Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
CIS Program Director - International League for Human Rights


My name is Catherine A. Fitzpatrick and I am CIS Program Director for the International League for Human Rights. I have followed the Helsinki process for 24 years. The League has published a study, about OSCE: Delivering on the Promise: Human Rights, OSCE Field Missions, and Election Activities

OSCE is frequently OBE’d -- an official of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said this week that PACE “could not allow two members to go to war with each other,” having in mind Russia and Georgia, while OSCE, with the same two members, remained silent on the issue. Today, it is the European Union, not the OSCE, exercising the greatest pull of reform on former communist countries in transition, by holding out the promise of membership with all its perks. It is the EU, not the OSCE wielding the power to really change laws and practices on an unprecedented level through its process of opening and closing chapters for accession. Next, the larger Council of Europe, which has less clout, is also often—to a far greater extent than OSCE these days--the chief “international community” human rights actor today through its power to decide whether to admit or not admit a member – and suspend them for bad behavior (as it has done with Azerbaijan, regarding admission, and it has done through threats to Russia and Ukraine). The inclusion/exclusion function of OSCE cannot ever be regained. Whereas the Council sets certain accession demands, like removal of the death penalty or removal of criminal libel statutes from penal codes and polices backsliding, OSCE, because it is supposed to be about “security” and “cooperation” forgoes such strong-handed methods to achieve compliance. The Council has wielded this power successfully at least in gaining focus on trouble spots if not much compliance. So what does the OSCE do? It presides over bad elections, legitimizing tyrants with its feeble renditions of evaluations such as “falls short of international standards,” and then surveys the wreckage, often involving detentions of demonstrators and closure of independent media, and crying with survivors’ guilt, issues even larger technical assistance grants, as vague and soft as tissues, to gloating, re-established governments in the faint hope that these might help things be better next time.

Without binding treaties and permanent peace-keeping troops on standby, without the willingness of those in capitals to use their clout through this multilateral institution, still, there is the greatest weapons OSCE as an institution has, as the sum of its better parts: 1) the validation of human rights victims’ concerns through publicity of human rights violations and 2) the withholding of the legitimacy the institution confers for elections. By not recognizing elections or the leaders and parliamentary entities that result from them, by continuing to condemn violations of all agreements since Helsinki, the West and the serious-minded newly-emerging democracies, particularly in Eastern and Central Europe, can deflect the constant pull of the tide of the Soviet legacy.

To accomplish this mission, the organization must speak with a louder and more concerted voice and combine more serious human rights monitoring with public diplomacy about human rights violations. That means more critical reporting and more public response to cases and issues and more serious efforts to protect nascent and would-be civil society.

Excessive concerns about diplomatic niceties and failure to dramatically increase OSCE’s public diplomacy about human rights concerns means that the victims and the societies at large, particularly in the most oppressive states within the OSCE, will view the U.S. and the West as complicit in tyranny, and they will bitterly conclude that our liberal notions of democracy and human rights are just so much window-dressing and hypocrisy. Maybe we could afford to allow this gap between rhetoric and reality persist before 9-11 – we cannot do so now. The role of U.S. public diplomacy within OSCE is particularly urgent given that others are likely to lag in this area.

Having allowed dictators to seal and legitimize their power bases through the last decade of sham elections, it is now time for the U.S to devote the next 10 years to a conscious strategy to undermine their oppression through a variety of serious and developed programs to promote the old Helsinki values of “the free flow of people and information across frontiers.” Yes, there must be decidedly an “interference in internal affairs” as the Soviet locution still so often used today has it, because human rights monitoring and advocacy are explicitly recognized in the OSCE context not as “interference” and this value must be upheld.

The OSCE remains the “indispensable institution” as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright deemed it, precisely because of its 20 field activities, yet it must undergo radical reform to move it away from pointless election activity in states unprepared to make even the minimal democratic reforms necessary for authentic elections, and should move under U.S. pressure to more nuts-and-bolts human rights monitoring and protection work. . The field missions, even with all their problems of untrained or disengaged personnel, are the secret strength of the OSCE that distinguishes it from the other European bodies without field missions at all (or with far less missions), and with a smaller membership

1. Publicize Reports. OSCE must more systematically and deliberately publicize its own findings – even when states pressure it to withhold or abridge or delay reports. It may not seem like much to put up on a web site a biweekly report from diplomats, but it will help them to write them better and it will help validate the events on the ground that so often occur, but are never acknowledged by violator states or covered in state-controlled media

2. Advocate More Forcefully on Human Rights. OSCE missions should speak out more and engage in conscious and deliberate advocacy on behalf of victims of human rights. This need not be the shrill and shaming condemnation of an NGO, of course, but it can be a vocal expression of concern or even a constatation of facts made to the media. Such statements should not be left merely to the diplomats in Vienna or the Permanent Council. Human rights violations are best recorded and commented upon on the scene, not in remote capitals where victims cannot hear about them. The OSCE performance on this score is uneven. In the Balkans, frank statements are routinely made because of the dynamics of war and the presence of soldiers, perhaps. In Central Asia, there is barely a mention—indeed the at-first candid statements by the OSCE mission in Almaty describing the political persecution of former Pavlodar Oblast governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov and Mukhtar Ablyazov, former energy minister, were remarkable and, perhaps not surprisingly, stopped when Kazakhstani government pressure was put on the mission and the chair-in-office and the Permanent Council did not push back. Such local pressures would be resisted if there was a conscious, system-wide and centralized determination always and everywhere at least to describe publicly events involving major human rights violation.

3. Stop Torture. OSCE should not become consumed with the war on terrorism. The UN is already this through the Security Council and the Counter-Terrorism Committee, and of course responses to the tragic events of September 11 are being handled by individual states in any event, and not always with human rights uppermost in mind. Therefore, the OSCE should become preoccupied with how to make societies extremism-proof and how to prevent states from using 9-11 as a cover to abuse human rights through empowering the protectors of civil society and worry about “sustainable democracy” as much as they worry about “sustainable development”. There is very little that can be sustained in countries where torture is rampant.

The roots of actual terrorists in the real world, who often come from the educated or semi-educated middle-class, are not found in poverty as such, although they can exploit the presence of poor people in their homelands in extremist ideologies purporting to benefit those disenfranchised. More often, the roots of extremism and terrorism are found in torture. Many terrorists are people who were once tortured in prison, or whose family members or colleagues or fellow religious believers were tortured. There is very little a torture victim can think of that works to avenge torture other than terror. So it is important to curb torture, which remains as a legacy of the Soviet era that is one of the main fuels of extremism and home-grown terrorism in the OSCE states, and also makes domestic movements vulnerable to export from international terrorist movements. The U.S. should extend support for the UN’s Draft Optional Protocol Against Torture to be voted upon at the General Assembly this year

4. Decrease Election-Monitoring and Negotiate Core Standards for Pre-Election Conditions. Funding spent on election training and monitoring should be reduced greatly in those countries where it has proved futile and instead spent on more basic programs to protect human rights, including direct assistance of lawyers and journalists in small grants programs, not just training. Observation seldom deters fraud, the kind of fraud which takes place on the scale of an Azerbaijan or a Belarus. Without freedom of media and association, and with plenty of levers to inspire fear and/or dependency in the population, even a supposedly “free” election would yield democratized support for a dictator, as in Belarus. Bureaucrats looking for an election-monitoring budget often cite the demands of local opposition groups themselves for foreigners’ presence, because they think they will mount enough pressure and play the “foreign card” to expose fraud. But they seldom have enough power in the first place to achieve a key pre-election goal, presence on the electoral commissions and access to the media. Achieving these OSCE pre-conditions doesn’t require a big budget or a huge presence on the ground or lots of per diems, it just requires determination, centralized and systematized. Far more focus should go into bargaining for pre-election conditions to level the playing field.
Instead of re-inventing the wheel each time there is an election, through negotiations at the highest level, the OSCE nations should determine a standard, core minimum set of pre-election objectives that must routinely be met before OSCE will deploy its logistics-intensive and expensive machinery of election law analysis, negotiations among parties, election monitoring, and other types of election programming.

5. Place OSCE Missions in Every Member State. OSCE’s more determinedly democratic elements should not cede a single field-mission presence and indeed push for more presence. Ideally, there should be mandatory OSCE mission deployment in every OSCE member capital so that they cannot be expelled and so that the system can gain more coherence. So much political effort has been squandered on deploying and underplaying missions in the first place and devising all kinds of elaborate or deliberately vague mandates for them that a radically different approach should be considered to establish an OSCE presence by default in each state, independent and separate from the host government. While this might seem like an impossible dream and an economic planner’s nightmare, the UN maintains missions and offices and presences routinely all over the world for development work, and OSCE should do no less for human rights and democracy work. It means merely having small, even one-person intergovernmental offices in some states and strengthening the system as a whole by mandating at least a minimal presence in the areas of armed conflict and potential turmoil. Those states that refuse such basic missions should not be eligible for democracy or human rights assistance as states, and such funding should be spent in programming to support civil societies outside their homelands.

There are already 20 field activities, so the goal is nearly half-way met for 55 members. And most Western states already have offices or commissions such as this one which work on “Helsinki” issues. In addition to assisting democracy in the newly-independent states (not so new and not even so independent in some cases any more), Western democracies could work on cross-border issues like trafficking, migrant labor, refugee and asylum rights. In exchange for greater human rights scrutiny, countries in transition would understand that would get some concentrated efforts made on their chronic complaints about visa problems for their nationals and a coherent framework could be established to manage migrant workers flows and immigration – aspects of the EU accession process that will grow worse, not better.

6. Move From Thematics to Specifics, i.e. a Meeting on Anti-Semitism. There have been hundreds of anti-Semitic acts in France alone, and maiming and even murders from anti-Semitic boobytraps in Russia. We are surprised at the amount of resistance even in the U.S. to the proposal from NGOs at the last HDIM in September 2002 to devote one of the HD supplementary sessions in 2003 just to this topic, given the violent events across the region. Extremists (and liberals uncomfortable with confronting them) have a new-found profession of gleefully distinguishing legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism, and yet each time there is a protest demonstration, the signs promoting hatred and violence come out and belie their claim to be making distinctions, as do a wave of actual physical attacks on Jews. This urgent topic should not be contained only in the already-overloaded special thematic sessions of the HDIM itself or folded into a “religious freedom” workshop because it is not only about the freedom to practice a religion safely--many attacks occur outside of religious settings and anti-Semitism is an ethnic as well as religious issue. We should also not be forced to address anti-Semitism only in tandem with another newly-identified phenomenon, “Islamophobia,” however much of equal concern are hate attacks on Muslims particularly since 9-11. These two types of racism have different dynamics and contexts and histories on the continent of Europe and elsewhere in the world and there is no need to artificially lump them together for the sake of political correctness or perceived pressure .

8. Provide External Programming for Civil Society and End To Round-tabling. The saga of the Belarus mission is emblematic of the impotence of both local missions, the chairs in office and other OSCE actors. First, sufficient political pressure was not brought to bear on Russia, which subsidizes Belarus extensively, politically and economically (despite Putin’s grimaces) and nothing but hand-wringing accompanied the picking off of OSCE monitors one by one like ducks. If the states cannot stop expulsion or neutering of its missions, new programs outside the confines of oppressive countries have to be devised, “missions in exile.”

Yes, the AMG in Minsk inappropriately meddled in Belarus’ internal affairs, but not in the way the Belarusian bureaucrats might think. I believe the mission-inspired consultative council of political parties should not have been created at all, since it stepped on indigenous creations like the Rada, or council of democratic parties, and should never have persisted past the first reneging of the regime on promises to engage in good-faith dialogue with the opposition. And election monitoring is soft campaign money. Whichever group wins the election monitoring training contract has a war chest for the elections of sorts, and with the lack of experience and lack of transparency in a non-democratic country, it is not surprising that the experiment goes badly. The OSCE missions should stay out of the election monitoring business completely and
leave this to ODIHR and OSCE PA, and in this fashion the budgets for such activities are kept away from interference from the host state and heads of missions are kept from meddling in local politics and can focus on the basics like human rights monitoring.

If a mission cannot function in-country to support civil society even at a basic level, then the mission’s human rights monitoring and training programs should be moved outside the country and run from Warsaw or neighboring countries. A country such as Belarus, which has set a bad precedent and weakened the entire system with its antics regarding its OSCE mission, should know that the OSCE system will respond by creating “off-campus” programming to benefit civil society. This means there must be an explicit, conscious effort by the U.S. to push ODIHR and OSCE PA and other bodies to subsidize attendance of Belarusians at the OSCE’s own conferences, meetings and workshops as well as at various special meetings called to deal with the very crisis occurring in the country expelling the mission.

Another type of program to be jettisoned is the “round table” between officialdom and a select roster of GONGOs or NGOs or opposition or quasi-oppositional parties. There isn’t a single country in crisis that has earned a round-table process which can only be accomplished (as it was in the 1980s in Eastern and Central Europe) through first legitimizing and validating opposition parties. Round-tables cannot take place when opposition leaders are in jail, as they are in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and elsewhere where disastrous round-table activities have taken place.

The one dialogue effort OSCE should re-engage in is in Chechnya. Here, the PACE process has suffered from the constant obstruction of the head of its own Russian delegation when any Russian-Chechen talks are devised, so workarounds have to be created to jumpstart peace talks through other bodies. A Dutch head of mission was instrumental in helping to stop the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya and we look to the Dutch during their chair-in-office in 2003 to revisit these efforts. Furthermore, the existing OSCE mission in Chechnya, as constrained as it is, could be doing more public monitoring and reporting on such crises as the forced return to the Chechen Republic of internally-displaced persons who were previously in Ingushetia. Reports indicate that in compliance with a 20-point Russian federal plan, IDPs are facing cut-offs in humanitarian services, forcible closures of camps, and various incidents of coercion in an effort to compel them to return to Chechnya, although security is by no means established there.