12th Session of the UPR Working Group
The United States welcomes Foreign Minister Maduro and the Venezuelan delegation to the UPR Working Group. We view as positive the draft law to extend protections to all victims of human trafficking.
We remain concerned about specific actions taken by the Venezuelan government to limit freedom of expression and criminalize dissent, including using administrative pretexts to close media outlets and harassing media owners and members of the political opposition through judicial action. We note Venezuela’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of expression, as well as the protections in the Venezuelan constitution.
Additionally, we note the importance of an independent judiciary to representative government, and express our concern about increasing evidence that the Venezuelan judiciary lacks the independence necessary to fulfill its role in society. We further note the obligations contained in the Venezuelan constitution to respect judicial independence and permit judges to act according to the law and without fear of retaliation. In this context, we join others in the international community in urging for the release of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, whose arrest and continued imprisonment demonstrate inappropriate executive involvement in judicial functions and constitute a violation of her human rights.
Finally, we are concerned by continued anti-Semitism expressed in the official media.
In light of these concerns, we recommend that Venezuela:
1. Respect the independence of the judiciary.
2. Investigate allegations of executive branch interference in judicial decision-making.
3. Direct officials to cease anti-Semitic commentary and condemn any such statements.
4. Urge the National Assembly to adopt the draft legislation on trafficking in persons.
5. Intensify its efforts to provide protection to asylum seekers and refugees, including through the timely provision of documentation as to their legal status and rights.
6. Accept visit requests from the UN Special Rapporteurs and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 6)
Under the Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Copenhagen Document participating States commit “to fully respect the right of everyone to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State, and to leave any country, including his [or her] own, and to return to his [or her] own.” Unfortunately, some participating States still require their citizens to obtain permission from the authorities, as we have heard—usually in the form of exit visas—in order to travel abroad. It is striking that those countries with the poorest record of implementing OSCE human dimension commitments appear to be the same ones that still place such restrictions on freedom of movement.
Freedom of movement does not mean states cannot determine whether citizens of other countries require entry visas. The operative principle is that states cannot bar their own citizens from traveling, if they so wish. There is no commitment by participating States to admit citizens of other countries.
The Government of Turkmenistan denies it maintains a list of persons not permitted to leave the country, however it has barred certain citizens from departing. Amnesty International reports that a decree explicitly bars thousands of individuals from leaving the country and forbids entry to representatives of international human rights organizations. Turkmenistan law also continues to require internal passports and residency permits. A border permit requirement remains in effect for all foreigners. Turkmen citizens who also have citizenship in another country have reportedly been pressured to give up the latter before they are permitted to leave the country or faced obstacles in obtaining passports. The education law allows the government to impose limitations on citizens who wish to obtain education in specific professions and specialties, and the law has been applied to prevent students from travelling abroad to study.
All citizens of Uzbekistan must have an exit permit to leave the country. These restrictions also apply to foreign citizens residing permanently in Uzbekistan for business. As part of the exit visa process, and ostensibly in an effort to combat trafficking-in-persons, Uzbekistan introduced regulations that require women aged 18-35 or their male relatives to submit a statement pledging that the women would not engage in illegal behavior, including prostitution, while abroad, as we have heard. In addition, Uzbekistan passed legislation last year hampering Uzbeki national doctors’ travel abroad, including by reportedly requiring these doctors to submit presentations and speeches abroad for government approval beforehand.
We are pleased to learn that Tajikistan now permits students to travel abroad to attend religious schools and look forward to learning about how that policy is being implemented.
Since 2006, the Azerbaijan government has prevented the foreign travel of Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli by refusing to renew his passport, citing an outstanding civil complaint against him from 1994. The government had renewed Kerimli’s passport on several occasions in the intervening years without objection.
Freedom of movement has been an issue for discussion between Belgrade and Pristina in their Dialogue under EU auspices. The United States strongly supports this effort to tackle practical but important issues of documentation, vehicle registration, and insurance that make it possible for people to move freely between Kosovo and Serbia. I would like to use today’s session to call on all parties, whether represented here or not, to implement agreed procedures in the most positive spirit, which will give people greater confidence to take advantage of the opportunities being offered.
MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Well, as dramatic events unfold half a world away in Egypt – and we understand that many of you are focused on those events – but we had a pretty important event that just took place upstairs, which was the President’s Annual Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons meeting. And here to talk with us a little bit about that meeting and about the agenda is Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Ambassador Luis CdeBaca.
QUESTION: Mark, just one more thing: Are you or P.J. going to brief us in a regular briefing after the Ambassador’s briefing?
MR. TONER: Probably not.
QUESTION: There’s no way we can get any – I mean, we would love to talk to you.
MR. TONER: We will try. All right. Go ahead, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Hello, everyone. We just got done with the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. I want to apologize for the late changes to the schedule, but with that many Cabinet members in one place, it became obvious to us that we weren’t going to be able to have some of them step down as we had hoped.
Today, the Secretary convened this annual meeting. This is an important opportunity to discuss efforts across the Federal Government to fight the problem of modern slavery, and it’s mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October of this last year.
Through the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and now the Obama Administration, you have often heard talk about the four P’s of prevention, prosecution, protection, and partnerships as the framework for our nation’s policy to combat the scourge of human trafficking. And today’s meeting was an unprecedented example of that kind of partnership across the Administration working to meet this challenge. We were joined by the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor, Homeland Security, as well as several other Cabinet-level officials, all of whom committed to new initiatives in the coming year that’ll build upon their agencies’ efforts to combat modern slavery.
Secretary Clinton announced at the start of the meeting the Interagency Task Force throughout the next year will conduct a government-wide review of victims service programs and devise an overarching strategy to improve upon what we’re doing here in the United States to protect victims of human trafficking. This is an area where we’ve made excellent progress, but we recognize that we need to do even more to break down the barriers that prevent trafficking victims, whether citizens or non-citizens alike, from accessing the support and resources they need here in the United States. We will seek to ensure that those who work in our juvenile justice, child welfare, and immigration systems have the knowledge and training necessary to identify and help victims, and become a true model for the rest of the world, as far as victim care is concerned. We’ll find ways to safeguard the victims of trafficking by working across the network of government agencies, civil society actors, and the corporate sector.
This is going to take wholesale changes in perception, policies, and procedures; training, sharing information with cross-agency and cross-network partnerships here and around the world. We hope that we can restore victims to their rightful roles in society and break the chain of exploitation that the human traffickers prey upon.
Additionally, the innovations offered at today’s meeting show that leaders across the Obama Administration are making anti-trafficking efforts an important priority. For instance, Department of Defense is going to be including information on modern slavery as part of training for all DOD employees. Department of Education will be working to increase awareness of this issue in schools, both at K-12 and in higher education. The newest member of our task force, the Interior Department, will ensure that our domestic anti-trafficking efforts here in the United States include our insular areas – Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Here at the Department of State, Secretary Clinton announced several initiatives. First and foremost, the annual Trafficking in Persons Report will be published again this year, notably with some of our key strategic allies at risk of automatic downgrades from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3 due to potential failure to address trafficking in persons adequately. This year is the first year that the automatic downgrade provision, which is a feature of the 2008 Trafficking Victim Protections Act, is in place. Countries that have been on Tier 2 Watch List, which is the next-to-last step of the report, for two consecutive years will have to either improve on the merits or be downgraded to Tier 3.
As the Secretary suggested in the meeting, ranking another country is never an easy task, but turning away from an action in the face of modern slavery is intolerable. We’ll continue to produce a fair and accurate assessment of the situation on the ground. And as uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, telling the truth about the global response to human trafficking is a priority for the State Department.
Looking to our own activities on this, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security will take a more focused approach to human trafficking. The Secretary announced today that she was establishing an anti-trafficking unit at Diplomatic Security headquarters to support the field offices which already participate in 39 anti-trafficking task forces nationwide that are funded by the Department of Justice. Diplomatic Security plays an integral part with our interagency partners in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking crimes. And the new initiative, we hope, will augment Diplomatic Security efforts at both levels – increasing participation in task forces, centralizing case referrals and command at headquarters, and offering training to agents, particularly on how to work with victims.
We also will begin the process this year of establishing an annual briefing for domestic workers of foreign diplomats who hold A-3 visas here in the United States together with their diplomat employers as part of an ongoing effort to increase the protections of domestic workers here in the D.C. suburbs, New York, wherever they are. A diplomat who brings a servant into the United States needs to be held to the highest accountability, and we will make sure that the victims have a voice.
With these and other new initiatives, today’s task force meeting reaffirmed the Administration’s commitment in the fight against modern slavery both here and around the world. I’m happy to take questions if there are any.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but National Review Magazine online today released or at least linked to a video, and I’m not sure how authentic it is – it appears to be very authentic – of a sting operation, an undercover sting operation at Planned Parenthood in New Jersey – Perth Amboy, New Jersey – in which a guy who is posing as a pimp accompanied by an alleged 14-year-old girl solicits advice on sexually transmitted disease testing and getting an abortion for an underage 14-year-old. The person at Planned Parenthood seems to be very cooperative and says – encourages them to lie about it. It’s an example, at least on its face, of how complex and nuanced this situation is. Were you aware of that video and –
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I am aware of that video, and in fact, it first came to the government’s attention – perhaps not that particular video, but the fact of these videos came to the government’s attention when Planned Parenthood employees contacted the FBI to tell them that there had been that type of activity. And I think that as we understand it, from the traffic on that, that this was an attempt by some folks to go in – much as you saw a couple years ago with ACORN – to try to capture someone not focusing on the problems of human trafficking.
Like I said, the first that we heard about this was that Planned Parenthood employees had actually contacted the FBI. And so whether there is a second video or not is not something that I am aware of.
MR. TONER: Any more questions? (No response.)
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: If no further questions, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Secretary Clinton’s Remarks at the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we’re going to try to get started because we have a quorum and we have others who will join us. And we have some new faces around the table for the first time, which is particularly gratifying. Bob, thank you for being here.
This is, as you probably saw on your schedules, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons. This is mandated by the Congress because it is an issue of such great and grave importance that Congress wanted as many members of the Cabinet and the heads of agencies to come together to discuss it once a year. So I thank you for taking time out of what are amazingly busy schedules between national security issues and weather security issues to gather here. And I’m joined today by Under Secretary Maria Otero and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca. They are helping to lead our efforts here at the State Department and within the interagency process.
Very fittingly, we meet today on National Freedom Day to discuss the latest steps in a journey that our country has been taking for more than 150 years. On this day in 1865, President Lincoln signed the joint congressional resolution that became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery. Yet modern slavery, often hidden and unrecognized, persists today on every continent and, most tragically, right here in the United States, despite being prohibited by both domestic legislation and international law.
Anywhere from 12 to 27 million people are currently held in forced labor, bonded labor, or forced prostitution. That’s equivalent to all the people who live in London at the low end and the combined populations of New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. at the high end. The victims range from the men and women enslaved in fields, factories, and brothels to the girls and boys whose childhoods have been shattered and stolen, to the parents whose children have vanished. Whether they are far from home or in their own villages, they need and deserve our help and the help of the world.
Now, since we last met together last year, everyone around this table and our entire government has really achieved a great deal. We continue to strengthen our efforts. An obvious sign of our growth here today is that we are joined, for the first time, by the FBI, by the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior. Today, I hope we can hear how we will take this work to the next level, how we can ensure that trafficking is an issue we continue to address within our agencies and throughout our government, and I hope we’ll take on another important task – ending the practice of punishing the victims of human trafficking. For all the millions who are held in servitude, fewer than 50,000 have been officially identified as victims. Too many others are either ignored, or even worse, treated as criminals. So we need to do more to identify the true victims of human trafficking and help restore them to participation in our society.
I just want to kick off by describing several of our State Department initiatives. First and foremost, we will publish another edition of our annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Some countries have been downgraded and may be downgraded again automatically from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3, because they have not taken steps adequately to address trafficking. Now, this is an uncomfortable position for them to be in and for us. And as I travel around talking to heads of state and governments and ministers, they watch this very closely, and they often raise questions about their position on this list.
Now, last year, for the first time ever under my direction, we included the United States in this report. As President Obama has made clear, we want to be the best champion for our own ideals, and we want to live up to those ideals ourselves. And we know we can do more to diminish involuntary servitude and slavery in our own country.
Now, beyond this report, our Bureau of Diplomatic Security will establish an anti-trafficking unit to support its field offices which already participate in the 39 Department of Justice-funded anti-trafficking task forces nationwide. This new unit will centralize case referrals and command at headquarters and offer training to all agents, particularly on how to work with victims. We will also begin an annual briefing for visiting diplomats and their domestic workers as part of an ongoing effort we launched last year – thanks to Hilda and others for their help on this – to protect domestic workers brought here by diplomats and raise awareness within the diplomatic community. Whether they’re diplomats or national emissaries of whatever kind, we all must be accountable for the treatment of the people that we employ. We will also work with federal contractors to identify best practices for preventing trafficking, help them protect victims, and hold them accountable if they do not follow the federal government’s anti-trafficking policies.
And finally, we are working with many partners to develop a voluntary international code of conduct for private security service providers. Companies that sign the code commit to not engage in human trafficking and report allegations to competent authorities. To date, nearly 60 private security companies have signed the code, including many that contract with the U.S. Government.
Now, before we hear from a number of you about what your agencies are doing, I have a request. I would like to ask this group to task the Assistant Secretary Level Senior Policy Operating Group with developing an overarching victims services strategy. One of our continuing challenges is that we’ve not yet made the American public fully aware of the protections that are already available to victims who are United States citizens. And we need to maximize our resources by looking at other federal programs to serve all trafficking victims. A victims services strategy would do a great service to victims in our own country and set an example around the world.
So I would hope that the Senior Policy Operating Group would work together to hold a public meeting, to get the word out on the work we’re doing to interact with civil society groups, would inventory existing juvenile justice and child welfare programs that affect at-risk youth. That’s one of our biggest problems, is that an underage child gets picked up on the streets, there’s nowhere for that child to be held, so that young boy or girl is put into jail as opposed to a safe place.
We want to develop standards and training to ensure that children in prostitution are treated as victims, not criminals, and given the help they need, and determine whether having separate outreach and service programs for foreign and domestic victims is truly in their best interest. We have seen several legislative proposals to address these issues, and the Trafficking Act will be up for reauthorization in this Congress. But I think through greater interagency cooperation, we can make improvements and really set the agenda for, hopefully, the next decade, at least.
Now, I’d like to call on some of our colleagues to discuss some of the issues that they are dealing with, and I want to start with our Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who has been a real champion of everything having to do with people in every setting, but in particular this area.
SECRETARY SOLIS: Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton. And I’m happy to join you with the Department of Labor to be a representative on the President’s Interagency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons. I’m firmly committed to supporting the mission of the task force, which includes our strong cooperation with my colleagues here today. This commitment builds upon the long history of the Department of Labor to protect and assist vulnerable workers. And I’m proud of the work the Department has done over the past year to help combat trafficking, both domestically and internationally. And I’m pleased that the DOL is a member of the Federal Enforcement Working Group spearheaded by Attorney General Holder. Through this effort, I am confident we will achieve the goals of assisting victims and dismantling trafficking organizations through high impact prosecutions.
This March is the one-year anniversary of the implementation of a new regulation for H2-A programs. Agricultural workers are a group most at risk of trafficking. These new regulations, reinstated, requires that employers provide documentation as a part of their application, strengthen transportation safety requirements, and prohibited foreign recruiters from charging workers certain fees. Employers who have committed violations can be banned from filing future applications of similar visas. This regulation has strengthened protections for non-immigrant agricultural workers as well as domestic agricultural workers.
And I announced that the Department of Labor will begin exercising its authority to certify applications for new visas. This will provide an avenue for immigrant victims desperate to escape an abusive situation and willing to cooperate with law enforcement. My staff is working hard to finalize those protocols now. Recognition and inclusion of anti-trafficking provisions in contracts and grants is also equally critical. That’s why, at the Department of Labor, we’re including and requiring our anti-trafficking federal acquisition regulation provisions in our contracts and grants. And while it’s not currently required, all of the Department’s international grants include anti-trafficking language, and we’ll further explore how to integrate such language into all of our grants.
Last December, our department released three new reports on child labor and forced labor. For the first time last year, our major report, the findings on the worst forms of child labor identified gaps in government efforts and included specific suggestions for each government that would address those problems. We believe this information will be useful for Congress, the executive branch agencies to consider when developing labor and trade policy.
And I’m also proud that in May of 2010, the Department entered into a revised agreement with the Mexican Embassy and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that Mexican workers in the United States are informed about their labor rights through their consular offices. This information can assist vulnerable workers, including persons who may have been trafficked. We are expanding the approach to now include more partnerships with embassies from Central America and the Caribbean. And on December 2nd, I met with several ambassadors from nine Central American and Caribbean countries who wanted to learn about the program. We are following up with those discussions now.
In conclusion, I would just say as a nation and as members of the global community, we reject the proposition that it is acceptable to pursue economic gain through force, fraud, and coercion of human beings. I’m delighted to be a part of this working group and also proud to represent our agency here today. Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Hilda. Let me turn now to the Attorney General. Attorney General Holder, the Department of Justice has done a lot of good work on this. We appreciate it.
ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Well, I apologize to everyone for being late. Bob (inaudible) had given me a task that took a little longer than I anticipated. (Laughter.)
But thank you, Secretary Clinton. It’s an honor and a privilege to join my colleagues to mark the many breakthroughs that we’ve made over the past year and the momentum that we have generated for the year ahead in our fight to end human trafficking. Now this past year, and for the third year in a row, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more human trafficking cases than ever before. This modern day slavery is an affront to human dignity. And each and every case that we prosecute should send a powerful signal that human trafficking will not be tolerated in or by the United States.
Our prosecutions have been – have brought long overdue justice to victims from Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, the Philippines, Thailand, and Mexico, as well as from our own country. We have liberated adults, children, men and women exploited for sex and labor in virtually every corner of our nation. We have secured long sentences against individual traffickers and we have dismantled large transnational organized criminal enterprises that have exploited victims across the United States, depriving them of their freedom and of their dignity.
But we have more to do, and we have farther to go. On the 10th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act last fall, I committed that the Justice Department would be launching a human trafficking enhanced enforcement initiative to take our counter-trafficking enforcement efforts to the next level by building on the most effective tool in our anti-trafficking arsenal: partnerships. Well, today, I am pleased to announce the launch of this initiative, which will streamline federal criminal investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking. The Departments of Homeland Security and Department of Labor have collaborated closely with the Justice Department in this historic effort, and I want to thank Secretaries Napolitano and Solis for their expertise and for their shared commitment.
Now, as part of this fight against human trafficking, specialized anti-trafficking coordination teams, known as ACT teams, will be convened in a number of pilot districts nationwide. Under the leadership of the highest-ranking federal law enforcement officials in the district, these teams will bring together federal agents and prosecutors across agency lines to combat human trafficking threats, dismantle human trafficking networks, and bring traffickers to justice. The launch of these ACT teams will enable us to leverage the assets and the expertise of each federal enforcement agency more effectively than ever before. But we will not rest until this unprecedented collaboration translates into the results that matter most, the liberation of victims and the prosecution of traffickers.
Now, we are all inspired by the courage of survivors who have escaped from bondage and energized by the strength of our partnerships. But above all, we are firm in our resolve to do more than ever before to end human trafficking. The efforts announced today and the work being undertaken across this government are an important step forward in winning this fight. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Attorney General, for not only the work you’ve done but this new initiative.
Let me now turn to Secretary Napolitano. Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security plays an absolutely critical role in these efforts. Janet.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, thank you. And thank you, Secretary, for hosting this meeting. We are, indeed, proud to play a strong role in combating human trafficking as demonstrated by ICE’s arrest last week at the JFK airport of a human trafficker who was one of its top ten most wanted persons. This past year, ICE, working with DOJ, initiated its highest ever number of cases with a nexus to human trafficking. Our success in combating human trafficking continues to be rooted in strong partnerships. This includes not only the partnership represented around this table today, but also state, local, tribal, international, nongovernmental, and private sector partners who see this problem every day on the ground.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security launched a campaign to coordinate and enhance its anti-human trafficking efforts. It’s called the Blue Campaign. Under the Blue Campaign last year we provided new training for state and local law enforcement, offered new materials on how to assist victims, and conducted public awareness campaigns both in the United States and in Latin America.
Indeed, I was in Dallas yesterday to check out security for the Super Bowl, and between Dallas and Arlington, I saw at least two billboards advertising how to gain assistance under the Blue Campaign. So it is really rolling out everywhere.
This year, we’re also developing new public awareness materials and a new message to be played in DHS immigration offices and waiting rooms which informs potential victims that help is available. We’re expanding the campaign called No Te Enganas, or Don’t Be Fooled, in Central America and some United States cities to also raise awareness among potential victims.
We are developing comprehensive anti-human trafficking courses for our own personnel to address what role each and every DHS component agency plays in combating this scourge. And we are working with firefighters and first responders around the country who may come into contact with victims during their daily work.
As was indicated, we are working with a number of other agencies on joint initiatives including the anti-trafficking coordination teams the attorney general just announced and also initiatives with the Department of Labor. This is a fight that all of us around this table are committed to do. So I look forward to continuing on this work with my Cabinet colleagues and on all of our partners in order to combat this terrific problem.
Thank you, Madam Secretary.
MODERATOR: Thank you for coming today. My name is Steve Labensky. I am the Public Affairs Officer for the United States Mission to the OSCE. It is a pleasure to welcome you to our first press briefing and it is my honor to introduce you to Thomas O. Melia. Mr. Melia is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and is the head of the United States delegation to the Astana portion of the review conference being held in the run-up to the summit. Mr. Melia will speak briefly about his activities and experiences as the head of delegation and will then take questions. I ask each of you to identify yourself when you ask your question, giving both your name and your media affiliation. This press event will be in English and Russian.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Thanks Steve, and thanks to all of you for coming out this afternoon. I am going to give you a few observations about the review conference that just concluded and I will then be glad to take your questions.
Following on the input we received on Friday morning from the NGOs who are gathered for the purpose of advising the government delegations, we spent three lengthy sessions discussing and examining issues of media freedom in the OSCE region, the problem of trafficking in persons, and the issue of intolerance of migrants and minorities in the countries of the OSCE. All three are big and growing as problems in our region and greater cooperation is vital. In particular, the pressures on independent media are of concern because restrictions on freedom of expression impede our efforts to solve all other problems. Dunja Mijatovic of Bosnia, who is the Representative on Freedom of Media for the OSCE, noted in her report to the review conference that freedom of expression is not measured simply by the number of publications in a country but by the degree of editorial independence they enjoy.
I will also note that, in my address to the closing plenary earlier today, I emphasized the important role played by civil society in the OSCE framework. This organization is unique in the world in the prominence that it gives to civil society in its official deliberations. It is one of the strengths of the OSCE. Accordingly, I went this morning to observe the opening session of the Parallel Civil Society Summit that is being organized by CIVICUS and a number of other well-known international NGOs. At the opening session this morning, I saw the group addressed electronically by two of the world’s most famous and well-respected human rights defenders. Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group spoke directly to the conference participants and also Yevgeniy Zhovtis spoke from his prison cell to the group, and I should say that both of these highly regarded and well-known activists were warmly received by the more than 100 delegates who were participating in that conference.
The other point I would make about civil society and its importance to the OSCE and to the United States government is that our Secretary of State will be meeting with civil society upon her arrival on Tuesday afternoon in a town hall kind of event at Eurasian National University as she does everywhere she travels in the world. Underscoring an initiative that she launched in a speech in Krakow last July, the United States government is extending its support – both political and moral as well as material – to independent civil society around the world. We think that the problems that we all face as nations can only be solved with appropriate input from independent experts and NGOs and human rights groups.
So, it has been a very successful review conference. We are prepared for the summit when the more senior heads of delegation will be arriving from all the participating States, and so I think we are in a good position going into the summit.
With that, I would be glad to take questions and respond to your inquiries.
QUESTION (Tselina newspaper): Could you please tell us what Yevgeniy Zhovtis said and what conclusions did you reach after listening to his speech? Unfortunately, his speech was not available to us.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, I do know that his remarks are being distributed at the conference and will be posted on the website, so I am sure you can get the exact text of what he said. But, that said, he welcomed the meeting of activists here in Kazakhstan and wished them well in the conference that they were just beginning. I think it was an important connection that was drawn between the international and national groups that were there and one of Kazakhstan’s most famous individuals.
QUESTION (Novoye Pokolenie newspaper): How do you assess the development of civil society in the post-Soviet states, and in particular, in Kazakhstan?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, that is a good question, and I think, like any civil society gathering, we heard a variety of views. That is how you can tell when you have a genuine meeting where people are free to express their opinions because they will present alternate points of view and sometimes disagree about what reality really is. So, that is a good sign. I think that spoke well to the gathering on Friday morning.
I think we all know, and this is reflected not only in the reports that our State Department issues every year, the Human Rights Reports, on every country but also in the reports by independent think tanks and NGOs, that there are a variety of constraints on freedom of association and the work of civil society in many of the countries of the former Soviet Union. This is one of our challenges. This was one of the topics of discussion at the OSCE in the review conference and will certainly be part of the summit discussions.
The reason that Secretary Clinton launched her Civil Society Support Initiative in July was precisely because the threats to independent civil society are growing in the world these days. So, as we talked about modernizing all our countries, there are some ways in which we are becoming more modern and more successful, and there are other aspects of our societies in which we are moving backwards. I think in too many countries there are new laws being put in place that restrict the operation of NGOs making it more difficult for them to receive funding, setting the basis for more frequent and intrusive investigations by tax authorities or police, etc. This is a problem in Kazakhstan but it is not unique to Kazakhstan, and I think, for the OSCE to fulfill the commitments that all of our governments have made at Helsinki and in Paris and in Moscow and on so many occasions over the years, it is important that real practical steps be taken within each country to enact the proper democratically-based legislation and then to realize that these different views from civil society can actually strengthen a society and help solve problems, the other problems that we talk about, whether that is trafficking or toleration or other issues.
So, this is a real problem in Kazakhstan as elsewhere, and the degrees to which countries want to be identified with the founding principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the OSCE itself they will move forward to modify legislation and change the climate for the operation of civil society.
QUESTION (Tselina newspaper): We have a perception here that if an NGO is funded by the United States, it can undermine the foundations of the state. What do you think about this?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, I come from a country where many of the successful businessmen and women have put aside money that supports charitable and independent activities by NGOs. Sometimes, this private philanthropy is not enough to support independent civil society and some governments in Europe and elsewhere, like the United States, also make grants available to support the work of civil society. I have been involved in these kinds of grant programs myself personally for many years, and I know that the success of any of these NGOs depends on their connections to society and the countries in which they work. I would not judge organizations so much on the basis of where their funding comes from as on the work that they do, and, if civil society groups that depend on grants from outside the country, whether private or government, I think the important thing is what are they doing with that money? What kind of educational activities are they undertaking? What kind of policies or reforms are they advocating? That will tell you the value of those organizations and the work they do. Not every grant recipient is an angel or is effective, but I think many are, and so I think I would judge each organization based on its own record of accomplishment.
QUESTION (Lyudmila Piskorskaya): What is your opinion about the level of democratic development in Kazakhstan? How fast is Kazakhstan moving towards democracy? How would you assess the role of Kazakhstan as Chairman of the OSCE?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Well, as I said, there are a lot of independent assessments by scholars and think tanks about the political situation in every country, and I think not all experts will agree. I think Kazakhstan, and I think Kazakhstani officials as well as NGOs here, would agree that there is a lot of development to do in Kazakhstan’s democracy. The government has said so. It has developed a “National Human Rights Action Plan” as part of a partnership between civil society and the government, and I think that there is an acknowledgement by all parties that there is a lot of work to be done here, and I think we would encourage Kazakhstan to move forward with implementing the “National Human Rights Action Plan” that was developed with outside government officials and independent NGOs, like Yevgeniy Zhovtis was part of that process, one of the leading drafters of that plan. I think that reflects a consensus among Kazakhstani people that there are improvements to be made in a kind of a path forward.
You asked about role of this in the chairmanship. The awarding of the decision to have Kazakhstan take a turn as Chairman-in-Office does not necessarily represent a kind of democratic standard of achievement. It represents a taking of a turn as the chair – as other participating States have done – in order to chair the meetings in which we discuss how all of our states move forward. Ultimately, the success of the Kazakh chairmanship will be assessed by historians based on what happens next, based on the steps that Kazakhstan takes to modernize and democratize its legislation and create the space necessary for independent journalists and civil society to contribute to the life of the nation. So, I think the success of this chairmanship will be measured by the accomplishments to come, and I hope they come soon, and I hope they are significant.
QUESTION (Strana I Mir newspaper): According to the United States, what are the OSCE goals? In some U.S. reports we see the expression “OSCE effectiveness.” What does this mean? The United States is not even a member of the OSCE; it is not European. Why is it concerned?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: : Well, first of all, yes, the United States is a member of the OSCE. The United States participated at Helsinki in the adoption of the Final Act that has set us on this road, and so we are fully participating along with, now, the 55 other states.
The discussions that are underway and the conclusions that will be presented and the documents agreed at the summit I think will clarify the way forward on strengthening the institutions of the OSCE. In particular, we are looking for a reaffirmation and renewed support for the important work done by ODIHR, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, that has played such an important role in monitoring elections and strengthening civil society and enabling independent voices to be heard, so that would be an important sign of strengthening the OSCE overall as an organization.
There are other things that my colleagues are working more directly on that relate to security measures and cooperation on economic and technical matters. So, there are a number of things that are being discussed in various subgroups, but there are clearly some important opportunities to strengthen the institutions of the OSCE so that it will be even more successful going forward.
QUESTION (Kazakhstan TV): I would like you to evaluate the activities of Kazakhstan as Chair of the OSCE and share your expectations about the upcoming summit. Some pundits also say that the baskets of work of the OSCE could be somewhat altered or expanded to include, besides the three main baskets, scientific or research work. What do you think about that?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: The Kazaskhstan government as Chairman-in-Office for this last year has done a credible job in organizing the meetings and in facilitating all of our work, and we are grateful to them for their hospitality this week and on previous occasions. As I said, the ultimate measurement of the success of this chairmanship will be on, as for all the other countries, how Kazakhstan moves forward to implement the fundamental commitments that are contained in the Helsinki Final Act and in all of the subsequent documents. As Kazakhstan strengthens the independence of the media and the autonomy of civil society and the openness of the political competition, it will be fulfilling the promises made in the third basket of OSCE process.
I do not have a view on the research proposal, and I know there are discussions about other functions for the OSCE, but, in our discussions in the last couple days in this review conference, we really concentrated on how well each of our countries are doing in living up to the promises we have already made and the commitments we have undertaken to strengthen the human dimension of our societies, that important aspect of our overall security.
QUESTION (Karavan newspaper): Mr. Melia, I would like to ask you about the first basket of OSCE. Usually there are many discussions in regards to the third and second baskets. Very little is usually said about CFE [Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe] and that after the Istanbul summit many countries have not yet signed off on that document. Will there be any movement on this particular issue here at the Astana summit?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: My colleagues, especially our Ambassador to Vienna to the OSCE, Ambassador Ian Kelly, is very intensively involved in these very discussions. So, I would defer that question to him. I know that this is one of the issues going into the summit. So, I will have to defer to Ambassador Kelly on that.
MODERATOR: We will have several officials from the United States government here who will be able to address that issue. I hope in the next few days to arrange a briefing with one or more of them.
QUESTION (Tengri News): The Russian Federation insists on the necessity of broadening OSCE membership and reforming the organization. Don’t you think that the OSCE should become a Eurasian organization rather than an European one?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: Again, there are a number of discussions underway and lots of ideas being put forward by different governments, and I think I would again defer to my colleague, Ambassador Kelly, on the larger questions about proposals to revamp the organization. Again, in this review conference that we have just concluded, we were really focusing on how well we are doing on implementing the things we have already agreed to implement, and that means not only celebrating the fact that the OSCE has come to Central Asia but it also means examining how well the OSCE values are being implemented in Central Asia. So, I think that is enough for us to do in this part of the conference, and I will defer that to other colleagues.
Is there a final question?
QUESTION (Tselina newspaper): I have not a question but a suggestion: to organize more exchange programs for the journalists and invite more journalism speakers to Kazakhstan.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MELIA: I agree that we should have more exchanges between Kazakhstan’s journalists and American journalists and all those kinds of things; I am sure my colleague Steve Labensky agrees as well. He is involved in precisely this area of our work, so we can talk about that more after the meeting. But, that is an excellent idea for building cooperation between our two countries.
MODERATOR: That is also an idea that you should raise with the U.S. Embassy here in Astana.
Well, if there are no further questions, I would like to thank you for your attendance at today’s briefing. As I said earlier, I am hoping that during the next week I will have other principals from the United States Department of State and other agencies who will be able to brief you on issues relating to the summit. Thank you very much for coming.