Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Elizabeth Andersen
Executive Director, Europe and Central Asia - Human Rights Watch


Thank you for the invitation to address you today. As many of you may know, Human Rights Watch was founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, with the specific purpose of monitoring implementation of the Helsinki Accords that gave birth to what eventually became the OSCE. And so, from the very beginning, we have been engaged with this institution, at times working closely and collaboratively with its missions and institutions, at others taking a more critical stance and pressing it to fulfill its potential to uphold human rights. In the same vein, I approach today's hearing from the standpoint of a friendly critic.

The OSCE is at a critical juncture in its history. The course it takes will determine whether it is simply assigned to the Cold War chapter of the history books or remains a vital and important actor in Eurasian affairs. The rapid expansion of the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO over the past ten years may cause some to question the continued value of the OSCE—arguably just another organization with a largely overlapping membership and mandate.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to argue today that certain unique aspects of the OSCE give it the potential to continue to play an important role in the region, and to promote goals and values embraced by the U.S. there. In the following comments, I will explain why the OSCE stands to play this role, and how the U.S. can help realize its potential, particularly in the human dimension, or human rights, field.

The Continued Relevance of the OSCE

Notwithstanding the convergence of jurisdiction and competence among various European institutions, the OSCE stands out as one worth investing in.

A Comprehensive Membership

First, the OSCE is the most comprehensive European organization. The E.U. covers only fifteen western European states, with a likely expansion in the next two years to include another ten from Central and Eastern Europe, but no further in the short to medium term. The Council of Europe extends further, but still excludes the Central Asian states. Only the OSCE extends to include all of the states of the former Soviet Union, anchors them in Europe, commits them to uphold fundamental regional norms, and has a field presence there that could facilitate effective implementation. This is critically important as some of the worst human rights abuses in the region occur in those states, which also form an important front in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. And significantly for your purposes, Mr. Chairman, the OSCE gives the U.S. a seat at the table.

A Comprehensive Mandate
Second, the OSCE is the only international organization in the region with full competence in the interconnected economic, security, and human dimensions. The E.U. began as an organization for coordinated economic activity and has moved into coordinating human rights and security policy.
The Council of Europe is fundamentally a human rights organization, dabbling a bit in economic policy and security issues. The international financial institutions, particularly the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, focus on economic development, dabbling a bit in the human dimension. And NATO is of course fundamentally a security organization. Only the OSCE was founded with a mandate giving equal importance to all three dimensions of international affairs and, much before its time, acknowledging the interconnectedness of economic development, security, and human rights.

An organization that takes this comprehensive approach to security complements U.S. policy. U.S. aid and development policy has come to embrace the critical linkage between good governance and economic development, a notion that was embedded in the OSCE mandate twenty-five years ago.

Perhaps even more importantly, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the OSCE approach to security corresponds to U.S. policy in the war against terror. The administration has appropriately recognized that closed, repressive societies are the breeding ground for terror and that the promotion of human rights and open societies has to be an integral element of any successful campaign to combat terror. The OSCE – with its notion of comprehensive security, encompassing the human as well as the politico-military dimension of security – is the ideal forum for the U.S. to push this agenda forward. Taking advantage of this potential at the OSCE will require strengthening the institution, however. The following is a discussion of key areas for such improvements, particularly in the human dimension area.

Realizing the OSCE’s Potential in the Fight against Terrorism

While the U.S. and its allies in the war against terrorism have recognized and embraced the importance of promoting human rights in fighting terror, the past year has seen the anti-terror effort accompanied by an erosion of rights. Human rights have been undermined at the very time they most need to be upheld.

Many governments, including several in the OSCE region, have used the campaign against terrorism opportunistically to justify crack-downs and abuses against opposition groups. Some states—the Central Asian states, particularly Uzbekistan, and Russia, in Chechnya—have ignored President Bush’s admonition that the war against terror must not be considered a war against Islam. They have neglected the crucial distinctions between peaceful religious believers and those who espouse violence, between rebel combatants who take up arms against the state and innocent civilians. Their repression undermines the U.S. anti-terror effort.

The OSCE can help confront this problem and the outgoing Director of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Gerard Stoudmann, has done good work emphasizing the role of human rights in the war against terrorism. But the full potential of the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security has not been realized due to the disconnect between ODIHR’s human dimension agenda and counter-terrorism initiatives being developed in other OSCE fora. The absence of human rights considerations was all too apparent, for example, in the September OSCE meeting with Regional and Sub-Regional Organizations and Initiatives on Preventing Terrorism.

The U.S., as the lead country in the OSCE and a longstanding champion of the OSCE’s human dimension, has a critical role in fostering the full integration of the OSCE’s human dimension into its anti-terrorism efforts. Accordingly, we urge Congress, the CSCE, and the administration to embrace the following recommendations:

· Affirm unequivocally that counter-terrorism measures must comply fully with international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law, and use OSCE institutions and mechanisms to operationalize this approach.

· Support an OSCE supplementary human dimension meeting on religious freedom and intolerance, aimed at following up on the 1999 meeting, assessing the implementation of its recommendations, and developing new recommendations to address new challenges posed in this area by the war against terrorism. We understand that the Dutch government, which will hold the OSCE chairmanship in 2003, is proposing a seminar on religious freedom and the media; this is an important topic, but cast so narrowly risks addressing only one aspect of the issue—the role of the media in promoting religious hatred—and indeed could be manipulated by some governments in the region to justify their severe restrictions on free speech. We would encourage a broader orientation that emphasizes the importance of religious tolerance and specifically aims to elaborate OSCE commitments pertaining to combating impunity for discrimination, violence, and other crimes perpetrated on the basis of religion by both state agents and non-state actors. Such an approach would offer an opportunity to emphasize the US position that the war against terrorism targets criminal organizations that espouse violence; and that it is not a war between Christians and Muslims, between Muslims and Jews, or otherwise an occasion for inter-religious, racist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic violence.

· Establish mechanisms for the OSCE Action against Terrorism Unit, the ODIHR, specialist bodies, and field missions to jointly monitor, review, and make necessary representations to participating states on their compliance with human dimension commitments in the war against terrorism.

The U.S. government's effectiveness in promoting adherence to human rights standards in the war against terrorism will be compromised, at the OSCE and elsewhere, to the extent that its own conduct falls short of those standards. We are deeply troubled when we confront other governments on their own violations and hear them respond by pointing to U.S. selective application of the Geneva Conventions or disregard for safeguards against arbitrary detention. To avoid undermining U.S. credibility as a promoter of human rights, it is critical that the United States maintain its commitment to abide by international standards in the war against terrorism and in fact adhere to those standards.

At the recent OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, State Department Legal Advisor William Taft engaged the forum in a teleconference in which he explained the U.S. position on a number of issues that concern other OSCE member states, including the U.S. position on military tribunals, detention at Guantanamo Bay, the International Criminal Court, and the death penalty. While we disagreed with Mr. Taft’s position on each of these issues, we at least welcomed his willingness to address the forum and engage in a discussion of U.S. policy under international law. This shows the interest and sensitivity of key U.S. allies on this issue and the need for the U.S. to respond to their questions and concerns.

Realizing the OSCE Potential in the Human Dimension

To take full advantage of the OSCE’s potential unique contributions in the war against terrorism, will require strengthening and mainstreaming its human dimension more generally. Too often we see the human dimension marginalized from the organization’s core political and security activities: missions that are poorly staffed or inadequately mandated to proactively monitor and report on human rights; inadequate follow-up on human dimension recommendations at the Permanent Council, ministerial meetings, in bilateral dialogues, and in other multilateral fora; economic forum debates that neglect the critical linkages between good governance and sustainable economic development; discussions of women’s human rights that ignore important abuses such as domestic violence and discrimination, or of trafficking that pay too little attention to the rights of victims of this horrific abuse. In each of these areas, the U.S. could play an important role in strengthening the OSCE.

Strengthening the OSCE’s Missions
Human Rights Watch has welcomed the proliferation of OSCE missions as a potentially valuable tool for improving human dimension implementation. Unfortunately, in many cases we have been disappointed by the level of human rights activity undertaken by missions. Many missions throughout the region have too frequently taken a reactive approach to human rights work: sitting in offices waiting for abuses to be reported, rather than seeking out victims, monitoring trials, visiting the displaced or detained, and intervening with local authorities regarding specific cases. Until recently, most OSCE missions also resisted public reporting of human rights abuses, preferring quiet diplomacy with government officials, even where they demonstrated no willingness to address the violations in question. Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations—including the International League for Human Rights—have repeatedly raised these concerns in OSCE forums, in public reports, and in private correspondence regarding OSCE missions generally as well as those in specific countries.

To its credit, the OSCE has taken many of these criticisms on board and various missions have undertaken a significantly more proactive approach to their human rights activities. ODIHR made a valuable contribution by making the role of field missions in promoting the human dimension the subject of a special human dimension seminar convened in May 1999. The cumulative effect of lessons learned over the course of the OSCE’s field operations has been that many missions have come to take a more proactive approach to human rights work, including routine public reporting of abuses. Lessons learned from missions in Bosnia and Croatia have been clearly evidenced in the more proactive approach of the OSCE’s Kosovo missions.

Still, too often an OSCE mission’s approach to the human dimension is determined by the predilections of the particular head of mission. Even now, the reporting practices of missions vary widely, with the Kosovo mission setting the high standard for thorough and regular reports on a range of significant human rights issues, while the missions in neighboring Macedonia and in Chechnya have been excessively restrained in their public reporting, fearing that public criticism will cost them their mandate altogether. If this is the case—and I would suggest that in many cases it is not—then we should question whether the missions are really worthwhile.

To strengthen the role of OSCE missions as its front line in promoting the human dimension, the U.S. should:

· Promote the deployment of larger numbers of qualified human rights monitors to missions;

· Ensure that the OSCE’s Rapid Expert Assistance and Cooperation Teams (REACT) are staffed and trained according to best human rights monitoring and reporting practices among existing missions;

· Promote the public reporting role of OSCE missions and emphasize the importance the U.S. places on such reporting when heads of mission address the Permanent Council; and

· Demonstrate its commitment to human rights monitoring and support for missions that do engage in public reporting by making their information an integral part of U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the country/-ies concerned.

Improving Implementation of OSCE Recommendations
Even where OSCE missions engage in regular, accurate public reporting on human rights conditions, too often the follow-up on their findings is ineffective. The same is the case, perhaps even more striking, with the OSCE’s election-related recommendations. The organization has spent millions to send observers to elections throughout the region; these missions often yield important detailed recommendations for improving the conduct of elections the next time around. But time and time again, we see the next election approach with limited or no progress on implementation of those recommendations.

Implementation and follow-up cannot be left to the OSCE alone. It has insufficient resources and leverage to achieve significant results. Implementation must come from the linkage of OSCE recommendations to the country in question’s other bilateral and multilateral relationships, with the U.S., the European Union, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. These institutions all have a stake in the OSCE’s human dimension: the World Bank in connection with its programmatic emphasis on good governance, judicial reform, and combating corruption; the EBRD in furtherance of its charter-based commitment to democratic pluralism and the rule of law; the E.U., as a function of its Common Foreign and Security Policy commitments to promote human rights, as well as provisions of its Stabilization and Association or Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, specifying that OSCE commitments are an essential element of the cooperative relationship; and the U.S. as a function of its foreign policy commitments to promote human rights and democracy, as well as legal requirements that it do so in connection with various aspects of its aid relationships.

None of these bilateral or multilateral actors has the field presence and human rights expertise of the OSCE to develop meaningful assessments or strategies regarding the state of human rights and the rule of law. For its part, the OSCE has this expertise, but relatively meager means to induce human dimension implementation. Coordination between the OSCE and the international financial institutions and other donors is clearly essential to the OSCE’s success in the human dimension. The U.S. can enhance this coordination by taking the following steps:

· Promote the appointment of liaisons between the OSCE and donor organizations and agencies;

· Promote regular OSCE consultation with international financial institutions in connection with the development of their country assistance strategies;

· Encourage regular working contact between US embassies in the OSCE states and the resident representatives of international financial institutions;

· U.S. Executive Directors to international financial institutions should suggest or arrange briefings by OSCE heads of missions and other personnel for international financial institutions’ headquarter staff;

· U.S. Executive Directors to international financial institutions should suggest that relevant staff of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the EBRD attend relevant OSCE meetings, such as the annual human dimension implementation meeting.

Integrating the OSCE’s Human and Economic Dimensions
Many of the foregoing steps would not only strengthen the OSCE’s human dimension, but also foster integration between its human and economic dimensions. The OSCE’s comprehensive mandate has long recognized the linkage between good governance and economic development now in vogue among development economists and embraced by the Bush administration. And yet, there are only limited linkages between the OSCE’s human dimension and economic dimension institutions. To begin to help bridge this gap, the U.S. should:

· Support an OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting or Human Dimension Seminar devoted to the question of “Corruption and Human Rights.” Such a meeting could highlight the ways in which corruption is an element of many violations of human rights and how respect for human rights, particularly the rights of free media, free expression, and free association, must be an essential component of any successful effort to combat corruption.

· Encourage better coordination and joint activities between the ODIHR and the Office of the OSCE Co-ordinator on Economic and Environmental Activities.

An important opportunity to both strengthen the OSCE’s missions in Central Asia and underscore the linkages between the human and economic dimensions will present itself in May 2003, when the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development plans to hold its annual meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The Bank is mandated to invest in private sector development in countries committed to “fundamental principles of multiparty democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and market economics.” The Uzbek government’s human rights record falls well short of those standards, making the country a poor symbol for the Bank’s principles. The Bankhas emphasized that the meeting is not an endorsement of Uzbekistan’s repressive policies, but an incentive for reform. The Bank should capitalize on the expertise of the OSCE to set the agenda for that reform. The U.S. can support this approach by:

· Identifying OSCE recommendations as important benchmarks to be achieved in the run-up to the EBRD Tashkent meeting and pushing the Bank to advance them;

· Encouraging a high-profile official role for the OSCE at the Tashkent EBRD meeting, to emphasize the EBRD’s concerns about the country’s human rights record and lend impetus to the Bank’s pursuit of its political mandate;

· Including a member of the CSCE and/or a representative of the U.S. mission to the OSCE in its delegation to the EBRD meeting in Tashkent, to mark the U.S.’s commitment to the advancement of democracy and human rights as part of the Bank’s operations.

Strengthening the Human Dimension in OSCE Anti-Trafficking Initiatives
In early 1998, Human Rights Watch researchers confronted OSCE human rights officers in the field and challenged them to begin to report on trafficking in human beings. The institution has made enormous strides forward since then, providing leadership on anti-trafficking efforts in the region, and spearheading human dimension initiatives with an appropriate emphasis on the need to protect the human rights of trafficking victims.

Trafficking in persons plagues every country in the OSCE region, as destination, transit, or origin states. Recognizing this, the OSCE has served as a vehicle to garner commitments from participating states to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers and their accomplices, and protect victims. Indeed, ministerial decisions have set an ambitious agenda for combating trafficking. Inclusion of three anti-trafficking experts and advisors within the ODIHR has provided capacity for the OSCE to focus on that agenda, administering an anti-trafficking project fund, publishing a reference guide for anti-trafficking legislative review, and developing a code of conduct for all OSCE personnel.

These excellent efforts have, unfortunately, occasionally stalled with the failure of participating states to move beyond rhetoric to implementation of anti-trafficking policies, including widespread failure to ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking Protocol), supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. In addition, training of OSCE personnel in the area of trafficking in persons and enforcement of the code of conduct still lags.

To strengthen the OSCE’s anti-trafficking efforts, the U.S. should:

· Continue its support for anti-trafficking advisors and experts at the ODIHR;

· Promote enhanced training for all OSCE personnel on trafficking and other women’s human rights issues;

· Press for implementation of the Vienna and Moscow commitments and ministerial decisions on combating trafficking, including protection of the human rights of trafficking victims;

· Provide financial support for the anti-trafficking project fund to enhance OSCE’s anti-trafficking efforts in the field.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, let me thank you again for inviting me to address you. I hope that you will find in my testimony some useful ideas about how the OSCE—with its unique capacity to put the right people around the table and the right issues on the table—can continue to serve U.S. policy interests in the Eurasia region.