WASHINGTON – The Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Co-Chairman, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), and Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) questioned today whether Kazakhstan has earned the right to lead the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), citing ongoing human rights problems in that country. Kazakhstan, which joined the OSCE in 1992, has announced its desire to serve as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, which is holding its annual Human Dimension Implementation (HDIM) meeting from September 19-30 in Warsaw, Poland.
“I would be willing to support Kazakhstan’s chairmanship but they have to earn it. I believe they still have a long way to go,” said Brownback. “Kazakhstan can boost its prospects by taking timely steps to improve its human rights climate and accelerate the process of democratization, especially media and religious freedoms.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“The leadership of the OSCE must never be determined by default,” said Commission Co-Chairman Smith. “It is not a right, but an honor. Kazakhstan must demonstrate leadership in implementing its OSCE commitments, starting with a good presidential election in December.”
The Kazakh presidential election is scheduled for December 4th. Previous elections have not met OSCE standards. The United States has warned Kazakhstan that the conduct of the election and improvements in human rights are a critical yardstick for measuring Kazakhstan’s progress.
The 2009 Chairmanship of the OSCE will be decided at its December 2006 Ministerial meeting. All 55 OSCE participating States must agree for a country’s candidacy to succeed. Kazakhstan is the first Central Asian country to aspire to the chairmanship.
“Leading by example is a prerequisite for any country desiring to chair, and to lead the Organization a country must lead on implementation,” said Commission Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD). “Kazakhstan’s December presidential elections will provide an excellent opportunity for it to show that it is serious about human rights, as the OSCE considers its candidacy for the OSCE chairmanship.”
Chairman Brownback concurred: “The upcoming presidential contest must get a clean bill of health from the OSCE election monitors for Kazakhstan’s candidacy to receive serious consideration,” he said. “It will not be enough to see progress over past elections.”