st century challenges.

As has been the case in previous years, the level of participation in most sessions was so high that the time allotted for interventions and replies had to be curtailed multiple times. Attendance at the diverse array of nearly fifty side events was broad and engaged. These indicators suggest that we should maintain, or even expand, this event, and we should seek ways to increase attendance by non-governmental organizations. The United States believes the participation of NGOs is integral to this process and therefore has a longstanding practice of inviting U.S. NGOs to join our daily delegation meetings. Over the past two weeks, some of these NGOs highlighted areas of concern regarding United States implementation of our human dimension commitments. We welcomed these interventions and the opportunity to engage constructively with civil society, even when we might disagree.

The discussions over the past two weeks have helped shine a spotlight on issues of concern in the OSCE Human Dimension, and, in some cases, have highlighted differing perceptions among participating States regarding the proper role of the OSCE and how our shared commitments are best met.

The ongoing political repression in Belarus, which led to the invocation of the Moscow Mechanism in April, is one such example. This year’s HDIM served as a rallying point for Belarusian activists and a vibrant coalition of international NGOs committed to the support of democratic ideals and practices in Belarus. Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting the newly-opened “Belarus House” here in Warsaw. It is run by a courageous group of young Belarusian activists who assist Belarusian refugees; unite, through culture and dialogue, the Belarusian diaspora; and support activists and political prisoners in Belarus. These young men and women made abundantly clear to us that united, firm support from the United States and Europe is essential and profoundly appreciated.

We’ve concentrated a great deal of our attention on Belarus at this year’s HDIM because the regime’s practices flout OSCE principles and commitments. Civil society, a bellwether of democracy in contemporary states, has drawn ample attention to the plight of Belarusian democratic leaders, human rights activists, and indeed regular citizens there. The Freedom House report on Belarus, issued at a side event this week, highlights the Lukashenka government’s clear intent to minimize political rights and civil liberties in Belarus.

There was a lively exchange between members of the United States and Russian Federation delegations about election observation. This is a timely subject, as ODIHR is engaged in preparations to observe historic elections in Kyrgyzstan in a few weeks time. As the U.S. delegation noted in its right of reply to the question “why do we need election observers?” the answers lie in the Copenhagen Document and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They both say that the authority of government derives from the will of the people expressed in democratic elections. So, citizens, in effect, own elections, because that is where sovereignty truly resides. Observers confirm whether or not their elections are free and fair and help identify areas to improve in future elections. That is what the ODIHR does, based on impartial criteria applied consistently throughout all states.

The United States was gratified to hear from Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Churov of his intent to issue an unrestricted invitation to ODIHR to observe the December 4 Duma elections. Looking forward, the United States will issue an unrestricted invitation for our 2012 Congressional and Presidential elections, and will work, through appropriate bodies, to facilitate effective election observation by the OSCE and other appropriate organizations, free from barriers.

Discussions at the HDIM are also informed by events transpiring in our midst. The past two weeks have seen violent anti-Roma protests and rhetoric in Bulgaria and violence against the international presence in Kosovo.

The recent events in Bulgaria echo similar unrest and targeting of Roma that have occurred in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, and remind us of the debates surrounding evictions and expulsions of Roma from throughout Europe. The HDIM’s focus on Roma and Sinti issues was thus extraordinarily timely. In numerous sessions, experts, NGOs and individual Roma discussed growing intolerance toward Roma and highlighted the potential for ethnic tensions to devolve into ethnic violence.

The bigotry exhibited against Roma can also be linked to a disturbing trend of growing radical racist ideologies across several countries in the OSCE space. In some countries, those receptive to extremist political ideologies may make up more than 20 percent of the populace; this is an alarming development. Responsible political leaders should publicly condemn intolerance and prejudice. They should avoid inflammatory language that once was the province of fringe parties. Unfortunately, this rhetoric is increasingly echoed by mainstream politicians, such as the admonition by one Western European leader that if a certain Mayoral candidate were elected in his country, a large city would turn into a “Gypsytown.”

Recent violence in Kosovo was a subject of several exchanges during the context of discussions on freedom of movement. On September 27, a group of up to 500 Serbs—with a heavy truck, firearms, pipe bombs, grenades, and rocks—attacked KFOR troops in northern Kosovo. They wounded nine KFOR soldiers, eight of whom were American. This attack heightened tensions and risked the lives of U.S. and Allied forces, as well as local civilians. In these halls, this attack gave rise to heated exchanges and unfounded accusations from Serbian and Russian representatives against KFOR, which is comprised of troops from 39 participating States. The fact that our Serbian and Russian colleagues, instead of condemning the violent attack, would call into question the legitimate authority of KFOR to carry out its mandate and to act in self-defense is troubling on many levels. This incident was an assault on an international institution, whose presence in Kosovo, like that of EULEX and the OSCE Mission, is to provide support and security for ALL of Kosovo’s citizens.

While all states have the obligation to protect their citizens from violent extremism and other threats, our delegation has noted that several OSCE states interpret that obligation in ways that restrict the rights of their populations. In the past year, Tajikistan has adopted a new “Law on Parental Responsibility” which restricts participation in religious activities by children under the age of 18. This is in addition to restrictive registration requirements for religious groups already in place. Other OSCE states, such as Russia, define extremism so broadly that its laws are used to ban peaceful religious groups and literature. We are also concerned by the growing number of participating States that have adopted or are considering bans on religious expression, including attire.

The HDIM, like the OSCE writ large, has always been a venue for frank debate and for the open airing of concerns among the governments and citizens of participating States. That is its strength and its enduring value. We look forward to discussions of ways in which we might further enhance the effectiveness of this forum, including by exploring new avenues for expanding the opportunities for access by members of civil society, many of whom may not be able to afford to make the trip to Warsaw. We would be particularly interested in exploring ways to use new technologies such as streaming video or social media, to broaden access to our discussions.

Looking ahead to Vilnius and beyond, we believe that it is essential that OSCE participating States confirm in a Ministerial-level decision the application of longstanding commitments on fundamental freedoms to new media. As Secretary Clinton has emphasized: “The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs—these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.”

It is no coincidence that authorities, who try to restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms by their people, impede the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, control the press and obstruct the flow of information, tend to be the same authorities who try to restrict, impede, control and obstruct their citizens’ peaceful use of new digital technologies. In her remarks to this gathering, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, voiced concern about Internet regulation policies proposed by several participating States.

Equally important, we believe is a renewed commitment at the Ministerial level to the protection of journalists. On October 5, the Representative on Freedom of the Media issued a new report detailing the threats and responses to attacks against journalists in the OSCE region. “The right of journalists to carry out their work in safety, without fear of being harassed, attacked, beaten or killed is fundamental to the protection of all other human rights. As long as journalists are afraid for their lives and the lives of their families while doing their job, we do not live in a free society.” One of the shocking statistics in this report is the fact that in the last five years only three out of almost thirty cases of murdered journalists in the OSCE region have been successfully prosecuted.

We must do better.

We also must continue to make progress in the fight against human trafficking, and look forward to working with other participating States toward a Ministerial Declaration in Vilnius that will help us build on the good work of the OSCE and participating States in fighting this scourge.

Finally, I would like to recall an extraordinary scene from the opening plenary. The keynote speaker, Khadija Cherif, the International Federation for Human Rights Secretary General, spoke about the revolution in her native Tunisia, and then offered heartfelt expressions of support for political prisoners in Belarus. It is time that we consider additional ways in which the OSCE can support not only the aspirations of democrats in the heart of Europe, but also those of our Mediterranean Partners. A Ministerial Declaration along these lines would send an important signal and is a good first step.


Response to the Address by OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, Ambassador Knut Vollbaek

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We warmly welcome Ambassador Vollebaek back to the Permanent Council and we thank him for his comprehensive report.

The treatment of minorities is at the heart of many of Europe’s potential, current, and continuing conflicts. As you noted, your work plays a critical role in conflict prevention, particularly in providing early warning. The persistence of tension and conflict over minority issues should compel us to do even more to address not only the causes, but also the conditions that can exacerbate conflict.

This applies most urgently in the case of Kyrgyzstan. President Otunbayeva recently spoke in the Permanent Council about the ongoing challenges her country faces, which are rooted in high levels of nationalism and intolerance. We share your concerns that persistent nationalism will undermine stability in southern Kyrgyzstan, particularly during the upcoming Presidential election.

We believe that the OSCE, together with the international community, must redouble efforts to help restore rule of law and ensure the safety of all persons. We welcome your recommendations for continued OSCE engagement on understanding the June 2010 events, policy reforms affecting minority rights, and police training. We also hope to see the important work of your office to aid in the process of mediation and reconciliation desperately needed in Kyrgyzstan.

We strongly support your continued engagement in Georgia, where your efforts to call attention to the rights and needs of ethnic minorities and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are particularly important. We share your concern over the deteriorating situation in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and continue to urge full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We continue to call for a greater international presence throughout Georgia, to include the OSCE and other international actors.

Over the years, the situation for minority populations has generally improved as democratic norms have taken hold. Unfortunately, however, the situation for some minorities – including Roma and Sinti – has deteriorated, sometimes significantly. Protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma everywhere has long been a personal commitment for Secretary Clinton and, under the Obama Administration, it is a stated priority of the United States. Like all people, ethnic Roma should have the opportunity to live free from discrimination, enjoy equal access to education, healthcare and employment, and pursue their full potential.

We also share your concerns over persistent violations of minority rights in other OSCE states. It is clear from your report that, while definite advances have been made, there are still significant problems related to minority education in the OSCE area. The divisive education policies observed in several participating States, including restrictions on the ability of persons belonging to national minorities to have adequate opportunities to be educated in their mother tongue, are cause for concern. Such restrictions are always worrying, but particularly so when they take place in separatist areas such as Abkhazia and Transnistria, where the situation is already tense.

We agree with the High Commissioner that such restrictions have the potential to further increase tensions in the region.

Ambassador Vollebaek, your efforts play a crucial role in reducing tensions within and among states through addressing sensitive issues related to national minorities. We are encouraged by the interest expressed by the governments of a number of participating States to implement your recommendations.

We continue to support you and your team, your persistent and even-handed focus on improving education, participation by minorities in public life, the conditions of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area, and relations between states and minorities in neighboring states with whom they share affinities.

We also look forward to continuing discussion of these issues at the upcoming Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Implementation of the OSCE Action Plan on Roma and Sinti National Minorities Preventing Aggressive Nationalism, Racism and Chauvinism


As the 1991 Moscow Document stated, human rights are the direct and legitimate concern of all participating States. That is particularly true when we examine this morning’s subject.

In April of this year, Secretary of State Clinton said, “Protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma everywhere has long been a personal commitment for me, and under the Obama Administration it is a priority of the United States.”

Roma have come to the United States since the colonial period, and they have been part of every wave of European migration since then. They have come seeking jobs and opportunities, religious freedom, and refuge from war and conflict. They are part of the fabric of my country. Unfortunately, Romani people in the United States also face prejudice and discrimination, as they do elsewhere in the OSCE region. But it is the job of our governments to combat prejudice, marginalization and exclusion of all persons, including Roma – not foster it.

In March, the Government of Turkey convened an unprecedented and historic gathering of more than 10,000 Roma to discuss housing, access to education and other issues. We welcome the Turkish cabinet’s meeting with Roma, and the opportunity it presents for meaningful initiatives.

Despite progress over the past decade, many of Europe’s millions of Roma still live on the margins of society, and continue to experience violence and discrimination. Too often, they lack identity documents or citizenship papers, which effectively excludes them from voting, social services, education, and employment. We are hopeful that recent debates will also create an opportunity to focus collective attention on the need for continued, practical progress. We are concerned by comments by officials in some European states implying Roma by nature have criminal traits. The de jure or de facto segregation of Romani school children – such segregated schools exist in Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria and elsewhere – is also an obstacle to progress and to allowing all children to reach their full potential. In recent weeks, there has been vigorous public debate about the situation of Roma living in France following the French government’s action to close unauthorized camps and the transfer of hundreds of Romani EU citizens back to countries of origin. Similar debates continue in other European countries. Nonetheless, we are heartened by the strong commitment, which we have heard from numerous NGOs and governments, here in Warsaw, Hungary, Slovakia, and all over Europe, to work cooperatively on behalf of the Roma for a better future.

Protecting and promoting the human rights of all persons, including the Roma, is a priority of the United States, as Secretary Clinton has said repeatedly. We strongly welcome increased European-level engagement in the plight of Roma, and commend the recent involvement of the European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. Activities have included the European Roma Summit in Cordoba, the comprehensive reports of the OSCE Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues, and a series of ECHR decisions reinforcing equal rights of Roma throughout Europe. We commend the ODIHR’s efforts to focus on early childhood education. We welcome the Council of Europe’s plan to convene European leaders to discuss Roma concerns later this month. We recall that OSCE participating States have, in their national capacity, clear obligations to protect human rights.

The United States has committed a variety of tools to this cause, including development assistance and international visitor exchange programs. For example, our Roma education program in Macedonia provides preschool education for 250 children each year and has provided tutoring and out-of-school support to 1,500 primary school students. Following a series of unsolved killings of Roma in Hungary last year, local authorities asked the United States to send F.B.I. profilers to assist in the investigation, and local police subsequently arrested four persons in the case. In August, the State Department supported a new initiative to expand access to legal services for Roma in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia. We will continue to work with our partners in government and civil society to help make universal respect for the human rights of Roma the norm across Europe.

Our commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen Document would be empty, self-serving celebrations if not balanced by the acknowledgement of the 15th anniversary of the single greatest violation of Helsinki’s principles and provisions ever to occur: the genocide at Srebrenica in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ever since, the OSCE has increased its focus on and resources to the Western Balkans, including deployment of field missions. While significant progress has been achieved in the region during the last decade, the job is not yet complete. Two individuals indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide remain at-large, denying thousands of survivors the ability to put the past behind them.

The situation of the Serb and minority communities in Kosovo remains a focus of attention for the United States, as are the challenges of consolidating democratic development and rule-of-law in that country. U.S. Delegations to Human Dimension Implementation Meetings have consistently raised where we see shortcomings in the protection of human rights in Kosovo, regardless of the ethnicity of the communities affected. And we will continue to do so. This points, however, to the notable and unfortunate absence of representatives of Kosovo at the table as a participating State in this pan-European organization. It is in the interest of all the communities of Kosovo and indeed all participating states here today that Kosovo, like all other countries of the region already OSCE members, have a seat at this table to answer to issues and events within its borders as measured against OSCE commitments. Being an OSCE state is supposed to be more a means than an end. How many participating States here today joined the OSCE while their democratic institutions were in their infancy and whose development benefited from being accorded the accountability and respect that comes with OSCE membership? The opportunity to move forward in strengthening human rights and freedoms for all of Kosovo’s people should no longer be sidelined by those that would seek to reopen definitively resolved questions of Kosovo’s status.

The United States welcomes the positive pronouncements issued by the Government of Turkey concerning that country’s Kurdish population and urges Ankara to undertake concrete measures to improve the situation of Kurds and other ethnic minorities in its territory. The United States congratulates Greece on its new laws opening up acquisition of citizenship for long-term residents and giving resident non-citizens the ability to run for local public office and vote in regional and municipal elections. We encourage Greece to build on its OSCE commitments, including the ability of individuals to identify their nationality without disadvantage.

Finally, moderator, I would like to address the credible reports coming from Kyrgyzstan that ethnic Uzbeks in some southern areas are being targeted and arrested arbitrarily, sometimes with the aim of extorting money from their families. Once in custody, they are denied access to counsel and there are reports of torture and even death. Attorneys and human rights activists who assist them often face pressure and threats of arrest from the authorities. These reports underscore how much still needs to be done to protect minorities in that county and the need for the participating States to remain attentive to these human rights issues outside of the Vienna Ringstrasse, even as efforts to prepare for a summit intensify.


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