Media Contact: Neil Simon
WASHINGTON—Leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today welcomed Kazakhstan’s leadership in organizing their Chairmanship of one of the world’s leading rights organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but Commissioners called on the newly-installed Chair-in-Office to lead the OSCE by example and improve its domestic human rights record.
At a hearing on “Kazakhstan’s leadership of the OSCE” featuring Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev, Chairman Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) expressed support for holding a summit of OSCE heads of state this year provided the meeting be in Kazakhstan and the Central Asian country follow previous OSCE practice, including a full implementation review of all OSCE commitments open to non-governmental organization participation.
Kazakhstan’s chairmanship, which started January 1, comes as the OSCE faces challenges including war in Afghanistan, the impasse over the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, prolonged frozen conflicts, corruption, persecution of human rights defenders and violations of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, religion and media.
“The Kazakhstani government has done a superb job preparing its chairmanship. I urge Chairman-in-Office Saudabayev to ensure a strong continued focus on combating anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance. I also hope to work with Kazakhstan to increase OSCE work in Afghanistan. However, the fact remains Kazakhstan is the first country assessed as ‘not free’ by Freedom House to assume the OSCE chairmanship,” Cardin said. “This reality presents unique challenges and opportunities for Kazakhstan, for the United States, and for those of us committed to advancing principles of human rights. I hope the leadership of the Chair-in-Office will motivate its Central Asian neighbors to fully participate in the OSCE."
The Chair-in-Office has received positive marks for laying out a clear agenda for the OSCE, however in Kazakhstan a restrictive media law, poor election record, and imprisonment of human rights activist Yvgeny Zhovtis are serious matters the Chair-in-Office should confront.
“As a previous President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I hope that Kazakhstan will strengthen the role of parliamentarians in the organization. I also look forward to a continuing dialogue on European security issues. Nevertheless, I do hope that Kazakhstan is able to resolve some domestic human rights issues during its chairmanship,” Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) said.
“The core of the OSCE mission includes promoting human rights, the rule of law, and democracy, all areas where several OSCE countries including the now Chair-in-Office are tragically deficient,” said Ranking Minority Commissioner Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ). “To receive support for the chairmanship, Kazakhstan promised at the 2007 Madrid ministerial to enact a series of reforms by 2008. Sadly, I am still waiting for them to live up to that promise.”
Saudabayev’s appearance before the Commission is part of what has become a nearly-annual practice of the rotating Chair-in-Office appearing early during the one-year term. Kazakhstan has chosen trust, tradition, transparency and tolerance as major themes for the 2010 chairmanship. Saudabayev has highlighted specific issues high on his country’s leadership agenda, including further dialogue on European security and resolution of ‘protracted conflicts’ as well as the fight against terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking. In the human dimension, he has mentioned the importance of judicial independence, the prevention of hate crimes, freedom of movement and the situation of Roma and Sinti.
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.