I welcome today’s Helsinki Commission hearing with Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, His Excellency Eamon Gilmore, currently serving as the Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Ireland assumes this important leadership role amid numerous challenges, especially in the human dimension. Like other members of the Commission, I am grateful that the OSCE will benefit from clear-headed Irish leadership amidst this host of trials.
These include the ongoing crackdown in Belarus and lingering, unresolved issues stemming from the outbreak of conflict in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. The unsettled political situation in Russia, with presidential elections set for March, also warrants our close attention.
The recent shooting of protesters by security forces in Kazakhstan may mean that Kazakhstan’s repressive government is not or is no longer as stable as it has long claimed, and human rights violations may contribute to instability there. I want to express agreement here with the U.S. Representative to the OSCE, Ambassador Ian Kelly, who last year called 2010 a year of missed opportunities for reform in Kazakhstan - reform that could have put the country on a more secure and democratic footing today.
I am also concerned about some of the areas that are not necessarily on the front pages right now.
I have visited many of the countries in the Balkans in recent years, including Serbia last July. The OSCE has done so much to foster peace, security, and human rights in this part of the OSCE region – we must not leave business in the Balkans unfinished now. Bosnia and Kosovo are of particular concern to many of us right now.
And while I am greatly interested in exploring ways to transfer lessons learned in the OSCE region to other areas, particularly in Mediterranean Partners, where the prospect of meaningful democratic reform is now before us, we must not overlook serious human rights problems that remain in some participating States. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan remain the most repressive countries in the region, and their egregious human rights records deserve more attention.
Even countries that have already achieved great accomplishments in advancing democracy and human rights can sometimes experience backsliding – as the United States knows all too well. In its most recent annual report on Freedom in the World, Freedom House voiced particular concern about backsliding in Hungary, Ukraine, and Turkey, warning that “the democratic credentials of each is coming under question.” Clearly, more must be done to ensure not only democracy’s advancement, but to prevent it from slipping away. Like the United States, the European Union must openly address the situation in countries among its ranks if it hopes to be a credible voice for change in other OSCE participating States.
I believe the OSCE has the potential to make significant contributions in all these areas, and I support the Irish Chairmanship as it seeks to maximize this potential.
As Ireland takes on this task, I urge you to work with – and protect the independence of – your partners in this endeavor: the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Each of these institutions are making important contributions every day, from the High Commissioner’s Bolzano Recommendations on Inter-State Relations, to the ODIHR’s on-going implementation of the EU grant for Roma integration in the Balkans, to the Representative on Freedom of the Media’s tireless reporting on the day-to-day threats to journalists and free speech.
Field Missions need to be given similar independence if they are to address the real challenges of post-conflict recovery and democratic development, including respect for the rule of law.
I welcome the reappointment of the Personal Representatives focused on combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. The OSCE has developed a singular body of commitments in this area, but concrete implementation of them needs improvement. I am encouraged by Ireland’s intention to continue work toward that goal.
Finally, this year I am concluding my second three-year term as a Vice President of the Parliamentary Assembly. Before taking this position, I also served as a Committee Officer for several years. I have enjoyed this active engagement in the OSCE process and believe that parliamentarians and diplomats are both essential to its success. I hope you agree, Mr. Minister, and will strive to maximize the impact of both.