I am pleased to welcome Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister to the Helsinki Commission today in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for 2010. At the outset, let me congratulate the Government of Kazakhstan for the outstanding organization of your chairmanship. You and your colleagues in Astana, Vienna, and Washington have done a superb job. Kazakhstan has the distinction of being the first Central Asian country to chair the OSCE. This is a great honor for Kazakhstan. I hope Kazakhstan’s leadership of the organization will enrich both Kazakhstan and the OSCE. I especially hope that the Kazakhstani chairmanship will promote democratization and human rights observance in Central Asia, a region that has sadly lagged behind in the critical human dimension.
Today’s hearing is vitally important in maintaining the Commission’s engagement with the political leadership of the OSCE, a tradition spanning nearly a decade. Your appearance here today, early in the Kazakh chairmanship, as well as your consultations with senior administration officials allows us to hear about your priorities and plans and to raise issues of mutual concern. We welcome this opportunity.
The Helsinki Commission likewise has closely followed developments in Kazakhstan since independence, and especially since your government announced its interest in securing the OSCE chairmanship in late 2003. It is fair to say that no prospective chair has undergone as much scrutiny. In this regard, we have been mindful that President Nazarbayev personally signed the Helsinki Final Act in 1992 when Kazakhstan joined the OSCE and the specific commitments made by your government at Madrid.
There are many ‘firsts’ associated with the Kazakh chairmanship, points of distinction for which you can rightly take pride. Given the distinctive focus of the Helsinki Commission on democracy, human rights and the rule of law, I would be remiss not to note that Kazakhstan is the first country assessed as “not free” by Freedom House to assume the OSCE chairmanship. This reality presents unique challenges and opportunities for Kazakhstan, for the United States, and for those of us committed to advancing the principles enshrined in the Final Act.
Kazakhstan’s chairmanship comes at a time when the participating States collectively face myriad challenges from Afghanistan, the impasse over the CFE Treaty and prolonged frozen conflicts to corruption, persecution of human rights defenders and violations of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and media as well as the right to freely profess and practice one’s religion. Your president’s proposal to convene an OSCE summit in Kazakhstan in 2010 deserves serious and thoughtful consideration. I look forward to discussing this initiative with you further as we consider those steps that would be necessary to make such a summit not only a reality, but a success.
Mr. Minister, I look forward to our sustained engagement with you and your colleagues during Kazakhstan’s chairmanship and beyond.