Media Contact: Dorothy Douglas Taft
(Washington) – At the conclusion today of Europe’s largest annual human rights meeting, United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the declaration of human rights advocates from 16 countries countering criticism by several former Soviet states of the OSCE’s human rights work.
On July 3, 2004, nine OSCE countries – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan– issued a statement criticizing the human dimension activities of the OSCE. A subsequent document signed in Astana, Kazakhstan by eight of the above signatories claimed that there are double standards in fulfillment of commitments concerning democracy and human rights.
"I welcome the declaration issued today in Warsaw. While many of the men and women who signed this document engage in human rights advocacy at considerable personal sacrifice and risk, they have clearly stated – in their words – their ‘categorical disagreement with the negative evaluation of OSCE activity,’" said Smith.
"I joined the leadership of the Helsinki Commission in writing to the governments of those countries to challenge those views," said Smith. "In fact, the review of human rights issues just concluded in Warsaw is a strong reminder of exactly why the human rights work of the Helsinki process must continue with unabated vigor. The OSCE’s implementation meetings remain a critical forum for NGOs to have their views heard."
This year’s OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting drew record attendance by 220 non-governmental organizations from across the region. Many took advantage of the opportunity to present focused presentations at side events on a broad range of subjects.
During the meeting, the United States drew particular attention to the situation in Turkmenistan, where conditions have regressed to those of the Stalinist era.
Azerbaijani officials had prevented one human rights defender and religious freedom activist from attending the Warsaw meeting. On October 6, authorities at the Baku airport blocked Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu from boarding his Warsaw-bound flight. Ibrahimoglu was set to attend the HDIM session on religious freedom and speak out against the forcible seizure of his congregation’s mosque earlier this year.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.