Torture Deaths in Uzbekistan Reveal Lack of Progress

Torture Deaths in Uzbekistan Reveal Lack of Progress

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
108th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Mr. Speaker, in March 2002, the United States and Uzbekistan signed a declaration proclaiming a "Strategic Partnership" between our countries. This former Soviet republic, with the largest population of the five Central Asian countries, has played an important role in assisting the United States after 9/11, and I am grateful for that.

 

At the same time, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have deep concerns about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, where no political opposition, no freedom of speech nor freedom of association are permitted. As a result of this situation, Congress has conditioned the release of financial assistance to Uzbekistan upon a determination by the Secretary of State that Tashkent is making "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting commitments specified in the March 2002 bilateral declaration, including in the field of human rights. The Secretary has twice--on August 26, 2002 and May 14, 2003--made such a determination.

 

Regrettably, there has been no "substantial and continuing progress" in the field of human rights in Uzbekistan. True, a human rights group has been registered, censorship has formally been lifted, and there have been amnesties, but these are largely token deliverables meant to give the appearance of progress. Uzbekistan has also admitted the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture. But all these gestures are more cosmetic than substantial. In fact, the U.N. Special Rapporteur concluded that torture is "systematic" in Uzbekistan. Instead of claiming credit for allowing him into the country at all, President Karimov should renounce this barbaric practice and Tashkent should take urgent measures to prevent and punish acts of torture. Unfortunately, thus far President Karimov has refused to take even the simple step of acknowledging and renouncing torture. More to the point, just after the Secretary's most recent determination last month, Orif Ershanov and Otamaza Gafaro joined the unconscionably long list of individuals who have died as a result of torture or other abuse inflicted by Uzbek officials.

 

Once again, Uzbek officials maintain that these most recent deaths in custody were the result of "natural causes." But the country's deplorable record undermines the credibility of such assertions. Frankly, I am surprised by Tashkent's claims; last year, there were two cases when Uzbek policemen who tortured prisoners, in some cases to death, received long prison terms. Their sentences constituted a sad form of progress in Uzbekistan, allowing observers to hope that law enforcement officials would have reason to fear serious consequences for mistreating people in their care. The latest assertions about "natural causes" signal clear regression to old positions that damage Uzbekistan's government and should be an embarrassment to the United States.

 

Particularly with respect to torture, Tashkent should immediately take several steps to demonstrate to the international community a serious commitment to make meaningful progress.

 

First, the Government of Uzbekistan should provide immediate access, organized by the OSCE, for independent medical experts to examine the bodies of Ershanov and Gafaro. Unfortunately, we have received indications that Uzbekistan is balking at admitting independent forensic specialists. Furthermore, Tashkent should establish a system of access for independent experts to investigate all cases of alleged torture and should act on the recommendations of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.

 

It is equally important that Uzbekistan unconditionally release those who have been jailed because of their political opposition or religious affiliation. I have repeatedly urged Uzbek officials, including President Karimov during his visit to Washington in March of last year, to release the writer Mamadali Makhmudov, for example. One of the Bekjanov brothers has indeed been freed, but two of his siblings remain in prison, and we have received reports from family members of their declining health. As the most recent deaths in custody demonstrate, fears that such prisoners may die from their mistreatment during incarceration are well founded.

 

Mr. Speaker, improved relations are in the interest of both Uzbekistan and the United States. But closer, deeper ties will not be built on the graves of Uzbekistan's citizens who have been tortured to death. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that I will soon be able to report back to my colleagues that President Karimov has taken meaningful steps to confront torture and bring a measure of justice to its victims.

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He acted to establish the legal authority for the Srebrenica-Potocari Foundation (a memorial and cemetery for the victims) at the state level and provided for its security through a state-level law enforcement agency. This addressed a fundamental concern of surviving family members for the Foundation’s future once the Office of the High Representative and the exceptional international presence ended in the country. This should be viewed as a human and moral gesture taken out of recognition of the tragedy that occurred, not as a political one, as some have chosen to portray it. The decision deserves the full support of all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although the current situation in terms of public order around the Srebrenica region is good, returnees are understandably sensitive to the issue of security. We are working with entity authorities to establish and maintain more ethnically balanced policing in the municipality. Along with the speedier prosecution of war criminals, nothing would make returnees to the region feel more secure and protected. When I came back to Srebrenica in May this year, I found it little changed since my first visit in 2001. In the past six months the authorities of the Republika Srpska have invested more than $25 million in infrastructure and other public service improvements in the region and deserve credit for the effective way in which this has been carried out. Additional funding will be dedicated for this purpose in the entity’s 2008 budget and municipal authorities will be involved in planning and identifying priorities for this spending. The state-level Council of Ministers has also approved an approximately $7 million spending package for infrastructure development, business promotion and the improvement of public services. This is a good package of measures, and includes physical improvements to the town’s center, but it needs to be implemented as quickly as possible. The Federation has also devoted some $2.5 million to support sustainable returns and directed some of its public enterprises to invest in the region. A Development Conference was organized in Srebrenica by the U.N. Development Program, international donors and the municipality on July 3. Its object was less about raising more money, though it did, and more about better coordination among donors to produce a more visible impact of the considerable assistance already dedicated to the region. Donors need to better align their activities with the municipality’s own priorities and be more transparent and inform the public of their programs and results. Nothing will change economic conditions for the better in Srebrenica more than the generation of new jobs. Small but still important first steps have been taken to expand Bosnian Muslim employment opportunities in public services and enterprises in the area, and this is a positive step. More certainly needs to be done on this score. The real potential for job creation, however, is in the private sector and through attracting new investment to the region. This is why we organized a major investment conference on November 6. The conference demonstrated that investor opportunities and interest exist in Srebrenica, and an American and Slovene firm announced plans to invest in the municipality at the end of the conference. There have been additional expressions of investor interest since, but now local authorities must work, with the support of the international community, to translate this potential into actual investment and more jobs. Despite an agreement signed by the Federation and the Republika Srpska earlier this year on improving access to health services, returnees to Srebrenica complain that they are still unable to get the treatment and benefits to which they are entitled. This is also true of other social services, which like health care are the competency of each entity. The problems arise as refugees return from one entity to another. Entity authorities must cooperate in finding a solution to this as a matter of urgency, not only for Srebrenica, but for other returnee communities throughout the country. Unless you have spent time in Srebrenica, you cannot appreciate how isolated the community is. Currently most villages in the area have no access to radio or television signals, and this only strengthens a sense of isolation and abandonment. Thankfully, the Dutch and U.S. governments are working to establish radio and television coverage throughout the area. A U.S. firm, Cisco Systems, will also soon provide wireless broadband Internet access to the community, allowing Srebrenica’s schools and youth to connect with the outside world. All of these positive initiatives will only succeed if a constructive dialogue is maintained among the members of the Srebrenica community. Dialogue requires courage and confidence and will be essential in the months ahead if we are to reach agreement on such issues as developing Srebrenica’s natural resources, including its mineral springs which were a major pre-war tourist attraction, bringing other business to the region and providing a better ethnic balance to its police and other public services, including in the senior ranks. In my work over the last six months, I have found the people of Srebrenica, after all that they have been through and in the midst of continuing real hardship, are capable of working together to build a better future. In this they can serve as an example to the political leaders of their country who must work together to achieve the constitutional and other reforms that can secure Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.

  • Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the CSCE, held a briefing on hate crimes and discrimination in the OSCE region.  Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA).  The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Congressman Hastings emphasized the discrimination against the Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, and south Asian descent when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, and get an education The panel of speakers – Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke of the rising popularity of right-wing extremist party, who espouse vicious anti-Semitic slogans and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity.  In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.  

  • Authorizing Interrogation Techniques

    Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise today to express my concern regarding the most recent revelations of administration memos effectively authorizing the use of interrogation techniques that most certainly rise to the level of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, if not to the level of torture.  In 2002, senior administration officials prepared a classified memo that sought to provide legal cover for interrogation practices that would clearly violate U.S. and international law. This ``torture memo'' was leaked to the press after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke and, in turn, caused such outrage that it was quickly disavowed by the Justice Department. A new, improved, and sanitized legal memo on interrogation norms was then issued in December 2004.  It now appears, according to a report published by the New York Times on October 4, that the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel subsequently issued two additional legal memos that once again defined torture as ``not torture'' and--in an apparent effort to end run congressional efforts to close loopholes in the existing prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment--simply declared that no CIA interrogation practices violated that prohibition.  I would also draw my colleagues' attention to a subsequent, highly troubling report published by the New York Times on October 11 stating that the Director of the CIA, Michael Hayden, has ordered an investigation of the inspector general, John L. Helgerson. The CIA inspector general is known to have undertaken critical examinations of CIA interrogation procedures.  With these latest developments in mind, I would like to share three observations.  First, the revelation that--even while the Abu Ghraib scandal was still being investigated--the administration was issuing additional secret memos authorizing abusive interrogation techniques, stands as the latest blow to the credibility of the United States as a global advocate for human rights and democracy. We simply cannot win hearts and minds around the globe if we are perceived to condone a violation of basic human rights, our own laws, and international law. As cochairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am painfully aware of the extent to which these policies have undermined our nation's reputation, and even our ability to build support for counterterrorism operations worldwide.  Second, these revelations once again draw attention to this administration's breathtaking interpretation of the scope of executive power. In fact, the 2002 "torture memo'' actually consisted of two parts. One part effectively sought to define torture as "not torture.'' The second part addressed the authority of the President to authorize torture. In essence, that part of the memo described the Presidency--when the President is acting as Commander in Chief--as virtually unrestrained by the Congress, the Constitution, or the courts. The Justice Department's renunciation of the 2002 torture memo only appeared to renounce the first part of that memo.  Accordingly, during the January 2005 confirmation hearing for Attorney General Gonzalez, he was repeatedly questioned regarding his views on the scope of Presidential authority--and he repeatedly stonewalled. His refusal to answer those questions, coupled with the President's signing statements attached to the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act and the 2006 Military Commissions Act and most recent revelations of additional torture memos, suggest that President Bush does believe himself to be beyond or above the law.  Many retired military leaders have argued that abusive interrogation techniques undermine America's moral authority, fuel jihadist recruitment, and weaken international norms that have protected American service men and women for decades. Moreover, a now declassified report issued by the Government's Intelligence Science Board has concluded there is no scientific evidence that coercive interrogation methods even produces good intelligence. And we now know that the use of these techniques has, in actual cases, produced false or misleading intelligence.  Sadly, one of the greatest tragedies of the President's misguided policies on torture is this: this administration's justification of abusive techniques has not made us any safer.

  • Torture Policies Undercut U.S. Leadership on Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law

    Mr. Hastings of Florida. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I would like to draw the attention of my colleagues to two events last week that, taken together, illustrate the damaging effect that this administration's policies have had on America's credibility as a global leader on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  First of all, on Friday, the 56 OSCE participating States concluded their annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland. This meeting is Europe's largest regional human rights forum where governments and nongovernmental organizations gather to take stock of how countries are implementing the commitments they have undertaken in the Helsinki process relating to human rights and democracy. As such, this meeting provides an important opportunity for the United States to raise and express concern about serious instances of noncompliance and negative trends in the expansive OSCE region stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok.  Separately, on Thursday of last week--just as the Warsaw meeting was drawing to a close--the New York Times ran an article revealing the existence of two classified legal memos authorizing the use of interrogation techniques that, to many reasonable minds, rise to the level of torture, or at least cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment--both categories of treatment prohibited under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. These memos have already been dubbed by some as "torture memo 2.0'' and "torture memo 3.0,'' and were reportedly authored by Steven G. Bradbury, who has headed the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel since 2005.  Madam Speaker, 3 years ago the world was shocked--and the United States was shamed--by pictures showing detainees standing on boxes with hoods over their heads and electrical wires attached to their fingers. But perhaps even more shocking and more shameful was the surfacing of the so-called "torture memo,'' adopted by the Department of Justice in 2002 and leaked to the public in 2004. The very existence of such a memo was rightly and widely understood to mean that abuses did not just occur by rogue elements or as an aberration, but stemmed from a government policy to effectively authorize the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The 2002 memo was so scandalous that shortly after it was leaked, it was disavowed by the Department of Justice itself.  For many people, the existence of "torture memo 2.0'' and "torture memo 3.0'' will not come as a surprise but rather as a confirmation of what they suspected to be the case. Certainly, when one looks at the statements issued by the President when he signed into law the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act and the 2006 Military Commissions Act, there was every indication that he considered himself in no way bound by those laws as passed by Congress.  There are, of course, enormous implications for the United States when the President considers himself beyond the reach of the Congress and outside the scope of the Constitution. The President's policies on torture have seriously undercut American credibility on the very issues this administration purports to hold dear--human rights and democracy promotion.  Can you imagine being at a meeting--like the one that has just concluded in Warsaw--where the United States is supposed to express its concern about a whole range of human rights issues, including the issue of protecting human rights while combating terrorism, when this latest revelation about this administration's torture policies hits the front pages?  Regrettably, American credibility as an advocate for human rights and democracy has continued in free fall in the face of this latest revelation and attendant implausible denials. Beyond the victims of abuse themselves, U.S. interests are being seriously undermined, including the campaign to win hearts and minds around the globe. Not surprisingly, the administration's dissembling denials cannot repair the damage that has been done. It will take considerable time to restore the good name of our country--time, and concrete action by this body, In such circumstances, actions speak louder than words, and two steps must be taken to help restore America's tarnished reputation, help clear out the thicket of legal cases created by the President's disastrous policies, and position the United States to build more effective alliances in our counterterrorism operations. First, I urge my colleagues to restore habeas corpus--and the sooner, the better. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was a travesty of justice, but perhaps no part of that legislation departed so sharply from our legal heritage as the decision to deny individuals the most basic right recognized since the Magna Carta: the right to challenge their detention. If we are to convince the world that we do not routinely torture terrorism suspects, providing these detainees one of the most basic legal safeguards is a good place to start.  Second, we must close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay--a measure I called for at a hearing on Guantanamo I chaired in June. To this end, the United States should release or transfer detainees elsewhere and, for those whom we believe we must hold and try, detainees should be transferred to the United States. Terror suspects can be tried by our Federal courts; they might be tried by military commissions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice; I'd even consider the establishment of special domestic terror courts, as in Spain. But it is time for the President to listen to his own senior officials, including Secretaries Gates and Rice, and close the GTMO camp. Madam Speaker, while these two steps are not the only ones necessary to fully restore America's credibility and respect for the values we proclaim abroad, they would represent an important start. It is time for this great country to resume its rightful leadership role on human rights, democracy and rule of law, but first, it will need to lead by example.

  • U.S. Delegation Initiatives Win Wide Approval at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meetings in Kyiv

    By Robert Hand, Staff Advisor More than 200 parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region, including 13 members of the U.S. Congress, assembled in Kyiv, Ukraine from July 5 to 9, 2007 for the convening of the Sixteenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). Also in attendance were representatives from several Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation countries, and delegates representing Afghanistan, the newest country designated by OSCE as a Partner for Cooperation. The U.S. Delegation was led by the Chairman of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a past president of the OSCE PA serving as President Emeritus. Commission Co-Chairman, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) co-chaired the delegation. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), a past Commission chairman and the highest ranking Member of Congress ever to attend an annual session, also participated, joined by the Commission’s Ranking Republican Member, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Reps. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Michael R. McNulty (D-NY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Gwen S. Moore (D-WI). The designated theme for this year’s Annual Session was “Implementation of OSCE Commitments.” Assembly President Göran Lennmarker (Sweden) opened the Inaugural Plenary Session which included an address by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who stressed Ukraine’s commitment to democratic development. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, also addressed the plenary and responded to questions from the parliamentarians. Starting Off at the Standing Committee At the start of the Annual Session, Chairman Hastings participated in the meeting of the OSCE PA Standing Committee, the leadership body of the Assembly composed of the Heads of Delegations of the 56 OSCE participating States and the Assembly’s officers. He presented a summary of his activities as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, including his visits in June to Israel and Jordan. During the Kyiv meeting, he also convened a special meeting on the Mediterranean Dimension of the OSCE, attended by approximately 100 parliamentarians from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the participating States. Ongoing Committee Work Members of the U.S. Delegation were active in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. The committees considered their respective resolutions as well as nine “supplementary items,” additional resolutions submitted before the session. Senator Cardin introduced a supplemental item on “Combating Anti-Semitism, Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance against Muslims and Roma.” Seven other U.S. delegates introduced and secured passage of a total of 25 U.S. amendments to the various committee resolutions and supplementary items, including Chairman Hastings and Majority Leader Hoyer on OSCE election observation; another Hastings amendment on past use of cluster bombs; Smith and McIntyre amendments regarding trafficking in persons; another McIntyre amendment on Belarus; Solis amendments on migration; Moore amendments on the use of “vulture funds,” and a Butterfield amendment on human rights. The U.S. Delegation was also instrumental in garnering necessary support for supplementary items and amendments proposed by friends and allies among the participating States. The supplementary items considered and debated in Kyiv, other than Senator Cardin’s, included “The Role and the Status of the Parliamentary Assembly within the OSCE”; “The Illicit Air Transport of Small Arms and Light Weapons and their Ammunition”; “Environmental Security Strategy”; “Conflict Settlement in the OSCE area”; “Strengthening OSCE Engagement with Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions”; “The Ban on Cluster Bombs”; “Liberalization of Trans-Atlantic Trade”; “Women in Peace and Security”; and “Strengthening of Counteraction of Trafficking Persons in the OSCE Member States.” Guantanamo Bay Raised Following her appearance before the Helsinki Commission in Washington on June 21 during a hearing on “Guantanamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership,” Belgian Senate President Anne-Marie Lizin, the OSCE PA Special Representative on Guantanamo, presented her third report on the status of the camp to a general Plenary Session of the Assembly. This report followed her second visit to the detention facility at Guantanamo on June 20, 2007 and provided the Assembly with a balanced presentation of outstanding issues and concerns. Senator Lizin concluded the report with a recommendation that the facility should be closed. Engaging Other Delegates While the delegation’s work focused heavily on OSCE PA matters, the venue presented an opportunity to advance U.S. relations with OSCE states. During the course of the Kyiv meeting, members of the U.S. delegation held a series of formal as well as informal bilateral meetings, including talks with parliamentarians from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, parliamentary delegations from the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Israel, and Afghanistan. The U.S. Delegation hosted a reception for parliamentary delegations from Canada and the United Kingdom. Electing New Officers and Adopting of the Declaration On the final day of the Kyiv meeting, the Assembly reelected Göran Lennmarker (Sweden) as President. Mr. Hans Raidel (Germany) was elected Treasurer. Four Vice Presidents were elected in Kyiv: Anne-Marie Lizin (Belgium), Jerry Grafstein (Canada), Kimo Kiljunen (Finland), and Panos Kammenos (Greece). Rep. Hilda Solis was also elected, becoming the Vice Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, which is responsible for addressing humanitarian and-related threats to security and serves as a forum for examining the potential for cooperation within these areas. She joins Senator Cardin, whose term as Vice President extends until 2009, and Congressman Hastings as OSCE PA President Emeritus, in ensuring active U.S. engagement in the Assembly’s proceedings for the coming year. The OSCE PA concluded with adoption of the Kyiv Declaration which included a series of concrete recommendations for strengthening action in several fields including migration, energy and environmental security, combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance throughout the OSCE region and promoting democracy in Belarus. The declaration also addresses a number of military security concerns, including an expression of regret at the lack of progress in resolving so-called “frozen conflicts” in the OSCE region based on the principal of territorial integrity, especially those within Moldova and Georgia. For the full text of the Kyiv Declaration, please visit http://www.oscepa.org. The Seventeenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held early next July in Astana, Kazakhstan. Other U.S. Delegation Activities While in Kyiv, the U.S. Delegation met with Ukrainian President Yushchenko for lengthy talks on bilateral issues, his country’s aspirations for further Euro-Atlantic integration, energy security, international support for dealing with the after affects of Chornobyl, and challenges to Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic development. The President discussed the political situation in Ukraine and the development of the May 27 agreement that provides for pre-term parliamentary elections scheduled for September 30, 2007. The Delegation also visited and held wreath-laying ceremonies at two significant sites in the Ukrainian capital: the Babyn Yar Memorial, commemorating the more than 100,000 Ukrainians killed during World War II – including 33,000 Jews from Kyiv that were shot in a two-day period in September 1941; and the Famine Genocide Memorial (1932-33) dedicated to the memory of the millions of Ukrainians starved to death by Stalin’s Soviet regime in the largest man-made famine of the 20th century. Members of the delegation also traveled to the Chornobyl exclusion zone and visited the site where on April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the Chornbyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, resulting in the world’s worst nuclear accident. While in the zone, the delegation visited the abandoned city of Prypiat, the once bustling residence of 50,000 located a short distance from the nuclear plant. Members toured the Chornobyl facilities and discussed ongoing economic and environmental challenges with local experts and international efforts to find a durable solution to the containment of large quantities of radioactive materials still located at the plant. Advancing U.S. Interests Summarizing the activities of the U.S. Delegation, Chairman Hastings commented on the successful advancement of U.S. interests. Specifically, the Chairman noted the delegation “represented the wonderful diversity of the United States population” and “highlighted a diversity of opinion on numerous issues.” Moreover, he concluded it advocated “a common hope to make the world a better place, not just for Americans but for all humanity,” thereby helping “to counter the negative image many have about our country. “In a dangerous world, we should all have an interest in strengthening our country’s friendships and alliances as well as directly raising, through frank conversation, our concerns with those countries where our relations are stained or even adversarial,” Chairman Hastings asserted. In order to put the recommendations of the PA into action, the members of the U.S. delegation wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rice, asking that the State Department press several issues within the OSCE in Vienna in the run-up to the November Ministerial Council meeting. First, the State Department should ensure that the role of the Parliamentary Assembly is increased in the overall activities of the OSCE. Second, the OSCE should increase concrete activities to fight anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, including against Muslims and Roma. Third, The OSCE should strengthen its work on combating trafficking in persons and fighting sexual exploitation of children. Fourth, the OSCE should support and protect the work of human rights defenders and NGOs. Lastly, the OSCE should step up dialogue on energy security issues.

  • Activists Present Mixed Assessment of Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in OSCE Region

    By Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director Nearly a hundred human rights advocates representing dozens of NGOs and national human rights institutions gathered in Vienna, July 12-13, 2007, for the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights convened by the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Discussions were organized around three main topics: the role of national courts in promoting and protecting human rights; the role of civil society in addressing human rights violations; and, the role of national human rights institutions in promoting and protecting human rights. Rooted in the fundamental right of individuals to know and act upon their rights, much of the discussion focused on the legal framework, access to effective remedies when violations occur, and the role of civil society and non-governmental organizations in fostering the protection and promotion of human rights. A recurring critical question throughout the meeting was whether courts, the judiciary, and national human rights institutions are truly independent. Keynote remarks by Professor Vojin Dimitrijevic, Director of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, revolved around institutional concerns, including the limited development of structures to address human rights violations, significant backlogs in the processing of human rights cases, and inadequate training of jurists and others. He suggested that universities could do much to address the current shortcomings of existing mechanisms. The Director of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Ambassador Christian Strohal, referred to a related resolution adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at its Annual Session held the prior week in Kyiv. A long-time rights advocate, he stressed the importance of prevention of violations, while underscoring the need for effective remedies when rights are violated. Professor Emmanuel Decaux opened the session of national courts by underscoring the fundamental importance of effective remedies and transparency in judicial proceedings. He pointed to the critical need for independent judges as well as protection and preservation of rights amid a heightened focus on counterterrorism. Legal advocates from Georgia and Azerbaijan addressed practical concerns such as transparency in judicial appointments, disciplinary actions against judges, public confidence in the courts, limits on televised coverage of courtroom proceedings, financial independence of the judiciary and combating corruption. Karinna Moskalenko, a leading human rights lawyer from the Russian Federation subjected to intense pressure because of her advocacy, including cases relating to Chechnya, noted the large number of cases from Russia being taken up in Strasbourg at the European Court of Human Rights. Nearly 30,000 complaints from individuals in Russia were submitted to the court between 1998 and 2006. Concern was also raised over the situation in Uzbekistan, where authorities frequently resort to use of Article 165 of the criminal code on extortion to imprison human rights defenders, including 10 members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. An activist from Kazakhstan said that it simply made no sense to speak of judicial independence in his country. Similarly, an NGO representative from Belarus asserted that whatever independence the judiciary had previously has evaporated under the regime. Others from Ukraine and Georgia bemoaned the slow pace of judicial reforms in their countries. Several speakers noted the failure of governments to change their laws or procedures following repeated judgments against them by the European Court of Human Rights. According to one, the budget of the Russian Federation now includes a line item specifically to cover fines stemming from rulings of the court, while the underlying deficiencies go unchanged. Liubov Vinogradova of the Russian Research Center for Human Rights opened the session devoted to human rights defenders, underscoring the difficult and often dangerous environment for activists in the post-Soviet space. She also pointed to attempts by government to manipulate NGOs, create GONGOs (government non-governmental organizations), and erect potemkin umbrella organizations or councils. Vinogradova cited the urgent need for meaningful judicial reform in her country. She decried efforts by some in Moscow to impede access by plaintiffs from Russia to the court in Strasbourg. She read off a lengthy list of areas where Russia’s 2,000 registered human rights NGOs are making a difference. Among the challenges are limited resources, harassment by the authorities and an often hostile media with close ties to the government. Vinogradova was skeptical about the intent of President Putin’s decree offering funds to NGOs in Russia, suggesting that it could represent an attempt at “managed NGOs.” Several subsequent speakers noted the particular difficulty encountered by those active in the defense of political rights, especially the tendency of the authorities to construe such work as party politics. A number referred to various forms of harassment by the authorities. Activists from Belarus talked about the deteriorating situation they face in a country where human rights defenders are viewed with deep suspicion by the authorities and most are forced to work underground due to a refusal by officials to issue formal registration. Some observed that obstructive methods employed in one country of the Commonwealth of Independent States often are adopted elsewhere, in what one speaker termed the “Putinization” of the former Soviet space. The case of Russian advocate Mikhail Trepashkin was cited as an illustration of what can happen when a lawyer gets involved in a case viewed as sensitive to the authorities. Trepashkin was arrested in 2003, days before a trial was to open relating to an apartment bombing in Moscow in 1999 that then became the basis for the Kremlin’s renewed military campaign in Chechnya. The lawyer was initially detained and charged with illegal possession of weapons, then convicted by a closed military court to four years imprisonment for disclosing state secrets. Other speakers urged the participating States to strengthen OSCE commitments on human rights defenders. The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation echoed this call, noting the precarious position of activities in many OSCE countries. The IHF recommended focusing on the safety of human rights defenders in the face of harassment and threats and called for the November Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council to approve related language. Irish Human Rights Commission President Dr. Maurice Manning introduced the final session devoted to national human rights institutions. He provided an overview, stressing the importance of the independence of such bodies and adherence to the “Paris Principles.” Manning urged that these institutions be focused and avoid interference from government and non-governmental organizations alike. He suggested that they could play a number of useful purposes such as reviewing pending laws and regulations, assess compliance with standards in individual cases, and help identify systemic areas of concern. He concluded by suggesting that national institutions were ideally situated to serve as a bridge between civil society and the state. The UN Economic and Social Council, beginning in 1960, encouraged the establishment of institutions as a means of encouraging and assisting states with implementation of international human rights commitments. In 1978, the UN issued a series of guidelines on the function and structure of institutions, falling into two main categories: human rights commissions and ombudsman offices. In the early 1990s work was completed on the Paris Principles, addressing the competence and responsibilities of national institutions as well as composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism, and methods of operation. The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights oversees accreditation of such bodies based on compliance with the Paris Principles. As of March 2007, 17 national institutions in the OSCE region were deemed fully compliant, five were not fully compliant, and two were non-compliant. Accredited institutions are found in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Several representatives of ombudsman offices described their activities, including establishment of national hotlines to receive human rights complaints, as well as working relations with courts and prosecutors. The discussions became more animated with exchanges between NGO participants and regime surrogates, notably regarding human rights in Belarus and Kazakhstan. The International Helsinki Federation expressed concern over a number of troubling trends faced by institutions, particularly targeted harassment stemming from their advocacy as well as legal and fiscal barriers to their work. The IHF representative made several concrete recommendations for OSCE, including strengthening relevant commitments, considering establishment of a special representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office on human rights defenders, and enhancing networks between civil society, national institutions and OSCE. The delegation of the Russian Federation used the closing session of the SHDM to renew its objections to allowing the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society to register for the meeting, notwithstanding the fact that the group did not actually attend. While the SHDM was informative and perhaps useful in terms of networking among those attending, the meeting underscored the clear divide between civil society representatives who advocate for human rights and the governments which perceive such work as a threat and thus try to thwart it. Though several heads of delegation from the Permanent Council made cameo appearances at the opening of the meeting, attendance by government delegates was sparse, particularly from countries which limit NGO activities. On the other hand, the theme of the meeting was particularly relevant in light of moves by several participating States, especially Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and other CIS countries to control civil society. Not surprisingly, these delegations are working actively behind the scenes to limit OSCE focus on human rights, particularly questions relating to freedom of association and assembly, bedrock commitments for civil society. A disturbing trend is the increasing tendency of several of these participating States to assert “interference in internal affairs” -- a standard ploy during Soviet times – when their rights violations are raised. While in Vienna, it became apparent that efforts are underway to limit NGO participation in OSCE meetings and to find an alternative to the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the singularly most important opportunity for civil society to engage the participating States and the OSCE. The failure of the Ljubljana and Brussels OSCE Ministerials to adopt proposed texts acknowledging the contribution of civil society and human rights defenders to the Helsinki process – drawn from existing OSCE commitments – clearly illustrates the backsliding of those States that refused to join consensus. Ironically, some participants in the SHDM proposed strengthening commitments on human rights defenders, when the reality is that a number of countries – Russia, Turkmenistan and Belarus among them – would be hard-pressed to agree today to provisions of the Copenhagen Document dating back to 1990! It is incumbent upon those OSCE countries that value the human dimension to resist the push to water down existing commitments or move the discussion of their implementation behind closed doors.

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