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Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman

Volume: 36

Number: 20

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Co-Chairman
December 10, 2003
www.csce.gov

HELSINKI COMMISSION MEMBERS ENGAGE GOVERNMENT LEADERS
AT ANNUAL HUMAN RIGHTS REVIEW



By Erika Schlager
CSCE Counsel for International Law
and Sarah Ozkan
Department of State Presidential Management Intern

From October 6-17, 2003, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) met in Warsaw, Poland, for a Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). Each year, the OSCE convenes a forum to discuss the compliance by the participating States with the full range of their OSCE human rights commitments.

The U.S. delegation was headed by Ambassador Pamela Hyde Smith, joined by Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE. The delegation also included Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Assistant Secretary Craner is also the State Department official appointed by President George W. Bush as a Member of the Helsinki Commission.

In the tradition of engaging accomplished individuals with human rights expertise, the U.S. delegation included several public members: Roberta Cohen, Co-Director of the Brookings Institution-Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Project on Internal Displacement; Ruth Wedgewood, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University; and Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee.

Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), and Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) also joined the U.S. delegation. The four Members of Congress embraced a rare opportunity for congressional participation in the HDIM following two OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meetings in Rome: a seminar on religious freedom and a Forum on the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation.

Commissioners Smith and Cardin delivered statements during the HDIM working sessions on the prevention of anti-Semitism, and discrimination, racism, and xenophobia, respectively. In particular, they voiced strong support for the OSCE Ministerial (set for December 1-2 in Maastricht, The Netherlands) to endorse a German offer to host a follow-up OSCE conference in Berlin next year focused on anti-Semitism and a separate follow-up conference on racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Smith and Cardin also participated in bilateral meetings with other delegations to the OSCE meeting. In such a meeting with Belarusian officials, the Members laid out U.S. concerns over the worsening human rights situation in the former Soviet Republic. The Members also met with Polish Government officials regarding Poland's failure to adopt a law on private property restitution or compensation.

At a U.S.-sponsored side event, OSCE Special Rapporteur Emmanuel Decaux presented his findings regarding the situation in Turkmenistan. Decaux had been named to his position after ten OSCE participating States took the extraordinary step of invoking the "Moscow Mechanism" for the first time in a decade. They were prompted to do so after the Turkmenistan authorities reacted to an attack on President Saparmurat Niyazov's motorcade on November 25, 2002, with a widespread human rights crackdown marked by torture, disappearances, and a return to Stalin-era practices. Turkmenistan was widely criticized throughout the HDIM, although no Turkmenistan officials attended the meeting. (Uzbekistan was also heavily criticized but, in contrast to Turkmenistan, Uzbek officials fully participated.)

In both the formal sessions and a bilateral meeting with the Kazakhstan delegation, the United States raised the case of two Kazakhstani human rights activists, Amirzahan Kosanov and Ermurai Bapi, who were prohibited from leaving their country in an apparent attempt to prevent them from participating in the HDIM. The efforts by the Government of Kazakhstan to prevent their participation suggests this meeting continues to be viewed as a meaningful forum by authorities in Astana.

On the eve of the HDIM, sham presidential elections were held in Chechnya. The OSCE had previously declined to mount an election observation mission for these elections, concluding that conditions were such that they could not be free and fair.

Elections, held in Azerbaijan midway through the HDIM were marred by serious violations of OSCE norms and significant violence against protestors after the results were announced. Peter Eicher, head of the OSCE election observation mission, flagged particular concern regarding the level of intimidation and unequal conditions for candidates during the campaign period. The U.S. delegation raised in a meeting with Azerbaijani officials concerns about widespread post-elections violence, as well as other human rights concerns, such as the failure of the Azerbaijan Government to register some religious organizations and government-initiated lawsuits targeting opposition media.

The U.S. delegation participated fully in the formal sessions of the meeting (links to the full text of U.S. interventions are below) and attended numerous "side events." Side events may be organized at the site of the meeting by non-governmental organizations, the OSCE or other international organizations, or participating States and provide an opportunity to examine specific subjects or countries in greater depth than is possible in formal meetings. This year, approximately 20 side events were held, focusing on a broad range of subjects including government responses to anti-Semitism, internally displaced persons, minority rights in Balkan countries, and human rights developments in Central Asia.

The United States also took advantage of the presence of the many human rights groups participating in the meeting. For example, although the Government of Turkmenistan did not send a representative, the U.S. delegation was able to meet with Turkmenistani non-governmental groups, as well as an opposition figure in exile who called for increased access to information through international radio broadcasting. Belarusian non-governmental representatives described to U.S. officials the intensified and ongoing crackdown on non-governmental organizations, which they described as a pre-emptive move in advance of upcoming elections and the possible passage by the U.S. Congress of the Belarus Democracy Act.

The HDIM is the only multinational human rights meeting in Europe where non-governmental organization representatives and government representatives have equal access to the speakers' list. Unfortunately, time constraints for the sessions, particularly during the first week, meant that not all speakers inscribed actually had the opportunity to speak.

As at past meetings, the United States held extensive bilateral meetings with government representatives. In many instances, the focus and scope of those meetings reflected the presence of experts from capital cities. For example, U.S. officials took advantage of the participation in the HDIM of a Greek Government expert on trafficking in persons to discuss Athens' efforts to address this problem.

In bilateral meetings with Russian representatives, the U.S. delegation raised concerns about the October 5 elections in Chechnya and the Russian Government's refusal to cooperate with the OSCE on matters relating to Chechnya, including a renewed OSCE presence. The United States also discussed the situation of Meskhetian Turks and Russia's draft law on human trafficking.

U.S. officials also discussed the situation of internally displaced persons with Turkish officials, as well as longstanding U.S. concerns regarding the prevalence of torture in Turkey and restrictions on freedom of religion.

U.S. representatives met with Kyrgyz officials to express concern regarding religious freedom, minority rights, corruption, political and constitutional reform and media freedom. Kyrgyz officials tried, unpersuasively, to blame organizers of a March 2002 demonstration in Aksy for the deaths of unarmed protesters, rather than fault the police who committed the shootings.

Uzbek officials expressed a general commitment to improve respect for human rights, including by adopting a national action plan on torture. (Following several deaths in detention this year and last, Uzbek officials have begun work in Tashkent on the action plan, in consultation with the OSCE, other governments, and non-governmental groups. The action plan has not yet been finalized or implemented.)

U.S. delegates met with representatives from Slovakia, focusing most of their discussion on reports that Slovak Romani women have been sterilized without informed consent. This issue, along with the situation of Roma from Kosovo, had been the most widely raised country-specific concerns at the OSCE's April 2003 Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Roma and Sinti.

Other bilateral meetings were held with representatives from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to address OSCE matters and related issues of mutual concern.

As at past human dimension meetings and at meetings of the OSCE Permanent Council, the United States was criticized for retaining the death penalty, contrary to the abolitionist trend among other OSCE participating States. At present, the only other OSCE States that still apply the death penalty are Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In addition, some participants raised concern regarding the detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay and the United States' overall respect for human rights in the fight against terrorism.

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.

Statements of the U.S. Delegation
Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, 2003




Countries

Azerbaijan
Belarus
Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan
Netherlands
Russian Federation
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan

Issues

Elections
Freedom of Association
Freedom of Movement
Freedom of Speech and Expression
Freedom of the Media
Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion or Belief
International Humanitarian Law
Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons
National Minorities
OSCE Institutions/Structures/Meetings
Prevention of Torture
Racism/Anti-Semitism
Right of Peaceful Assembly
Rule of Law/Independence of Judiciary
Trafficking in Human Beings


   
 

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Rep. Smith at a hearing on inter-parliamentary cooperation on June 16, 2010