By Helsinki Commission Staff
From September 23 to October 4, 2013, 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 (ODIHR) according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 57 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 2013, those subjects were: 1) freedom of religion or belief, 2) freedom of assembly and association, and 3) democratic elections and election observation — sharing best practices.
The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador Robert Bradtke. Newly confirmed U.S. Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Ambassador Daniel Baer also participated. (During the HDIM, meetings of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna are suspended to facilitate participation by members of permanent missions to the OSCE in the Warsaw meeting.) Other members of the U.S. Delegation included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas O. Melia, Special Envoy for Combating Anti-Semitism Ira Forman, and Co-Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Katrina Lantos Swett. Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Fred L. Turner and other Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work.
Gavin Weise from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems served as a public member on the issue of democratic elections and election observation. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the delegation’s work and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society.
This Year’s Meeting
As the meeting opened, the high-profile case of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko remained unresolved, casting a pall on Ukraine’s OSCE Chairmanship. GOLOS, a Russian NGO that reports on the integrity of elections in Russia, remained suspended in a wave of increased repression; Russian representatives protested against GOLOS participation at the HDIM. Former political prisoner and RFE/RL correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was not allowed to leave Turkmenistan to participate in the HDIM. Kazakhstani businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov and several of his former colleagues were held in various countries on the request of the government of Kazakhstan – while his wife and daughter were illegally deported from Italy to Kazakhstan.
The U.S. statements from the HDIM, raising these and many other specific cases of concern, are available on the website of the U.S. mission to the OSCE (osce.usmission.gov).
During the meeting, the United States held bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with civil society. In addition, the United States organized a side event focused on one of this year’s special topics, freedom of association and assembly, with a panel of activists from the Civil Society Platform: Yevgeniy Zhovtis, International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (Kazakhstan), Valeria Rybok from the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine), Dmitri Makarov from the International Youth Human Rights Initiative (Russia), Aleh Hulak, Belarusian Helsinki Commission, and Rasul Jafarov from the Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan). Speakers described many negative trends across Eurasian and Central Asian states, including onerous registration requirements for civil society organizations, restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, and prosecutions of protestors. The panel and other attendees also emphasized the importance of a network through which regional civil society organizations could share experiences and effective activities.
Other side events were organized by ODIHR, participating States, and NGOs including Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, the Open Society Foundations, and the German Marshall Fund. As at past HDIM meetings, some concerns were raised about the United States, including at side events focused on the abolition of the death penalty and on human rights and counterterrorism (which touched on Guantánamo, drones, and surveillance/privacy issues).
Switzerland held a side event during the HDIM to preview its goals for its 2014 tandem chairmanship (with Serbia taking the lead in 2015). Switzerland indicated that its two over-arching human dimension priorities will be to enhance the involvement of civil society and to strengthen the implementation of human dimension commitments. During what promises to be an active and ambitious chairmanship, Switzerland plans to hold four regional workshops with civil society in Southeast Europe, the Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, and Western Europe.
During the regular working sessions, several concerns were raised repeatedly, including violence against journalists, harassment of NGOs and restrictive NGO registration laws, and government actions against religious groups portrayed by some governments as non-traditional. Russia received significant criticism over its Foreign Agents law. (There also were a number of apparently Russian-sponsored “NGOs” which criticized the United States, supported independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and hewed to anti-Baltic state themes.)
Problems in Central Asia received considerable attention, including the disappearance of some prisoners in Turkmenistan and the cases of Vladimir Kozlov and Mukhtar Ablyazov in Kazakhstan. During the HDIM, the NGO Crude Accountability and the Civic Solidarity Platform launched a project called “Prove that They are Alive.” Designed to follow up on the 2003 invocation of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism with Turkmenistan, the initiative is intended to compel the government of Turkmenistan to inform the families of those imprisoned in connection with an alleged coup attempt in 2002 whether their loved ones are still alive.
As at previous HDIMs, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic. Of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of tolerance and non-discrimination was the most oversubscribed. This session included discussion of the implementation of existing OSCE hate crimes commitments; combating anti-Semitism, intolerance against Muslims and other religious groups; racism and xenophobia; and anti-LGBT bigotry manifested through, in particular, “gay propaganda” laws. In such oversubscribed sessions, speaking time was strictly curtailed to accommodate the dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused.
Notably, Thailand, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation, actively participated in this year’s HDIM, perhaps in order to bolster its application to become a full OSCE participating State.