Title

Central Asia and the Arab Spring: Growing Pressure for Human Rights?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
2322 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Alcee Hastings
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
The Honorable Robert O. Blake
Title: 
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
Body: 
Department of State
Name: 
Dr. Stephen J. Blank
Title: 
Professor of National Security Affairs, Strategic Studies Institute
Body: 
United States Army War College
Name: 
Mr. Paul Goble
Title: 
Professor
Body: 
Institute of World Politics
Name: 
Dr. Scott Radnitz
Title: 
Assistant Professor, Jackson School of International Studies
Body: 
University of Washington
Name: 
Mr. Gulam Umarov
Body: 
Sunshine Coalition, Uzbekistan

Popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, along with ferment in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria, surprised even expert analysts and shook the very foundations not just of the states concerned but of the entire region. The long authoritarian rule of leaders in the region had been accepted by many as a factor of stability. In the end, however, public anger erupted over regimes that had been in power for decades, enriching themselves and their cronies, while most citizens barely scraped by.

Many of these conditions apply to the states of Central Asia, with the partial exception of Kyrgyzstan – where street protests have toppled two presidents since 2005 and last year the country established a parliamentary government. Although the situation is unique in each Central Asian country, the region’s states have human rights records that are consistently poor, and some are listed among the most repressive countries in the world.  Rulers have contrived to remain in office indefinitely, controlled and rigged elections, restricted independent media and religious freedom, harassed opposition parties – where they exist at all—and stunted the development of civil society. Torture and mistreatment in detention are common in the region.

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    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Overview From September 26 to October 7, 2011, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 56 participating States. The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights gathering and provides a venue for participating States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the implementation of the full range of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. In 2011, those subjects were: 1) “Democratic elections and electoral observation,” 2) “Freedom of movement,” and 3) “Enhancing implementation of OSCE commitments regarding Roma and Sinti.” U.S. Delegation The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador David Johnson. Other members of the delegation included Ambassador Ian Kelly, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Cynthia Efird, Senior State Department Advisor to the Helsinki Commission; Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia. Helsinki Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. Patrick Merloe, National Democratic Institute, Kathleen Newland, Migration Policy Institute, and Ethel Brooks, Rutgers University, served as Public Members of the delegation, addressing democratic elections, freedom of movement, and the situation of Romani people in the OSCE region respectively. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the U.S. delegations and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society. Highlights of This Year’s Meeting The severe crackdown in Belarus which followed elections last December was a focus of attention throughout the two-week meeting, both in formal sessions and special side events. During the final session, the United States delivered a statement focused on the use of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Belarus -- an OSCE tool used in exceptional circumstances to conduct fact-finding regarding extreme human rights concerns. The mechanism had been invoked in April by 14 participating States and a report was presented to the OSCE Permanent Council by the Mechanism Rapporteur, Professor Emmanuel Decaux, on May 28. NGOs also demonstrated throughout the meeting on behalf of Belarusian political prisoner Alex Bielatskiy. The United States also raised issues which remain unresolved following the 2003 invocation of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Turkmenistan. In particular, Ambassador Johnson drew attention to the continued disappearance of Ambassador Batyr Berdiev, the former representative of Turkmenistan to the OSCE. Although Turkmenistan officials did not to participate in the HDIM, human rights groups concerned with Turkmenistan were present and members of the opposition-in-exile made a statement expressing their willingness to return to Turkmenistan and participate in the February 2012 presidential elections. They also called for the OSCE to conduct a full election observation mission for those elections. In its opening statement, the United States observed that Kazakhstan had failed to fully implement the commitments on domestic reform it had made in 2007 in Madrid upon receiving the Chairmanship for 2010, that leading human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis remained in prison as a result of a trial that lacked due process, that Kazakhstan had adopted measures in a one-party parliament giving the current president continued power and immunity from prosecution for life and had held a poorly-conducted snap presidential election following an attempt to push through a referendum to obviate future elections for the incumbent. Although Kazakhstan protested the U. S. characterization of 2010 as “a year of missed opportunities for reform,” Kazakhstan’s adoption of a new restrictive religion law during the course of the human dimension meeting illustrated the very point the United States was making. In fact, of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of religious liberties was the most oversubscribed, with Kazakhstan’s new religion law generating particular criticism. As at previous meetings, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic, with speaking time at some of the sessions limited to only one or two minutes to accommodate dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused. Other real-time developments during the HDIM also found their way into discussions. Following the outbreak of fighting on September 27 at a Kosovo border crossing with Serbia, Serbian representatives at the meeting engaged in a sharply worded exchange with Albanian officials. (Serbia's engagement at the meeting was of particular note in light of Belgrade's bid to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2014.) The outbreak of anti-Roma rioting in every major Bulgarian town or city during the HDIM underscored the urgency of addressing the chronic human rights problems affecting Roma as well as the acute and escalating crises. Many participants also raised concern regarding continuing human rights abuses against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in the wake of widespread violence last year and in advance of Kyrgyzstani elections in October. During the formal sessions, NGOs demonstrated on behalf of Kyrgyzstani political prisoner Azhimzhon Askarov. The United States engaged fully in all aspects of the meeting, holding bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with NGOs. The United States also organized two side events. The first focused on on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Professor Louise Teitz from the Hague Permanent Bureau (an intergovernmental organization that administers this and other Hague Conventions), and Corrin Ferber from the Department of State, made presentations, with additional comments provided by Consul General Linda Hoover, U.S. Embassy Warsaw. The second event focused on fundamental freedoms in the digital age. DAS Thomas Melia moderated the discussion, which included comments by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic; Agata Waclik-Wejman, policy counsel for Google; and Nataliya Radzina, a Belarusian journalist who faces a lengthy prison sentence in Belarus. Conclusions The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting served as an important forum for the United States to raise issues of concern, both formally and informally, and to hold extensive consultations with governments, OSCE officials, and representatives of civil society. That said, this year's HDIM was somewhat diminished relative to past meetings. First, member states of the European Union appeared divided or preoccupied (or both). As a consequence, on a number of subjects – for example, the session that included migrant workers, refugees, and displaced persons -- there was neither a coordinated European Union statement nor statements by individual EU member states speaking in their national capacity. This voice was missed. Second, the level of participation on the part of governments as well as civil society was reduced. This may be in part due to economic factors. But it may also reflect other factors. Prior to the HDIM, for example, Belarus and Russia dragged out the adoption of an agenda until the last possible moment, making it especially hard for NGOs to plan their participation. In addition, OSCE has, in recent years, scheduled so many human dimension meetings throughout the year that it is difficult for government and non-governmental experts to cover them all. (In addition to the discussion of tolerance and non-discrimination at the HDIM, those issues have been or will be addressed at three different ad hoc meetings, as well as one of the Supplementary Human Dimension Implementation Meetings.) The Lithuanian Chairmanship also scheduled some meetings in Vienna during the HDIM, although the modalities call for all Vienna meetings to be suspended during the HDIM to facilitate participation by the representatives to the OSCE. Similarly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly fall meeting overlapped with the final sessions of the HDIM. In fact, the modalities for the OSCE's human dimension activities were a dominant theme during the HDIM's closing session -- presaging the opening of discussions in Vienna on that issue held immediately after the HDIM at the insistence of Belarus. While many governments, including the U.S., believe the way in which the OSCE organizes its human dimension activities could be improved, the discussions themselves risk being held hostage by those countries inimical to the OSCE's human rights work.

  • International Human Rights Day 2011 (Cardin)

    Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I rise today to mark International Human Rights Day, a day which celebrates the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. In the immediate after math of World War II, and reacting with revulsion to the horrors of that global war and the Holocaust, the community of nations organized itself with the goal of protecting international peace and security. Although the United Nations founding Charter recognized the protection of human rights as one of the UN's most basic purposes, it was quickly recognized that it would be necessary to further elaborate these fundamental freedoms in order to ensure their protection. The resulting document--the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--has since served as the foundation upon which all other human rights work at the international level has stood. It remains to this day an enduring guide for human rights advocates around the globe. This has been an exciting and dramatic year that will be remembered for the triumphs of the Arab Spring. The fall of so many dictators who have been responsible for the deaths, torture, and other atrocities meted out against so many has opened up the exhilarating prospect of real reform and meaningful human rights improvements. But the final chapter of the Arab Spring has not yet been written, and nothing can be taken for granted. Progress in this field is not necessarily linear. As Ronald Reagan said in his inaugural address, "Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.'' I believe it is especially critical, at this historic moment, for the United States to remain vigilant in the protection and promotion of human rights--abroad and at home. Overseas, the United States must continue to use our voice to speak on behalf of those silenced by brutal regimes. We must continue to lift up those who cannot stand on their own. And while we must inevitably pursue a multifaceted foreign-policy that advances American goals in a broad range of areas including hard security and the economy, we must never treat human rights as something expendable. I take particular note of the countries that stand shoulder to shoulder with us in that effort. I welcome Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski's call for a ``European endowment for democracy,'' similar to the National Endowment for Democracy which the United States has supported since 1983. I commend Poland for the leadership it has shown on human rights issues during its presidency of the European Union. In all of these efforts, the role of civil society remains critical. On the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations adopted a declaration on the rights of human rights defenders. They are the first line of defense and they often pay the highest price. There are, unfortunately, too many cases of human rights defenders who are imprisoned, persecuted or worse, for me to raise them all here. But I would like to mention one in particular that maybe emblematic of many others: the case of Evgenii Zhovtis, Kazakhstan's most well-known human rights activist. Zhovtis is the Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law and even a member of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' panel of experts on freedom of assembly. But he was involved in a tragic car accident in which a pedestrian was killed and, after a trial widely condemned for lacking due process, he was sentenced in 2009 to 4 years in prison. A year ago, at the OSCE Summit in Astana, civil society activists called for Zhovtis' release. As one NGO participant remarked: Evgenii is the human rights Everyman. If this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. A year later, Evgenii Zhovtis remains in a Siberian penal colony, even as Kazakhstan prepares to host an OSCE election observation mission. In the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I once again urge President Nazarbayev to review his case and to release him. Thank you.

  • Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

    By most accounts, and thanks to the work of many courageous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the despicable evil of anti-Semitism has decreased in most parts of the OSCE region in recent years – but it still remains at higher levels than in 2000. This is simply unacceptable, and it was the topic discussed in this hearing. Concerns raised included political transitions in the Arab world and how they might affect Muslim-Jewish relations, including in Europe; the importance of engagement with Muslim communities in Europe; and growing nationalist and extremist movements that target religious and ethnic minorities.  Additionally the roles of the OSCE, U.S. government, and Congress in addressing continuing issues of anti-Semitism at home and abroad were discussed.

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