It is an honor and privilege for me to welcome my very good friend Foreign Minister Saudabayev back to Washington in his new role as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. We have known each other for many years, going back to when the Minister was the Ambassador here in Washington. As you know, I long supported Kazakhstan’s candidacy to chair the OSCE. I urged the U.S. Government to back the proposal, and was pleased when the U.S. joined consensus at the 2007 Madrid Ministerial based on certain assurances.
There were problems with Kazakhstan’s record on democratization and human rights, but I believed then, as I do today, that inclusiveness was – and is – the best way to proceed. I was in Madrid and heard your predecessor make specific pledges of reforms on behalf of your government. I believe that promises are meant to be kept. I have every expectation, Mr. Minister, that your government will continue working to translate its Madrid promises into actions consistent with OSCE commitments.
I look forward to hearing more about Kazakhstan’s proposal for an OSCE summit this year. I hope that a summit would be not only substantive, but also conducted in line with past practice, including being fully open to NGOs and civil society.
In that vein, the case of Yevgeny Zhovtis has received a great deal of attention. He is the best known human rights activist in Kazakhstan, and has testified before this Commission on several occasions. I understand that an appeal has been submitted to the Supreme Court, and I hope it will move forward.
As the former President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I would ask that you look at ways to develop the relationship between the PA and the governmental side of the OSCE. I strongly believe that the PA has much expertise to offer on a wide range of issues including, of course, election observation. As you may know, over the past several years some have suggested that the OSCE work more closely with the CIS in the field of election observation. This is an interesting idea and one that should be explored—in cooperation with our other election observation partners--for future election observation missions
I also ask that you continue to make a priority the whole range of issues covered under the OSCE Tolerance rubric. Racism, racial profiling, and blatant discrimination continue across the OSCE region, as evidenced by recent violent attacks on African populations in Italy. An increased focus on racism, in addition to efforts focused on migrants, must continue to be at the top of the OSCE’s agenda and a focus at this year’s high-level Tolerance meeting.
The desecration of a Jewish cemetery in France on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz further demonstrates the need to maintain a focus on combating anti-Semitism. The increased political focus on Muslim populations in many countries, including banning minarets and face veils, also requires immediate attention. Efforts of the ODIHR Tolerance Unit, the Chairman-in-Office Personal Representatives on Tolerance, and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities are critical to addressing these issues.
Mr. Minister, your leadership will be very important to the OSCE this year. We all support you and hope that Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship will be a success. We appreciate the good working relationship that has developed between your embassies both here and in Vienna with the Helsinki Commission, and look forward to continuing that throughout this year and beyond.