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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

WARSAW, POLAND – The following statement on Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly 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:

Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Statement Delivered by Douglas Davidson

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Serious restriction on the right of freedom of association and the right of peaceful assembly still abound in the OSCE region. These rights are fundamental to the functioning of a democracy. Limitations on these rights severely restrict the development of civil society, which encompasses all organizations as civil society encompasses all organization and associations that exist outside of the state, including political parties. These restrictions often appear to be part of a deliberate strategy on the part of authorities at best control, and at worst to eliminate, independent NGOs, trade unions, and media. In some states, the activism of non-governmental organizations is hampered through onerous registration requirements and over-regulation. In some, NGOs face government harassment, surveillance, and inspections, or sanctions by tax police and others. And in these participating States that most flagrantly violate their OSCE commitments, freedom of association is made a mockery of, as NGOs and political parties are persecuted or banned outright. Any political activity not sanctioned from above is simply not tolerated.

In all too many OSCE countries, the right to peaceful assembly is violated as well. Obviously, governments have the rights and duty to protect the security and property of their citizens, and there may be reasonable restrictions on public events. However, these restrictions should not be applied simply because of the subject of the public event.

Some countries limit the opportunities for political activity and expression. They may accuse political leaders of criminal activity. They may deny permission for demonstrations, or they may target the media, opposition parties, and religious minority groups. Some have harassed NGOs, which cooperate with the OSCE, and in some cases, have confiscated their property as punishment.

In that context, I would like to raise an issue that has come to our attention today. Last week, Ms. Irada Guseinova, a journalist from Azerbaijan, presented to us her concerns about negative trends in freedom of the media in her country. We have received information that while she was here in Warsaw, a criminal case was brought against her for libel, and her apartment was confiscated. Previously she had been fined more than $2,500 for writing articles critical of Azeri authorities. We call on the government of Azerbaijan to uphold its OSCE commitments on freedom of the media by dropping the charges against Ms. Guseinova and ensuring that no further retribution is taken against her for writing articles critical of the government.

Criticism of the government should not constitute seditious activity. If a party or any other group is not a threat to the integrity of the state- – in other words, if a party does not advocate nor work towards overthrow of the state–by violent means, then the state must tolerate the party’s other existence.

The United States strongly urges these participating States to comply with their freely undertaken OSCE commitments and remove undue restrictions on freedom of association and the right to peaceful assembly. In short, governments should not stop people from freely and peacefully gathering in order to express their views. They should permit the functioning of political parties and NGOs. They should cease persecuting those who exercise their rights to freedom of association and assembly and remove onerous constraints or repeal decrees clearly designed to inhibit the activities of political parties and civil society.

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