Chairman Smith and Members of the Commission, this is my first appearance on Capitol Hill since the August 19th bombing of the UN offices in Baghdad. Much has been said about that sad event and the loss of life that resulted. I would appreciate your indulgence in this august Congressional forum to pay tribute to Sergio de Mello and others that died in that terrorist attack who dedicated their lives to human rights and democracy work. Many of you knew Sergio de Mello, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Throughout his impressive career, Sergio invested his considerable energy and talent toward helping those who were struggling for their freedom. His loss in this violent and senseless act of terrorism is a horrible blow to the human rights and democracy community, where he had many friends and admirers. He is sorely missed.
This is the third time since the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that I have appeared before the Helsinki Commission to testify on U.S. policy toward the OSCE. In both previous testimonies I have affirmed that the United States government would prioritize and pursue human rights. Today I again affirm that human rights remains a policy priority of this Administration. As our National Security Strategy makes clear: "America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property." Indeed, the fight against terrorism is at its base a fight for human rights. As the President has said, "In our struggle against hateful groups that exploit poverty and despair, we must offer an alternative of opportunity and hope." Toward that end, the President's National Security Strategy explicitly commits the U.S. to work actively to bring democracy, development, free markets and free trade to every corner of the world. Our goals are political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with states, and respect for human dignity.
The values and commitments enumerated in the Helsinki Final Act are more important than ever. In fact, we find that respect for human rights and democratic institutions are an intrinsic tool for combating terrorism. We know that democratic states that respect the human rights of their citizens are anchors of stability and motors of prosperity. We benefit from a world of such countries, even as their citizens do. There is broad bipartisan support for promoting the value of freedom as a key element of foreign policy. Throughout the entire OSCE region, we remain steadfast in our insistence that lasting security and stability cannot be achieved by military means alone.
And so, the work of the OSCE is more important than ever. That is why we are grateful to you for holding this hearing to spotlight the developments in OSCE Participating States and OSCE deliberative bodies over the course of the past year. We also welcome this opportunity to consult on current and future activities, and look for ways to strengthen the implementation of Helsinki Final Act commitments.
The Administration is working in the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the OSCE region, especially in advancing democracy, human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law. U.S. diplomacy and programs in the OSCE region reflect our post 9/11 policy of supporting both democracy and security. We have significantly increased our democracy and human rights assistance to the frontline states of Central Asia, much of which is very closely coordinated with the OSCE or mutually reinforcing in our objectives. In all five Central Asian republics--as elsewhere in Eurasia--the United States is funding programs to support human rights activists and independent media. In select countries, our assistance goes towards political party development, civil society advocacy groups, and legal defense for embattled activists defending human rights and democracy. And we are beginning to see some pay-offs for our efforts. In my testimony today, I plan to address developments in civil society, rule of law, independent media, elections, anti-Semitism, conditions for Roma, and the treatment of human rights in some of the region's counter-terrorism operations. I will then share with you some observations about regions of concern and close with some comments about institutional concerns, at which time I will be pleased to take your questions.
Civil Society. We remain concerned by government restrictions on NGOs in the region. For example, in Belarus, a network of resource centers nurtures and provides technical assistance and training to hundreds of local grass roots organizations in towns and villages throughout Belarus. However, these groups are under constant and increasing pressure from the Lukashenko regime. Recently, the regime has taken additional steps to further suppress civil society--including NGOs and labor unions. In the Central Asia Republic of Turkmenistan we continue to have serious concerns as well about repression of NGO activity, where the Government makes it virtually impossible for NGOs to register and conduct their activities legally.
We will continue to urge the governments of the region to be more responsive to their citizens.
That said, in a majority of the OSCE countries, we see growing and increasingly vibrant civil society groups advocating for peaceful change and greater accountability by their governments. For example, in Kyrgyzstan the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, an NGO receiving US support and assistance, was able to mobilize more than 3,000 of its members to monitor balloting in the February constitutional referendum. Regrettably, in the end the process was flawed and members of the Coalition were harassed for their activities, nevertheless we applaud their courageous efforts and were pleased to see that they were able to present their findings of voting irregularities. Unfortunately, the harassment continued in the aftermath of the referendum, but we were pleased that the OSCE Head of Mission in Bishkek was at the forefront of providing high-level moral support to Edil Baisalov, the head of the Coalition, who had been singled out for government harassment.
In Uzbekistan, a country where civil society is much weaker due to greater government repression, we were nonetheless extremely encouraged by the number of NGOs and civic leaders who participated in the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) held in Tashkent in May. With the help of our implementing partner, Freedom House, 228 human rights defenders were able to attend the meeting, providing them a unique opportunity to communicate their concerns directly to the Uzbek Government and the international community. These same activists meet on a biweekly basis with representatives from our embassy and the OSCE Mission in Tashkent to discuss human rights developments in Uzbekistan. In Russia, the U.S. has supported the efforts of grassroots activists in three regions to build demand for the observance of human rights.
Rule of law. Respect for the rule of law and a well-developed justice system are the underpinnings of a democratic society and a modern economy. Unfortunately, not all OSCE participating states have developed legal institutions that protect their rights of their citizens. The Supreme Court in Kyrgyzstan recently upheld the sentence of opposition leader Felix Kulov, who was convicted on politically motivated charges. There has been no meaningful accountability for the three opposition figures and one independent journalist who disappeared in Belarus between 1999-2000. Nor has there been meaningful accountability for the independent journalists who have been murdered in Ukraine, including, most notably, Heorhiy Gongadze.
At the same time, there have been positive developments in Kazakhstan and Armenia, where the administration of prisons are now under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, where they should be per international standards. The OSCE played a tremendous role in overseeing the training of prison guards and engaging the Government of Kazakhstan to take this historic step. The Government of Kyrgyzstan is contemplating similar reform, and we urge it and other governments in the region to follow this successful model.
While tangible governmental reform to ensure due process for citizens is lacking in many OSCE countries, I am delighted to note that United States support for better defense of citizens' human rights remains strong. In Kosovo, the U.S. is funding the Criminal Defense Resource Center, which provides legal defense support for those charged with war crimes or ethnically and politically motivated crimes. U.S. funding was used to create a human rights clinic at the Tashkent Law School, the first such clinic in all of Central Asia. Implemented by the American Bar Association, a new generation of lawyers is being trained to take on hard-hitting legal cases, including allegations of torture and arbitrary detention.
Over the years, the participating states of the OSCE have committed themselves to protecting the freedom of press in numerous fora. However, not all of the participating states have turned this commitment to free press into deeds. For this reason, we welcomed the creation of the Office of the Representative for Freedom of Media; the success of that Office has meant that we have an even greater understanding of the continuing abuses and obstacles that independent media continue to face in the countries of the OSCE. These abuses range from physical attacks and threats to legal and bureaucratic harassment. Independent media in most of southern Europe and Eurasia continue to struggle against state-supported media, with national airwaves dominated by state television and radio and state newspapers enjoying subsidized printing presses and distribution networks. Legal reforms continue to lag, with state and "crony" media benefiting from, in some cases, outdated laws or, in other cases, newer laws that remain unimplemented.
A case in point is Serbia, where the illegal appointment of three members of the Broadcasting Council have forced the European Commission, European Agency for Reconstruction and OSCE to freeze the financial aid of 300,000 euros to the Council. Old habits die hard, and in Serbia, control over the media remains one of the oldest of habits. The USG is committed to working alongside the OSCE and other international partners to develop an independent and sustainable public and private media in Serba.
Our gravest concerns, of course, are physical attacks and even deaths: In Belarus, the authorities have not undertaken serious efforts to account for the disappearance and presumed murder of independent journalist Dmitry Zavadsky in 2000, and have discounted credible reports regarding the Lukashenko regime's role in his disappearance. Furthermore, free media remains under attack in Belarus. The Lukashenko regime has closed independent newspapers, and imprisoned journalists. Sadly, IREX--a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to independent media--has become one of the latest victims of the Lukashenko regime's campaign to stifle the independent media. The recent closure of IREX's office in Minsk will not undermine the USG's efforts at assisting those Belarusians willing to take risks and speak out against an abusive regime and economic malaise in Belarus.
In Ukraine, the July death of independent journalist Volodymyr Yefremov in yet another suspicious car accident, along with the 2000 disappearance and killing of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and the 2001 murder of Ihor Aleksandrov, has raised serious concerns about whether some authorities have targeted journalists specifically because of their critical political reporting. We again call on the Government of Ukraine to conduct a transparent, independent investigation resulting in meaningful accountability in these cases.
In Kazakhstan, independent journalist Sergei Duvanov remains in prison, convicted in a legal process fraught with procedural violations; the report released by Dutch experts under the auspices of the OSCE points to a lack of evidence to support his conviction, raising serious questions about the motivations behind his trial. We continue to urge the Government of Kazakhstan to ensure that Mr. Duvanov receives due process. In a similar case in Uzbekistan, independent journalist Ruslan Sharipov was recently convicted in a trial rife with irregularities, and we urge the Government of Uzbekistan to ensure that he also receives due process.
In Kyrgyzstan, the past year has seen the few existing independent newspapers struggling to stay alive. The independent newspaper, Moya Stolista, one of the most ardent critics of the Government of Kyrgyzstan, faced dozens of lawsuits filed by government officials alleging their dignity had been insulted; in the end, the exorbitant fines demanded as "damages" forced the paper to file bankruptcy. We have repeatedly told Kyrgyz officials, as other officials in the region, that as public servants the behavior of governmental officials must be held to higher standards and must be open to criticism. As a public servant, I too have been the subject of critical media reporting, a less-than-pleasant experience. But I also know how important it is for democratic pluralism to be accepting of such press. We have called upon the Government of Kyrgyzstan to rebuild its legacy of democratic progress by abolishing such criminal defamation laws.
In Armenia, government pressure on the media in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections causes serious concern about the government's commitment to a free media. For example, A1+ Television lost its frequency in Yerevan in a frequency tender process just prior to the presidential election. Tigran Naghdalyan, the Chairman of the Board of the Public Television and Radio Committee, the state broadcasting entity, was murdered on December 28, 2002, just before the presidential elections. While publicly condemned, this too raises questions among journalists especially about intimidation of the press.
Efforts to infringe on the independent media in Azerbaijan and Georgia in the run-up to elections this fall also are disturbing. For example, we are concerned by government harassment of independent and opposition newspaper editors and journalists in Azerbaijan, and of independent television station Rustavi-II in Georgia.
We also are troubled by a series of negative developments in Russia. The closure of independent broadcaster TV-6; continued pressure on NTV--culminating in the January firing of NTV CEO Boris Jordan after Putin criticized its coverage of the 2002 hostage crisis--and most recently, the closure of TVS without due process and the Duma's passage of amendments to media and other laws restricting media coverage of election campaigns leave Russia without a national, independent television broadcaster. These developments raise serious questions about the Russian Government's commitment to safeguard media freedom. On the other hand, President Putin's November 2002 veto of amendments that would have further restricted media freedom during counterterrorism operations was a positive step, as was the June extension of Radio Liberty's license for another five years.
Democratic elections remain the cornerstone of a democratic society; they are the primary source of legitimacy for any government. Unfortunately, many OSCE participating states have failed to live up to their OSCE election commitments. This makes the work of ODIHR to monitor and comment on elections even more important, and we support their efforts to provide constructive recommendations so that governments can improve their election process. Indeed, with OSCE involvement, in the Balkans, progress was made towards free and fair elections and increased ownership of the election process. The May presidential election in Montenegro met OSCE standards after two failed attempts to elect a new president due to insufficient voter turnout. While still maintaining an advisory role, the OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) will transfer operational responsibility for elections to a permanent secretariat of the Central Election Commission (CEC). This transfer of responsibility will give Kosovo greater ownership of its future elections.
Elsewhere in the region, however, the record is not so hopeful. Last December in Kazakhstan, we witnessed flawed parliamentary by-elections where opposition candidates were either prevented from running or obvious manipulation of vote counting took place. Kazakhstan has local elections scheduled for the end of this month and we hope that the Government of Kazakhstan will not exert improper influence. Even more important, we call upon the Government of Kazakhstan to fulfill its promise to incorporate key ODIHR recommendations in its draft election legislation; only then will Kazakhstani citizens be assured of their right to change their government through free and fair elections. We are concerned by a provision in the Government's draft law limiting the activities of foreign-funded media and domestic observers.
Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan conducted constitutional referendums this year, as did Azerbaijan last year, that were not only flawed in process, but also in their substance. None of these processes allowed for sufficient public participation nor sufficient time for meaningful debate of the issues. Unfortunately, the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan failed to issue a timely invitation to ODIHR in order to allow international monitoring. More importantly, the outcome of these flawed referenda is likely to weaken the protection of human rights in their countries; we urge the Governments of Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan to work closely with ODIHR and the OSCE field missions to ensure that any legislation drafted as a result of the new constitutional amendments is compliant with OSCE commitments. Indeed, the U.S. stands ready to fund an ODIHR expert to be based in Bishkek to review legislative drafts and provide technical expertise to ensure such compliance, but only if the Government of Kyrgyzstan ensures its full cooperation in such an activity.
Important elections are scheduled in the near future in all the Central Asian republics, and in each case we call upon the governments to uphold OSCE and other international standards, particularly in ensuring electoral legislation meets OSCE and other international standards, including the establishment of independent election commissions and allowing for unhindered domestic and international election observation. We are pleased that President Akayev has again stated that in keeping with requirements of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, he will not run again for President; and we therefore look forward to the first peaceful change in government in the region. We hope it will also be democratic.
Moving to the Caucasus countries, Armenia's leadership missed an important opportunity to advance democratization when its presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year were marred by serious irregularities and manipulation. They also have not held accountable those responsible for the electoral fraud. Azerbaijan's and Georgia's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections will be crucial to the democratic development of those countries. We have made clear to both that to achieve long-term political stability; it is essential that these elections meet OSCE and other international standards to confer legitimacy on the election results. We are providing technical assistance and vigorous diplomatic efforts toward this end, but ultimately, the crucial element will be political will within these countries. As is the case for Central Asia, particularly important will be a level playing field for candidates, independent election commissions, unhindered domestic and international election observation, and prompt publication of election results at all precincts. Continued progress on strengthening democratic institutions through free and fair elections will be crucial to sustaining a multi-dimensional relationship, and indeed, a partnership, with the United States.
How the government of Ukraine conducts its presidential election in Fall 2004 will significantly affect U.S. attitudes towards Ukraine's suitability to integrate into Euro-Atlantic and European institutions. For Ukraine to have a serious claim for membership, an election that fully meets OSCE standards is a must.
Russia will hold parliamentary elections this December, and a presidential election next year. Recent actions against Yukos and other businesses raise concerns about politically motivated moves designed to reign in Russia's businessmen ahead of these upcoming elections. We also are concerned by recent reports that the Russian government plans to reorganize the independent, commercially viable state-owned polling agency VTsIOM in advance of the elections. This reorganization has been depicted as part of the government's program to privatize state enterprises, but the new board of directors will comprise largely government bureaucrat-appointees from the presidential administration and the ministerial apparatus.
Russia will hold a presidential election in Chechnya on October 5. Holding a democratic election in the current environment in Chechnya would be extremely difficult. Nonetheless, we would not want to rule out the possibility that the election could potentially contribute to the end of the conflict. However, senior U.S. officials continue to stress to Russian officials that Russia must halt the continuing violence against civilians and bring violators to account. If they don't, the political solution that Russia seeks--in part through this election--will not succeed.
Anti-Semitism in OSCE Participating States
The increasing incidence of anti-Semitic activity directed against individuals and Jewish community sites in Europe is of deep concern. This is as much so in what we used to call "Western Europe," as in the East. NGOs and the press have reported an increase over the previous year in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Russia and Belarus. European leaders -- Blair, Chirac, Schroeder, Putin -- have condemned these incidents in the strongest possible terms, in some cases, increasing the police presence around Jewish sites as necessary. We appreciate these efforts, but believe more actions are necessary, including more arrests and programs to promote tolerance for all ethnic groups and religions.
This Administration is actively engaging all foreign governments at the highest levels to address anti-Semitic activity. President Bush expressed his concern about anti-Semitism in Europe on the eve of the U.S.-EU Summit and sent a letter to the conference, and we have intensified our engagement with our Western European partners on this issue as can be seen in the Administration's support for the OSCE first ever stand-alone meeting on Anti-Semitism this past June. Our delegation, led by Mayor Rudolf Giuliani and you, Chairman Smith, provided a prime opportunity to bring well-deserved, high-level political attention to the presence of anti-Semitism throughout the OSCE region, including in the U.S., and to develop a regional action agenda in such areas as legislation, law enforcement, education, and media to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms. This will set the stage for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to be held in Warsaw, Poland, in early October 2003, which will have a special session dedicated to "Prevention of Racism, Xenophobia, Discrimination, and Anti-Semitism."
We welcome your efforts and those of your colleagues to ensure that the United States is actively engaged in opposing all forms of anti-Semitism, both at home and abroad.
We consider the situation of the Roma and Sinti minority to be a serious concern. Roma face societal intolerance and violence, police brutality, and systematic discrimination in education, employment and housing, particularly in post-communist countries. This was highlighted in the January 2003 OSCE publication of Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia, which maintained through extensive interviews that the practice of forced and coerced sterilization of Roma women continues today. The OSCE is combating discrimination against Roma through the continued engagement of the High Commissioner for National Minorities (HCNM) on Roma issues, working closely with and in support of the OSCE Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues (CPRSI). The Contact Point is the premier clearinghouse for information, source of advice, and a channel of communication among governments, NGOs and the Roma themselves. We were pleased to participate in the April Special OSCE Meeting on Roma and Sinti Issues. We closely monitor and report on this situation in our Country Reports and work bilaterally to urge governments to dedicate necessary resources and expertise to the Roma issue and to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and investigate crimes.
Combatting Terrorism And Respecting Human Rights
The Russian government continues to justify its military action in Chechnya as part of the international war against terrorism. However, on the ground, numerous credible reports of serious human rights abuses and atrocities committed by federal forces--including extra-judicial killing, disappearance, torture, rape and arbitrary detention--emerge frequently after Russian security sweeps. Such actions are not consistent with international humanitarian law or Russia's OSCE and international human rights commitments. Thus far, there has been little meaningful accountability. However, in a major test case for accountability, a military court in July found Colonel Yuri Budanov guilty of murdering a young Chechen woman. The ruling was a victory for human rights, although the 10-year prison sentence was a relatively lenient punishment for murder in Russia. On the other hand, individuals and organizations seeking accountability for abuses in Chechnya--such as Imran Ezhiev of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, a grantee of the National Endowment of Democracy--have become the targets of government forces. Unfortunately, the Government refused to renew an agreement with the OSCE Assistance Group in December that would have permitted it to continue its human rights monitoring in Chechnya.
In Uzbekistan, above all else, we call upon the Government of Uzbekistan to distinguish between action and belief when targeting religious extremists. We have continued to remind the Government that fighting terrorism cannot come at the expense of respect for human rights.
Regions of concern:
In recent years, Southeastern Europe has made great improvements in human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, and the OSCE has played a major role in achieving these results. Progress has been made on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) but many more lack the opportunity to return because their property is occupied or destroyed, legislative support is weak or absent, or their security cannot be guaranteed. Challenges remain, however. Several key indicted war criminals remain at large and significant rule of law reform is needed to ensure equal access of all citizens to protection under the law. The U.S. continues to provide assistance to promote civil society, good governance, effective rule of law, political parties and free media, and to strengthen regional efforts to combat transnational threats of organized crime and trafficking in persons, drugs, and weapons.
Unfortunately, other areas of the OSCE have not made such progress. As I have been particularly engaged with Central Asia, I will share some general observations about these countries.
Last year I noted that the countries of Central Asia presented a very mixed picture; unfortunately, the situation remains largely unchanged. Tajikistan had made some notable gains last year, including the licensing of Dushanbe's first independent radio and in December, another opposition party was registered, the first since the signing of the 1997 peace agreement. Unfortunately, this seeming progress was halted in June's flawed constitutional referendum, as noted above. We remain especially concerned because the referendum leaves open the possibility that President Rahmonov may try to remain in office for another 14 years.
In Kyrgyzstan, in addition to our concerns about the flawed constitutional referendum and the decline in media freedom, we remain troubled by the apparent lack of government accountability for last year's killing of five unarmed protesters. I was pleased to note in our 2002 Human Rights Report that four local law enforcement officers were convicted for their role in the killings; unfortunately, those four officers were released in May after their convictions were overturned. Such tragic deaths cannot go unaccounted for, and without such accountability the rule of law will remain beyond reach for the people of Kyrgyzstan.
In Kazakhstan, we remain concerned after a year of setbacks. After the stringent party registration law went into effect in March, the number of registered political parties declined from 19 to four and harassment of independent media reached its peak with the conviction of independent journalist Sergei Duvanov as discussed above. We are hopeful that the Government of Kazakhstan can redress those setbacks by enacting media, NGO and electoral legislation that meets OSCE commitments. We were extremely pleased that imprisoned opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov was released in May; however, we regret that he felt compelled to renounce any further political activities. We urge the Government of Kazakhstan to address the lack of due process for Mr. Duvanov and the remaining imprisoned opposition leader, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Almaty in January last year shortly before he was arrested.
In Uzbekistan, we have been disappointed by the very mixed record on human rights, including religious freedom. While there have been small but significant steps in the past year, including the registration of a second human rights NGO, release of some political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, and generally good cooperation with the visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, all of this progress was negated in May by the two deaths in custody. To date there has not been credible accountability for these deaths. The latest events, including the conviction of independent journalist Ruslan Sharipov, the severe beating of his defense lawyer, Surat Ikramov, and the threats to International Crisis Group Analyst Azizulla Gaziev and his family, call into question the Government of Uzbekistan's commitment to human rights. Without addressing these individual cases and taking concrete action to implement the Special Rapporteur's recommendations, such as legislating habeas corpus to protect the rights of the detained, it will be difficult to advance U.S. relations with Uzbekistan to meet their potential.
Lastly, I turn to Turkmenistan, a country whose extremely poor human rights record has only worsened since I last testified. After a pause of almost a year, it is once again suppressing religious freedom. The Government of Turkmenistan has taken the pretext of the attack on the President's motorcade to effectively squash through brutal suppression any remaining sliver of opposition and civil society within the country. There have been show trials, forced confessions, and sweeping arrests of anyone remotely connected to those suspected of participating the attack. Despite the damning report written by the OSCE Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan and the passing of a resolution on Turkmenistan at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Government of Turkmenistan has done nothing to address the concerns of these bodies, such as allowing international access to prisoners or revoking the re-imposition of exit visas. We express our gratitude to the OSCE Mission in Ashgabat for keeping hope alive for innocent citizens in Turkmenistan by courageously continuing to meet with families of the accused and with civil society activists.
Finally, I would like to speak directly to institutional aspects of the OSCE. The U.S. continues to value very highly the annual Human Dimension Implementation meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw as well as the human rights-related supplemental meetings throughout the year. Last year, I was not able to attend but did send my Deputy, Scott Carpenter. I am very pleased to say that I will be attending this year and look forward to meeting with as many of my counterparts as possible. The HDIM represents a unique opportunity for NGOs and government officials to meet face-to-face and for NGOs to speak out and openly criticize their governments. For some human rights activists, the Warsaw meeting represents the only possibility for them to do so. We also welcome the gathering of government officials from the region as an occasion for the USG to name the names of those courageous human rights defenders who are being harassed and persecuted by their governments because of their activities, activities which are vitally important for accountability.
In closing, I'd like to thank you for holding this hearing. It is very helpful that Commission Members are dedicated to these issues. I would also like to stress the valuable contribution that the staff of the Helsinki Commission makes to the OSCE process and these important meetings. I look forward to working closely with you in the coming year.