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.
Mr. Speaker, ten years ago, on July 16th 1990, the Supreme Soviet (parliament) of the Ukrainian S.S.R. adopted a far-reaching Declaration on State Sovereignty of Ukraine. The overwhelming vote of 355 for and four against was a critical and demonstrative step towards independence, as Ukraine was at that time a republic of the Soviet Union.
The Declaration, inspired by the democratic movement Rukh whose key members were veterans of the Helsinki movement seeking greater rights and freedoms, proclaimed Ukraine's state sovereignty and stressed the Republic's intention of controlling its own affairs. Ukraine and its people were identified as the sole source of state authority in the republic, and they alone were to determine their own destiny. The Declaration asserted the primacy of Ukraine's legislation over Soviet laws and established the right of Ukraine to create its own currency and national bank, raise its own army, maintain relations with foreign countries, collect tariffs, and erect borders. Through this Declaration, Ukraine announced its intention not to use, possess, or acquire nuclear weapons. Going beyond Soviet leader Gorbachev's vision of a `renewed' Soviet federation, the Declaration asserted Ukraine's sovereignty vis-a-vis Moscow, a move that only a few years earlier would have been met with the harshest of sanctions. The Declaration's assurances on the protection of individual rights and freedoms for all of the people of Ukraine, including national and religious minorities, were extremely important and viewed as an integral aspect of the building of a sovereign Ukraine.
The Declaration itself was the outcome of emerging democratic processes in Ukraine. Elections to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet, the first in which non-communists were permitted on the ballot, had been held only a few months earlier, in March 1990; one-third of the new members elected were representatives of the democratic opposition. Even the Communist majority voted for the Declaration, reflecting the reality that the Soviet Empire was steadily unraveling. A year later, on August 24, 1991, the same Ukrainian parliament declared Ukraine's independence, and in December of that year, on the heels of a referendum in Ukraine in which over 90 percent voted for independence, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
Mr. Speaker, since the adoption of the Declaration ten years ago Ukraine has witnessed momentous transformations. Independent Ukraine has developed from what was, for all practical purposes, a colony of the Soviet empire into a viable, peaceful state with a commitment to ensuring democracy and prosperity for its citizens. It has emerged as a responsible and constructive actor in the international arena which enjoys good relations with all its neighbors and a strategic partnership with the United States. Obviously, the heavy legacy of communism and Soviet misrule has not yet disappeared, as illustrated by stifling corruption, and inadequate progress in rule of law and economic reforms. However, the defeat of the communists in last November's presidential elections, and the appointment of genuinely reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko have given grounds for renewed optimism, which is supported by evidence of growth in some sectors of the economy.
Mr. Speaker, now is the time for the Ukrainian people to strengthen and ensure independence by redoubling their efforts to build democracy and a market economy, thereby keeping faith with the ideals and goals of the historic 1990 Declaration on Sovereignty.