Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Rule of Law Statement at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

WARSAW, POLAND– The following statement on the Rule of Law 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:

Rule of Law

Statement by Stephen Epstein

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Mr. Moderator, an independent judicial system is an indispensable building block of a democratic society.

Independence of the judiciary is enshrined in the constitutions of all OSCE participating States and proclaimed as a priority goal of many. Unfortunately, in many participating States, progress in creating a genuinely independent judiciary, has been slow and incomplete. The consequences for democratization of a stunted judiciary are stark and clear: executive control of the courts undermines the public’s faith in the possibility of obtaining justice through established legal channels.

In many instances, executive authorities abuse the judicial system to eliminate political opponents. This retards the development of political pluralism. One of the most instructive of such cases is that of Felix Kulov, a leading opposition figure in Kyrgyzstan. ODIHR’s assessment of Kyrgyzstan’s 1999 parliamentary election concluded that officials had deliberately falsified the electoral process to keep Kulov out of parliament. As recently as August of this year, the Supreme Court ordered Kulov’s property confiscated, and new charges have been brought against him. We urge Kyrgyz authorities to work with ODIHR to develop and implement measures to ensure independent functioning of their judicial system. In this context, we welcome the thoughtful intervention of the Association of Lawyers of Kyrgyzstan, and the efforts by the Russian Federation to reform criminal procedure and to increase the independence of their judiciary.

A court system controlled by the executive often targets the media. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan, central, regional, and local authorities have used lawsuits to intimidate the press or to punish journalists for disseminating information about alleged corruption or other official malfeasance. Courts have ruled against newspapers in most cases, and have forced numerous publications to cease activity. In some instances, newspapers have been charged merely for reprinting articles from other sources. For example, in Kazakhstan two editors, Bigeldy Gabdulin and Ermurat Bapi were charged with insulting the honor and dignity of President Nazarbaev after reprinting information from foreign sources. Neither newspaper is currently publishing. We urge Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan to review their laws to ensure that freedom of the media is protected.

Because an independent judiciary would restrain executive power, some governments have sought to retard its emergence. One means of doing so is through interfering with the development of independent bar associations and exerting arbitrary control over those who practice law. Under this kind of pressure, it is not unusual for lawyers to avoid politically sensitive cases for fear of being disbarred.

Another important aspect of rule of law is legislative transparency. It raises the issue of abuse of alleged “state secrets.” Of course, every state has the right to protect information vital to its national security. But “state secrets” must be clearly defined, so that citizens know precisely their legal responsibility when dealing with such information. In a society where transparency and rapid communication of information are vital to scientific and technological development, overzealous or arbitrary designations of “state secrets” could ultimately undermine States’ abilities to compete, develop, and advance.

Mr. Chairman, the rule of law is central to creating a democratic society. We believe ODIHR can play a constructive role particularly in connection to legislative reform and judicial program training. We urge States to cooperate with ODIHR in undertaking such projects.

Let me note, that we would like to use the right of reply to discuss death penalty issues.

Media contact

Filter Topics Open Close

Helsinki Commission Advances Human Rights, Demands f...

Oct 19, 2023

By Shannon Simrell, Senior Policy Advisor Between October 2-13, 11 Helsinki Commission staff joined approximately 1,400 representatives of OSCE participating States (pS) and civil society representatives in Warsaw, Poland in an annual review of the human rights records of OSCE States. U.S. leadership highlighted demands for accountability from Russia and Belarus for their human rights […]


United States Demonstrates Global Leadership on Ukra...

Jul 14, 2023

The Helsinki Commission’s four senior leaders helmed the United States’ bicameral, bipartisan delegation to the 30th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly last week in Vancouver, Canada. Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), serving as Head of Delegation, was joined by Chairman Joe Wilson (SC-02) as Deputy Head of Delegation as well as Ranking Members […]

Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair Lead Delegati...

Jul 10, 2023

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Helsinki Commission Chair Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the 30th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) in Vancouver, Canada from June 30-July 4. As Head of Delegation and Deputy Head of Delegation respectively, Senator Cardin and Representative Wilson welcomed the […]


North Macedonia’s Leadership of the OSCE in a ...

Feb 28, 2023

North Macedonia has taken up leadership of the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—a year into Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Much of the OSCE’s focus over the past year has revolved around responses to the war, including using the organization to condemn Russian aggression and hold the […]

Press Releases


Feb 24, 2023

Tuesday, February 28, 2023 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Streaming: North Macedonia has taken up leadership of the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—a year into Putin’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Much of the OSCE’s focus over the past year has revolved around responses to the war, […]

Press Releases

U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA presents Joint Statem...

Feb 24, 2023

WASHINGTON— Today, the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) endorsed the “Joint Statement of Action on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine and the International Legal Order,” which was endorsed by the OSCE PA Bureau and published today at the conclusion of the […]

Press Releases

Steadfast Support for Ukraine: United States Delegat...

Feb 23, 2023

WASHINGTON – Today, the United States Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), led by Senator Ben Cardin (MD), met with Mykyta Poturaiev, Ukraine’s Head of Delegation and additional representatives of the Ukrainian Rada in Vienna, Austria, along with the Heads of Delegation of Canada, Estonia, […]

Press Releases

Helsinki Commissioners Urge Austria to Deny Visas to...

Feb 15, 2023

WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission leadership, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Steve Cohen, on February 10, sent a letter to Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg to reconsider granting visas to the Russian delegation to the Winter Meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, […]


OSCE’s 2022 Ministerial Council in Lodz: Russia Isol...

Dec 09, 2022

By Janice Helwig, Senior Policy Advisor, Demitra Pappas, Senior Advisor Department of State, Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to OSCE Foreign Ministers and senior officials from the 57 participating States and 11 Asian and Mediterranean partners of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened the OSCE […]


NATO Refocused, Europe Reinforced

Aug 10, 2022

By Jessika Nebrat, Max Kampelman Fellow​ Following the escalation of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is playing a role it has not filled in years. Forced to reconcentrate its attention to Europe’s defense, NATO allies are demonstrating persistent resolve in countering Moscow’s expansionist tendencies. In doing so, NATO returns to a core […]


Helsinki Commission Digital Digest July 2022

Jul 29, 2022

Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Deplores Arrest of Ilya Yashin in ...

Jul 28, 2022

WASHINGTON—In response to the arrest of Ilya Yashin, a Russian politician critical of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Putin’s government has been engaged in a systematic assault on Russian citizens who dare speak the truth about […]