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

Warsaw, Poland – The following opening 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:

Opening Plenary Session

U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Delivered by Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes

Foreign Minister, Mr. President, Mr. Moderator, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the United States is proud to be in Warsaw for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. The United States believes that this, the largest European human rights meeting, is one of the most important meetings held by OSCE.

This year we have new modalities, negotiated under the Portuguese Chairmanship, that we hope will bring renewed attention to this meeting and will directly link our work here to the OSCE’s decision- making process, most importantly the upcoming Porto ministerial in December.

The last Human Dimension Implementation Meeting began immediately following the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks. This year we meet in the midst of the war against terrorism. These are difficult times. American has reacted with courage but there is much work yet to be done.

Throughout these most difficult times, the United States remains fully committed to human rights. Our presence here is one important sign of that commitment at the very highest levels of our government. President Bush sent Ambassador Wells and me, and our quite large delegation here as a clear and unmistakable sign of America’s commitment.

We are members of the President’s Administration, government officials, members of civil society, and officials of the legislative branch of our government. One of the President’s key appointees, Will Taft, the most senior legal advisor to the Department of State, and former Ambassador to NATO and general counsel to the Department of State, will also be joining us on Tuesday afternoon by telephone conference call to discuss with you, and answer questions on, the war against terrorism and other issues on this meeting’s agenda.

We strongly believe that a nation’s commitment to human rights and protection of fundamental freedoms is the best defense against the rise of extremism and terrorism. As U.S. Secretary of State Powell stated on August 1, and let me quote here “if we are to defeat the terrorists, then we have to attack them from the highest plane, that human rights must be protected, the universal human rights that we all believe in, or should believe in, have to be observed.”

We, as Americans, are very mindful of the need to protect human rights even as we pursue those who seek to destroy us. You will understand that it is not easy when it is sometimes a major task even to identify our enemies. Yet, we are steadfast in our principles.

This comprehensive approach to security, one in which respect for human rights is an integral part, was enshrined in the very beginnings of this organization’s existence and our commitments to protecting fundamental rights and freedoms and democratic structures will not waver. As Secretary Powell said in August, we will not use “the campaign against terrorism as a way to suppress legitimate dissent or as a way to suppress people presenting their views to the government.”

The dialogue we established when these meetings first took place and that we will have over the next two weeks provides a foundation for our cooperation on the broad range of OSCE commitments. But more needs to be done; we must not stop here, but strive further to more fully implement our OSCE human dimension commitments.

This year we have much to discuss here. We have seen reason for concern this past year as problems such as anti-Semitism have escalated in a number of our countries. Even as we face the new, violent challenge of terrorism, old conflicts, unhealed, continue to trouble the OSCE world of 55 member countries. Problems extend over all of our human dimension commitments. We can only successfully address them with fundamental respect for democratic institutions and the rule of law as the underpinning framework. We are prepared to discuss these issues with you, particularly over the next two weeks in this historic city whose people have also suffered so much. What a significant place to hold this meeting here, today.

Unfortunately, the development of democracy is very slow in some regions. Here, the benefit of experience through the assistance others share, can help overcome repressive habits limiting human rights, the press, and public expression.

Reporters in the OSCE region continue to face harassment and even death, and, unfortunately, those responsible often are not held accountable. We are still waiting for Ukrainian officials to resolve several outstanding cases; in Belarus we urge an independent investigation and accountability for those who gave the order for Zavadsky’s disappearance, as well as the investigation of the disappearance of three others. The Rule of Law and an independent judiciary are critical, if those responsible are to be brought to account.

Where there is no apparent process of accountability for abuses, armed forces can contribute to the very atmosphere of danger they have been sent to combat. In Chechnya, for example, abuses by combatants combined with a lack of movement toward a political solution, contribute to an environment for instability in the region.

In one region, unfortunately, we have seen negative progress—a retrenchment–in respect for OSCE commitments. In Turkmenistan, democracy took a step backward when the President declared himself President for Life. In Turkmenistan, neither freedom of association nor freedom of assembly is observed.

In Kazakhstan, those involved in opposition are often targeted for harassment or for politically motivated court proceedings, such as is apparent in the case of two former high ranking officials who were active in a new opposition movement. We welcome the Kazakh Foreign Minister’s appearance in Vienna this Wednesday, hopefully to discuss these issues with the OSCE at the Permanent Council.

A state and its security forces must come to terms with, and value, peoples’ right to freedom of expression. The violence just this past March, six months ago, in Kyrgyzstan, where police shot and killed six demonstrators, is indicative of the need for state and society to come to terms with self-expression.

The U.S. condemns unequivocally the abhorrent practice of torture. It is unacceptable and we must do all that we can to stop it. We are concerned that just this past month, new cases of torture were found in Uzbekistan. We hope perpetrators of such acts will be held responsible, regardless of their position. No other single act plays more into the hands of extremists than the abuse of power evident when officials carry out, or cover up, torture.

While we understand the need to be sure that extremism does not cross the line into terrorism, arrests and prosecutions must be based on criminal actions, not religious beliefs. Uzbek authorities, while starting down the road to reform by registering non-governmental organizations, continue to prosecute and jail members of the religious organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group that purports to eschew violence and which seeks to replace the Government of Uzbekistan and install Shariat law.

Unfortunately, conservative observant Muslims attempting to spread their beliefs continue to face harassment, as do Jehovah witnesses, other Christian religions, and new religious groups.

I want to again reiterate our rejection of the notion that terrorism is associated with any particular religion or culture, while pointing out that terrorists who claim to be acting on behalf of their religion are distorting the principles of that religion.

We are also concerned about recent anti-foreigner violence in too many countries in the OSCE region, from East to West, without geographical boundaries, even in the strongest democracies of France, Germany and Belgium, for instance. My government says loud and clear, this must end, and we applaud the strong measures taken by those governments against the perpetrators of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner violence. In our own country, in the wake of September 11, our security forces had to deal with unfortunate incidents of anti-foreigner violence. We investigated the crimes and brought the guilty parties to justice.

In Russia, there has been a spate of violent incidents reflecting ethnic intolerance and anti-Semitism. We commend President Putin for condemning such acts. Our governments play a critical in speaking out against such acts or even expressions of hatred.

Roma, face discrimination in all walks of life, and are still subjected to racially motivated violence, sometimes at the hands of the police. We must do more to promote tolerance; we must promote equal opportunities in education and employment, as well as legal protection from discrimination.

Mr. Moderator, as we note a number of areas for concern, we have also seen reason for hope, as democratic reforms take root in nations eager to make a break with their totalitarian past. Or as more seasoned democracies deal with the constant challenge presented by threats to the freedoms we value. In September 2001, The Turkish Parliament passed a significant, 34-article reform package intended to bring Turkey’s 1982 constitution in line with the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria and international human rights standards. This was the third such reform and designed to be the final step towards Turkey’s accession goals.

We also have reason to be optimistic as we see governments’ work to address trafficking in persons, despite serous economic and social constraints.

Regional European leadership to combat trafficking in persons continues to take root. Anti-corruption efforts are also underway in many countries and governments are working more closely with their non-governmental partners and neighboring governments to combat transnational criminal syndicates, including those which traffic in persons.

As we closely examine our past implementation of commitments, it is important that we look to the future. How can we more fully implement these reforms and create an environment in which all OSCE participating States can achieve the benefits of our shared commitments? We need to take advantage of the tools the OSCE has at its disposal. Our OSCE institutions, such as ODIHR, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Representative of the Freedom of the Media, can all provide expertise in human dimension issues and our election monitoring is one of the most valuable tools of the OSCE and can help States strengthen their democratic foundations. Our field missions are also an invaluable resource that participating States can draw on to make progress towards meeting OSCE commitments and preparing for entry into other European institutions. Already we have seen much progress in the Balkans where OSCE has been intensively engaged and has made significant contributions to stabilization and democratization. But ultimately it is up to participating States’ to have the political will to make progress.

So let us use this important gathering; one of the world’s foremost gatherings of those who have some stewardship, which is of course shared by all humanity, of human rights, to discuss these issues, applaud progress and shed light on problems, and prepare for ourselves and for the ministers who will be meeting in Porto in December, a plan of action and recommendations. I am told that this meeting has a larger and more diverse attendance that last year’s meeting so this is a precious opportunity to instill new vigor, wherever it may be needed, to the cause of human rights—a true and inalienable right we hold to be self-evident for all humanity.

Mr. Moderator before I close, As I mentioned earlier, our Legal Adviser Mr. William Taft will be addressing this meeting through a telephone, audio link during Tuesday afternoon’s session. I would like to take just take a minute to propose the technical procedure for his participation. Due to his schedule, Mr. Taft will join us through a two-way telephone conference call. Because of this, we would ask that he be able to first deliver the U.S. statement, then listen to questions, and then answer them during the first half an hour or so of the session.

Mr. Taft will be discussing the following topics: detainees, military commissions, the ICC, and capital punishment. Not all of these topics were scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but we feel that they can be well addressed by Mr. Taft’s for the principal reason that they fall within the perview of the Department of State’s most senior legal adviser. We have discussed the technical limitations with ODIHR and believe the best procedure would be to ask any participants who would like to direct a question to Mr. Taft to submit it in writing to the Chairman by noon Tuesday. Of course, if questions arise during Mr. Taft’s presentation, they can still be given to the moderator, who will read all the questions. The questions will be read aloud by the moderator in the order received. This is done so there is clarity in the transmission and so that no time is lost through lack of clarity or, hopefully, the need to repeat the question.

If you have any questions on these procedures, please ask and we will gladly repeat what I have just said. We appreciate your understanding in allowing Mr. Taft to participate in this manner. Thank you.

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