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Cardin: OSCE Summit an Opportunity for Clinton, Kazakhstan on Human Rights

WASHINGTON –  “OSCE Summit an Opportunity for Clinton, Kazakhstan on Human Rights” By Benjamin L. Cardin

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has the chance at this week’s summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Kazakhstan to promote fundamental freedoms still in danger 35 years after the adoption of the Helsinki Final Act.

In a year that commemorates the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Accords – the Cold War agreement that forever tied human rights to a holistic view of global security – it is time we do more than merely recommit to our shared values.

One need only see political opponents marginalized to the point of silence, journalists muzzled through physical attacks and murders, or the blatant discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities to know the challenges faced in the 56 countries of the OSCE.

The test for this Summit is to prove that the OSCE — long the standard bearer for open societies, open minds, and open economies — is flexible enough to meet modern challenges where security threats are changing and democratic governance is declining.

I know the OSCE is up to the task. From its field missions, election observations and monitoring of media freedom, I have long advocated extending the OSCE model to the Middle East and other regions, from Afghanistan to the Korean Peninsula, where increased direct dialogue and consensus-building diplomacy can be a bridge to more peaceful futures.

This Summit, the first in 11 years, can revitalize the organization. In particular I hope the gathered world leaders will agree on a strong action plan to serve as a basis for continued cooperation.

Considering more than 50 investigative journalists have been killed in the OSCE region since the early 1990’s, this Summit should call for prompt and thorough investigations into physical attacks against journalists, vigorous prosecution of all of those responsible for the murder of investigative journalists, and a repeal of criminal defamation laws.

To strengthen the organization’s work on economic and environmental issues, the heads of state should agree on clear language to combat corruption and foster good governance, specifically through commitments to increased transparency and accountability in the extractive industries – action the United States committed to this year through bipartisan financial reform. 

President Obama recently called for deepening our cooperation within OSCE and other multilateral organizations. The United States cannot do it alone. Meaningful progress depends on all governments living up to their international commitments.

That is why it is fitting for Astana to host the OSCE Summit– the first time such an event has convened in Central Asia– because Kazakhstan, like its neighbors, faces significant challenges to democratic reform. Against this backdrop, I hope the Secretary will use her visit to press for greater progress on human rights in Kazakhstan and throughout the region.

After Kazakhstan gained independence in 1990, the government made a courageous decision to destroy its Soviet-era nuclear weapons. Now in 2010 the leaders of Kazakhstan must shed another reminder of that era – the undemocratic bent that has stifled free expression and political dissent.

Kazakhstan, aside from bringing a summit to its new capital city of Astana this week, has a lot of which to be proud. The first Central Asian chair-in-office of the OSCE has proven to be a credible steward of the world’s largest regional security organization.

But Kazakhstan has not fully delivered on the commitments the country made in 2007. In exchange for securing the OSCE chairmanship, Kazakhstan promised to live up to international human rights standards that it freely adopted.

Indeed in the very year when Kazakhstan should have served as a role model while chairing the human rights organization, it has fallen short.

As the Summit opens, Kazakhstan is blocking web sites, a journalist remains jailed for doing his job, libel remains a criminal offense, political parties remain limited by a restrictive registration process, and President Nazarbayev’s one-party parliament has granted him lifelong immunity from prosecution. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s leading human rights activist, Yvgeny Zhovtis, remains in a Kazakhstani prison after a trial widely condemned for its lack of due process. 

Besides delivering a strong agreement at this Summit, there is still time for Kazakhstan to finish its chairmanship on a high note and fulfill its earlier commitments. I hope Secretary Clinton will urge them in this direction.  To see Mr. Zhovtis able to attend this summit with other non-governmental organizations, journalists able to report without fear of reprisal and people to have access to information online would show that Kazakhstan does in fact believe in the very values of the organization it has chaired this year.

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