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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on National Minorities at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

WARSAW, POLAND – The following statement on National Minorities 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:

National Minorities

Statement Delivered by George Frederick

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

My delegation wishes to begin by commending the first High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max van der Stoel, for his tireless efforts over the course of eight years to reduce the possibility of inter-ethnic conflict and promote respect for national minorities in the OSCE region. We encourage all participating States to extend their cooperation with his successor, Rolf Ekeus. We also note that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session focused attention on national minorities, especially the Paris Declaration’s emphasis on the “need for meticulous compliance by participating States with the obligations they have assumed under the OSCE to protect national minorities” and that meeting also stressed the importance of adopting and implementing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.

There are not only compelling moral reasons for governments to respect the rights of individuals belonging to national minorities — recognition of the inherent dignity of the human being, but there are practical ones as well. There is a clear correlation between respect for the rights of these individuals and internal stability. The greater the respect for national minority, the less likely as a whole for inter-ethnic conflict. In addition, there are economic benefits to the greater society when the rights of minorities are respected and their access to education and employment are supported. While there have been many advances in ensuring respect for the rights of people belonging to national minorities, this progress is not evident everywhere in the OSCE region.

Two years after the end of the war in Kosovo, attacks against the Serbian, Roma and other minorities continue. Murder, grenade attacks, bombings, arson and numerous other violent incidents are doubly tragic, as most are being perpetrated by members of the Kosovo Albanian community, who until recently were themselves victims of violence. In February of this year violent incidents occurred on virtually a daily basis. There can be no true peace in Kosovo as long as violence and even lesser forms of harassment against minorities continue and they are made to feel unsafe. We commend the efforts of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo which is engaged in various confidence and security building measures designed to increase the participation of minority communities in society, including the Communities Committee. We encourage Serb and other minority to participate in the upcoming Kosovo elections to ensure their full representation in the Kosovar society of Kosovo. Moreover, we applaud the commitment of the Serb and Albanian ethnic communities in southern Serbia to the multiethnic police training organized jointly by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior and OSCE Mission to the FRY as a tool for fostering peace and security.

Inter-ethnic conflict continues to mar parts of the OSCE region, the most notable example being in Macedonia. The minority situation in Macedonia has always been complex and certainly is more so now. Without doubt, lingering problems in the treatment of minorities were partly the cause of the recent inter-ethnic troubles. That said, steps were being taken by Macedonian authorities over the years to improve the situation and there was a reasonably democratic framework in which legitimate grievances of minority members could demand a response. Obviously and unfortunately, other forces were at work which led to the violence, including criminal activity and aggressive nationalism among some elements of Albanian society.

The United States urges all parties to work according not only to the letter but also the spirit of the recently achieved agreement which has ended the conflict there. We believe that the OSCE has a very important role in advancing essential components of the framework agreement. By responding positively to Macedonian government appeals for assistance we improve the prospect for peace and stability in that country and the region.

History is replete with examples of the devastating consequences that intolerance for national minorities in a multiethnic state can take. Regrettably, the continuing conflict in Chechnya – which at its most fundamental level is an expression of the destructive character of inter-ethnic conflict – has yet to be resolved. Widespread violence against civilians throughout Chechnya continues to exact a devastating human toll. There are credible reports of flagrant violations of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law by both sides. Russian forces have engaged in torture, arbitrary detention, summary execution, and disappearances. Chechen fighters have engaged in assassination, hostage taking, and indiscriminate use of land mines and other explosive devices intended to cause widespread civilian casualties. The United States supports the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. However, we are convinced that only a political solution will bring the conflict to an end. We urge the Government of the Russian Federation to undertake demonstrable steps toward renewal of a political dialogue. We also urge the transparent investigation into all human rights abuses there.

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