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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Closing Statement at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

WARSAW, POLAND – The following Closing Statement was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland:

Closing Statement

Statement Delivered by Ambassador Joseph Presel

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Mister Moderator,

For the past two weeks we have come together to discuss the shared values to which we, as OSCE participating states, have committed ourselves. Quite apart from the formal sessions, the meetings between delegates and NGOs have been very important. So too has been the opportunity for the NGO representatives to attend the sessions and make the States aware of their concerns. We strongly believe in the importance of NGOs having access to governments.

The past two weeks have also been overshadowed by other events, especially, of course, by the aftermath of the horrible tragedy of the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. But, it is in the face of such terrorism that we are reminded of the fundamental reasons we are here. The planners and perpetrators of the attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon committed acts of war not only on the United States—they committed acts of war on the values for which we all stand—freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and international peace. If in so doing, they sought to undercut our conviction in these values, they have failed completely. If anything, our belief in these values has been strengthened. We appreciate the sentiments of the participants who subscribed to the condolence letter put forth by the Kyrgyzstan NGO “Victory”.

And yet at a time when terrorism seems to overshadow this conference, we must recommit ourselves to the very human rights and freedoms these terrorists want to deny us. As we try to think about how better to secure ourselves, we will not stop talking about and working towards the things that matter to us—human rights, democracy, and rule of law. We are going to continue to press those principles. We would not be America if we did not continue our actions to work towards ensuring these values throughout the world. As President Bush said last week in his address to Congress, “This is not, however, just America’s fight. And what is at stake is not just America’s freedom. This is the world’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance, and freedom.” This is also the OSCE’s fight.

We must work together to ensure that our fight does not trample on the very values we seek to uphold. Violent incidents against those presumed to be of Arab or Islamic origin have taken place in several countries, since the September 11 attacks. In the United States there has been an overall small but nevertheless profoundly disturbing number of incidents in the past week. Let me make it absolutely clear—harassment or discrimination, much less persecution against anyone in my country on the basis of religion or ethnicity is unacceptable. Both President Bush and the Attorney General have emphasized that those who carry out such acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Mr. Moderator, despite our commitments, violations of human rights continue in many OSCE States. Even in the two weeks that we have been here discussing these very issues, several human rights defenders have been harassed or arrested. In this context it is particularly egregious that some participating States have continued to violate their Human Dimension commitments even as they sit here in Warsaw pledging to uphold them.

I again refer to the case of the journalist Ms. Guseinova of Azerbaijan, who was here last week. Criminal charges for libel have been brought against her while attending this meeting. Previously fined for writing articles critical of Azeri authorities, now her apartment has been confiscated.

In Belarus, where ODIHR concluded that the September 9 Presidential election “failed to meet the OSCE commitments for democratic elections,” government retributions continue against citizens who exercised their right to act as independent election observers. In the weeks since the election, independent observers have come under continued harassment and persecution. Many have been arrested and detained for hours on no charges whatsoever. Student observers have been expelled from university and forced to join the army, and government employees – including schoolteachers – have been fired, simply for taking part in independent election observation efforts, an activity which is a right, according to OSCE commitments.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Americans are asking why do they hate us? As President Bush said to Congress, “they hate…a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote, and to assemble and disagree with each other.” The atrocities of September 11 have brought about a newfound sense of togetherness to fight the ruthlessness of terrorism, wherever it may occur. Let us all now redouble our efforts to ensure that these attacks strengthen, not undermine the implementation of our OSCE commitments to those freedoms which were attacked.

Lastly, Mr. Moderator, we have noticed a certain lack of satisfaction with this meeting. For that matter, I should add the troubling absence of some of the very countries which most need to focus on improving their human rights records. Perhaps a lack of interest in this meeting is partly a result of the fact that we have, indeed, made progress in ensuring human rights over the past few years. Just as the OSCE is not the CSCE of 1989, the problems, including those of human rights, are different. But let me suggest that the advances we have made are in part due to the efforts we have made at past meetings like this one, our discussions in the Permanent Council, and the work of the OSCE field presences. This is an extraordinary achievement and one that we tend to forget.

Nevertheless, the problems pointed out during this meeting clearly show that we cannot relax our efforts. We need to put the same effort into solving the current problems that we did to those that took our time in the past. The issues we face now may not be as glamorous, in American slang we would say as sexy as those of the Cold War, but they are just as important. We must push forward and work hard so that the men and women whom we, as government officials, represent–the very people who face the harassment, the arrests, the trafficking, and even violence–can live in a world free of such human rights violations. Finally, I would like to mention that we intervene more than most delegations, and often speak faster than other delegations. For that, we would like to thank the interpreters without whom we simply would not be able to do our job. Thank you.

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