Justice at Home
Promoting human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption abroad can only be possible if the United States lives up to its values at home. By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the United States committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, even under the most challenging circumstances. However, like other OSCE participating States, the United States sometimes struggles to foster racial and religious equity, counter hate and discrimination, defend fundamental freedoms, and hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. The Helsinki Commission works to ensure that U.S. practices align with the country’s international commitments and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, racial and religious profiling, and other criminal justice practices; the conduct of elections; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
OSCE Election Observation
In 1990, OSCE participating States pledged to hold free and fair elections and to invite foreign observers to observe its elections. Elections observation has since been recognized as one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage States’ commitment to democratic standards and has become a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. In 2020 alone, the OSCE has been invited to observe elections in nearly 20 OSCE participating States (Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, Iceland, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Monogolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and the United States).* History of OSCE Election Observation All OSCE participating States have committed to holding democratic elections that meet the same basic standards: universal access, equality, fairness, freedom, transparency, accountability, and privacy in voter submission. Because violations of these commitments can endanger stability in the OSCE region, as well as within an individual country, OSCE nations also agreed to open their elections to observers from other participating countries. To encourage compliance and confidence in the results of the observation missions, countries agreed to observe elections together under the OSCE umbrella. Since the 1990s, OSCE election observers have been present at more than 300 elections throughout the OSCE region. While some OSCE countries benefit from foreign observation more than others – especially those that formerly had one-party communist systems and little experience with democracy – the OSCE also observes elections in more established and stable democracies, such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Even these countries can benefit from consideration of the objective conclusions of those with an outside, comparative perspective. Perhaps more important, observation across the OSCE region removes any sense of stigmatization associated with the repeated hosting of election observation missions as well as any argument against hosting by those political leaders in some countries who continue to resist holding even reasonably free and fair elections. As one of the original 35 members of the OSCE, the United States has participated actively in OSCE election observation missions, both by providing observers for foreign elections as well as by inviting the OSCE to observe every general and midterm election since 2002. Election Observation Methodology ODIHR's election monitoring methodology takes account of the situation before, during, and after an election. All aspects of the electoral process are considered, to include a review of the legal framework; the performance of elections officials; the conduct of campaigns; the media environment and equitable media access; the complaints and appeals process; voting, counting, and tabulation; and the announcement of results. Recently, ODIHR has further expanded its methodology to explore the participation of women and national minorities. Election Observers OSCE election observation missions often are undertaken jointly by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). A typical election observation mission comprises around 12 core team members, as well as several dozen long-term observers and several hundred short-term observers. The missions, which combine strong technical expertise and sound political judgement, include ODIHR officials, professional analysts, parliamentarians, and others on loan from OSCE member countries. To ensure that no single country’s point of view is overrepresented, the OSCE limits the number of observers from any one country. No matter where they are from, observers commit to an election observation code of conduct, which limits their role to observing and reporting. Observers have no authority to instruct, assist, or interfere in the voting, counting, tabulation, or other aspects of the electoral process. Election Observation, Reporting, and Recommendations Ahead of the elections, observers receive briefings from the host government, political parties, civil society, and media representatives. Long-term observers also follow pre-election activities including candidate and voter registration, political campaigns, and media coverage. On Election Day, two-person teams of short-term observers fan out across the country to observe the conduct of the election, including opening of polling stations; checking whether ballot boxes are empty and properly sealed; the counting of ballots; the handling of spoiled or unused ballots; and the transmission of polling station results. Observers monitor how voters are processed, the accuracy of voter registries, and whether voters are able to vote in secret and in an environment that is free from intimidation. After the elections, long-term observers note how electoral complaints and appeals are handled. The OSCE election observation mission publishes preliminary findings immediately after the elections, with a final comprehensive report issued a few weeks later. The final report includes in-depth analysis of the election’s political context and legislative framework; election administration; voter and candidate registration; the election campaign; the media; participation of women and national minorities; and the voting, counting, and tabulation processes. Impact The OSCE methodology represents the global standard for quality election observation. By analyzing election-related laws and systems, as well as the effectiveness of their implementation, election observation missions help document whether elections in OSCE countries are free and fair for voters and candidates alike. Its expertise has been shared with other regional organizations, and the OSCE has contributed to observation efforts outside the OSCE region. The Helsinki Commission Contribution The U.S. Helsinki Commission was the first to propose concrete commitments regarding free and fair elections more than a year before they were adopted by the OSCE in June 1990. By that time, Commissioners and staff had already observed the conduct of the first multi-party elections in seven East and Central European countries transitioning from one-party communist states to functioning democracies. As the OSCE developed its institutional capacities in the mid-1990s, the Commission joined the efforts of an increasing number of observer teams from across the OSCE region, which evolved into the well-planned, professional election observation missions of today. Commissioners and staff have observed well over 100 elections since 1990. More broadly speaking, the United States support OSCE observation efforts, to include deployment of civilian, parliamentary, and diplomatic observers abroad, but also supporting OSCE’s observation of domestic elections, with a focus on countries where resistance to democratic change remains the strongest. Learn More Elections: OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly * Following Needs Assessment Missions designed to assess the situation and determine the scale of a potential observation activity in a particular country, election observation was deemed unnecessary in some cases.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a resolution on the disturbing state of democratization and human rights in Central Asia. As is evident from many sources, including the State Department's annual reports on human rights, non-governmental organizations, both in the region and the West, and the work of the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, Central Asia has become the “black hole” of human rights in the OSCE space.
True, not all Central Asia countries are equal offenders. Kyrgyzstan has not joined its neighbors in eliminating all opposition, tightly censoring the media and concentrating all power in the hands of the president, though there are tendencies in that direction, and upcoming elections in 2000 may bring out the worst in President Akaev. But elsewhere, the promise of the early 1990's, when the five Central Asian countries along with all former Soviet republics were admitted to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has not been realized.
Throughout the region, super-presidents pay lip service to OSCE commitments and to their own constitutional provisions on separation of powers, while dominating the legislative and judicial branches, crushing or thwarting any opposition challenges to their factual monopoly of power, and along with their families and favored few, enjoying the benefits of their countries' wealth. Indeed, though some see the main problem of Central Asia through the prism of real or alleged Islamic fundamentalism, the Soviet legacy, or poverty, I am convinced that the essence of the problem is more simple and depressing: presidents determined to remain in office for life must necessarily develop repressive political systems.
To justify their campaign to control society, Central Asian leaders constantly point to their own national traditions and argue that democracy must be built slowly. Some Western analysts, I am sorry to say, have bought this idea, in some cases, quite literally, by acting as highly paid consultants to oil companies and other business concerns. But, Mr. Speaker, building democracy is an act of political will above all. You have to want to do it. If you don't, all the excuses in the world and all the state institutions formed in Central Asia ostensibly to promote human rights will remain simply window dressing.
Moreover, the much-vaunted stability offered by such systems is shaky. The refusal of leaders to allow turnover at the top or newcomers to enter the game means that outsiders have no stake in the political process and can imagine coming to power or merely sharing in the wealth only be extra-constitutional methods. For some of those facing the prospect of permanent exclusion, especially as living standards continue to fall, the temptation to resort to any means possible to change the rules of the game, may be overwhelming. Most people, however, will simply opt out of the political system in disillusionment and despair.
Against this general context, without doubt, the most repressive countries are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan's President Niyazov, in particular, has created a virtual North Korea in post-Soviet space, complete with his own bizarre cult of personality. Turkmenistan is the only country in the former Soviet bloc that remains a one-party state. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, has five parties but all of them are government-created and controlled. Under President Islam Karimov, no opposition parties or movements have been allowed to function since 1992. In both countries, communist-era controls on the media remain in place. The state, like its Soviet predecessor, prevents society from influencing policy or expressing its views and keeps the population intimidated through omnipresent secret police forces. Neither country observes the most fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion, or permits any electoral challenges to its all-powerful president.
Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has played a more clever game. Pressed by the OSCE and Western capitals, he has formally permitted opposition parties to function, and they did take part in the October 10 parliamentary election. But once again, a major opposition figure was not able to participate, and OSCE/ODIHR monitors, citing many shortcomings, have criticized the election as flawed. In general, the ability of opposition and society to influence policymaking is marginal at best. At the same time, independent and opposition media have been bought, coopted or intimidated out of existence or into cooperation with the authorities, and those few that remain are under severe pressure.
Tajikistan suffered a devastating civil war in the early 1990's. In 1997, war-weariness and a military stalemate led the disputants to a peace accord and a power-sharing agreement. But though the arrangement had promise, it now seems to be falling apart, as opposition contenders for the presidency have been excluded from the race and the major opposition organization has decided to suspend participation in the work of the National Reconciliation Commission.
Mr. Speaker, along with large-scale ethnic conflicts like Kosovo or Bosnia, and unresolved low-level conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, I believe the systemic flouting of OSCE commitments on democratization and human rights in Central Asia is the single greatest problem facing the OSCE. For that reason, I am introducing this resolution expressing concern about the general trends in the region, to show Central Asian presidents that we are not taken in by their facade, and to encourage the disheartened people of Central Asia that the United States stands for democracy. The resolution calls on Central Asian countries to come into compliance with OSCE commitments on democracy and human rights , and encourages the Administration to raise with other OSCE states the implications for OSCE participation of countries that engage in gross and uncorrected violation of freely accepted commitments on human rights . Mr. Speaker, I hope my colleagues will join me, Mr. Hoyer, and Mr. Forbes in this effort and we welcome their support.