Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: The Honorable Lorne W. Craner
Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor - U.S. Department of State

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Chairman Campbell and Co-Chairman Smith, it is a pleasure to address you at this hearing on “U.S. Policy Toward the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe.” I have long been aware of the excellent human rights work of the Commission and am honored that President Bush has named me to be the State Department’s representative on the Helsinki Commission. Over the years, Commissioners have been leaders in the struggle for human rights and democracy, and Commission staff has not only proven itself to have a depth of knowledge and experience in this field but has also been very generous and cooperative. So, it is a distinct pleasure to now formally become a part of the Commission process. I look forward to getting to know all of you better and contributing to the important work of the Commission.

In this, my first appearance before the Commission, I am pleased to be joined by Assistant Secretary Jones to discuss the important work of the OSCE. My focus will be on Principle 7 of Basket I, Basket III, and democracy and human rights in OSCE-participating states.

But first, I would like to comment on recent events. In the last month the world has changed dramatically. Some people have expressed concern that, as a result of the September 11 attack on America, the Administration will abandon human rights. I welcome this hearing today to say boldly and firmly that this is not the case. Human rights and democracy are central to this Administration’s efforts, and are even more essential today than they were before September 11th. They remain in our national interest in promoting a stable and democratic world.

We cannot win a war against terrorism by stopping our work on the universal observance of human rights. To do so would be merely to set the stage for a resurgence of terrorism in another generation. As Thomas Jefferson said: that government is the strongest of which every man feels a part.

Since September 11, Secretary Powell communicated to our posts that “we must continue the normal business of diplomacy.” Dr. Condoleezza Rice said only a week after the horrific September 11 attacks, “Civil liberties matter to this President very much, and our values matter to us abroad. We are not going to stop talking about the things that matter to us, human rights, religious freedom and so forth and so on. We’re going to continue to press those things; we would not be America if we did not.”

The work of the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is more important than ever. We will continue to use the range of tools available to us to advocate for human rights and democracy. We will continue to monitor and report accurately and comprehensively on human rights situations around the globe. We will continue programming work to assist other countries in improving human rights infrastructure and policies. We will continue to work to integrate human rights concerns –- such as religious freedom, media plurality, good governance, and combating trafficking of persons —- into overall policy and programs. The Commission can be an important part of this work by continuing to cooperate with us to advance liberty and freedom.

OSCE Significance

We recently marked the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and it is heartening to see just how far we’ve come. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe continues to be of immense importance to hundreds of millions of people. The Helsinki Final Act may well be one of the single most important international instruments of the last half century.

Human Rights provisions were one of the most important sections that the West managed to secure during the drafting of the Helsinki Final Act. One reason for Helsinki’s success is that the CSCE did not fold its tents and go home after the Final Act was signed. Indeed, the CSCE, and now the OSCE, stayed active through the early ‘80s and helped hasten the end of the Cold War. Time and again, human rights violations were spotlighted while the call for human rights standards became the established norm. Since then, the OSCE has transformed itself into a major player in the Balkans and an important component of the European and Eurasian security and human rights infrastructure.

Today, the OSCE has field activities in a dozen and a half participating states, while the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Special Representative on Freedom of Media play increasingly important roles. And every week, the OSCE permanent representatives meet in Vienna to discuss specific human rights developments. The record of the Helsinki Final Act is proof of how much can be achieved in a quarter century.

These years have been at times quite dramatic and have provided some of the most concrete examples of how a heritage of tyranny and oppression can be overcome: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the democratic resurgence of Central Europe, the downfall of Milosevic. And while no one would argue that the ideals of a Jeffersonian state — democratic in practice, republican in form – and human rights, have been attained throughout all of Western and Central Europe, one can still see tremendous progress and a sincere attempt to struggle forward.

Yet as one moves further eastward in the OSCE, one sees a far different, less upbeat story. Ten years ago, the USSR collapsed under its own weight, giving birth to independent republics in Central Asia, eastern Europe and the Caucasus. These were years of promise and expectation, as people hoped that the democratic traditions and economic prosperity of the West would sweep their way. Sadly, this has not been the case.

Even as we move to greatly increase our cooperation on counterterrorism with many NIS states, we must continue to push for improvements on such areas as rule of law, religious tolerance and other basic human freedoms, since democracy and respect for human rights will help enhance the stability of the region.

As they approach their tenth anniversary of independence, the republics of the former Soviet Union continue to present some of the greatest challenges of the OSCE. For this reason, I would like to spend much of my testimony on this region.



The Disappointments of the NIS States

Despite their proclaimed commitment to democratic ideals and human rights, progress has been uneven at best, and in some cases almost non-existent. Equally, if not more disturbing, has been the varying degrees of backsliding in other countries.

The fate of the independent media is disturbing. Many independent newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations sprang up over the last decade, some with broad news coverage and some with narrow target audiences. In some places, independent outlets flourished in the early years. However, they have come under increasing pressure of late, as their respective governments have conducted campaigns designed to eliminate and/or take over any news media that criticize or differ publicly with government policies. The governments have used various tactics: restrictive registration, frivolous or trumped-up tax investigations, criminal libel proceedings and withholding airwave frequencies or printing services, and orchestrating hostile buyouts of publishers or broadcasters by government surrogates. Particularly disturbing have been the murders of independent journalists such as Heorhy Gongadze of Ukraine, Giorgi Sanaia of Georgia, and the presumed murder of Dmitry Zavadsky of Belarus.

In the area of political accountability, the Central Asian republics in particular have performed poorly since gaining their independence. Each country recently has held two rounds of what they claim are elections, and all have been judged by the international community to be badly flawed. They have run the gamut from the problematic to one troubling election restricted to hand-picked government candidates that resulted in a Soviet-style turnout of nearly 99 percent.

In Kazakhstan, President Nazarbayev was elected to a 7-year term in a 1999 election that fell far short of international standards. ODIHR decided not to send an observation mission, citing concerns about the exclusion of opposition candidates, unequal access to the media, and coerced support for President Nazarbayev. It instead sent a small election assessment team, which concluded that the elections fell "far short" of Kazakhstan's commitments as an OSCE-participating state. Outside Central Asia, elections have also been problematic at times, such as in Azerbaijan, where last year’s vote counting, among other things, was deemed “completely flawed” by ODIHR. Assistance from the OSCE and others has helped improve election laws throughout the NIS and provided for reasonably clean balloting on election day; most governments, however, continue to harass opposition parties and prevent key opposition candidates from running, as they retain control of election commissions to manipulate the final vote tabulation.

Yet against all odds and despite the best efforts of these governments to suppress it, there are signs of a nascent democracy in much of Central Asia. Democracies require more than hollow institutions claiming to represent the people; democracies need governments that are responsive to civil society and the demands of all people, including minorities. Opposition parties proliferated throughout Central Asia in the aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union, and they continue to function in all but Turkmenistan, albeit under extreme pressure in some cases. Courageous political figures continue to speak out against government repression and corruption, facing personal risk of harassment, incarceration, and expulsion, not to mention the risk to their families, friends and associates. Nevertheless, such personal bravery can only go so far, and these democratic movements are in a vulnerable position.

Country after country of the former USSR has pulled back on religious freedom in the last several years, creating restrictive legislation that can be used to discriminate against certain religious groups. Harassment of minority religious groups by extremists and some officials continues to be a concern in many states.

NGO activity has been perhaps the most impressive sign that while governments often cling to autocratic traditions of the past, their people are truly beginning to understand the meaning of civil society. Many of these organizations operate not only at the grass roots, but also take a leading role in advancing their chosen cause at a national level. They span such issues as health care & HIV/AIDS, environmental protection & resource conservation, women's and children's rights and faith-based organizations. NGO activities are not limited just to providing social services, but are increasingly taking on riskier issues, such as documenting human rights abuses and advocating peaceful political change and greater accountability of governments. For the most part, governments do not harass NGOs which do not engage in political activity and which avoid criticizing official policies. In places like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, governments crack down on those NGOs that are politically active. NGOs involved in electoral education, election monitoring, and support for political party formation in such countries often suffer badly under government restrictions.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle has been the lack of political will by these governments to implement structural reforms. The legacy of communism and the lack of pre-Soviet democratic tradition continues to hinder the transition to democracy. Several of the NIS are still controlled by those who were in power before the breakup of the Soviet Union or who are unrepentantly authoritarian, such as Lukashenko in Belarus. Their lack of commitment to democratization and human rights has proven to be a considerable obstacle to reform. This inaction has led to a lack of public confidence in the legislature and judiciary, continued widespread corruption, and an ongoing effort to repress freedom of speech. Elsewhere, there are questions over which direction the government is headed. In the long run, only true commitment to and action on democratic reform and respect for human rights, coupled with the rule of law, can guarantee peace and prosperity in the region.

The Need for the OSCE

Against this backdrop, we cannot turn our backs on the people of these troubled countries in these important regions, who strive to achieve the dream of individual liberties and democracy and create for themselves a truly civil society, one where political activists, independent journalists, and NGOs can operate freely and without risk to their livelihoods.

This is why the work of the OSCE is so vitally important. It provides a vital lifeline for those nascent democratic elements who believe in international human rights standards. In Russia, after considerable delay, the OSCE is again present in Chechnya, where it will resume conducting human rights monitoring. Last year in Serbia, the ODIHR promptly launched a project with the Belgrade Center for Human Rights to train representatives of opposition political parties who served as election observers. In Uzbekistan, it has helped train local human rights NGOs on how to prepare reliable, comprehensive reports and to develop better cooperation among local human rights monitors. In Kyrgyzstan, it has worked with the Polish Border Guards to implement institutional reform of the Border Guards, including training on human rights and the law. In Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, it has brought in experts to examine proposed laws on religion, prevailing upon the governments of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to drop certain restrictive amendments to their laws on religion.

In addition, the OSCE covers many transnational issues that would otherwise fall through the cracks and be ignored. A prime example is the Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues (CPRSI), which was established at the Budapest Summit in 1994. It acts as a clearinghouse for information on these issues, including on the implementation of commitments pertaining to the Roma and Sinti, and helps develop and maintain contacts among the participating states of the OSCE, NGOs and others. In Romania, for example, the CPRSI organized a roundtable between government representatives and Roma NGOs to discuss ways of addressing such issues as education for Roma children. The OSCE also takes a comprehensive, regional approach to combating trafficking in persons, which the USG supports by providing an expert who plays a lead role in developing programs to combat trafficking in the OSCE region. Field missions are actively engaged in efforts to prevent trafficking as well as assisting the victims of trafficking. They also work with governments to improve their ability to investigate, arrest and prosecute traffickers, and encourage countries to cooperate and coordinate on repatriation of trafficking victims and investigation of traffickers.

The Example of the OSCE in Belarus

Such missions need to be strengthened to improve the effectiveness of the OSCE overall. A model for the future could be the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Belarus.

Belarus as the last dictatorship in Europe would appear to be an odd example of a success story for the OSCE. Though the September 9 elections were anything but free and fair, the AMG has contributed enormously to Belarusian democratization efforts. Established in 1997, the AMG has provided support for the development of democratic political parties. It has monitored the legal proceedings of the political opposition forces charged with politically motivated crimes, while providing legal support for the defendants. It has raised with Belarusian authorities the issue of discrimination of independent media and established an independent countrywide election observation network.

In an important milestone in the development of an active civil society, 14,000 Belarusians defied official intimidation to receive OSCE-supported training in order to serve as independent observers in the presidential election. Without the OSCE presence on the ground in Belarus, it is highly doubtful any of these important democracy-building initiatives could have been accomplished. This modest gains notwithstanding, we watch with great concern the disturbing events unfold in Belarus, a situation which both the OSCE and the United States will closely monitor.

Conclusion

The OSCE remains an important partner in furthering peace, stability, and democratic reform in this area. Over the past decade, the OSCE has given participating states advice on constitutional and legislative reforms to create freely elected democratic political institutions. The OSCE has trained government officials on human rights and rule of law. In partnership with the OSCE, we have helped them create electoral commissions and the infrastructure necessary to administer free and fair elections. We regularly remind them of their commitments, as OSCE participating states and members of the international community of nations, to respect and guarantee the human rights and fundamental freedoms of their citizens. We have raised these issues at every level, from sessions of the Permanent Council in Vienna and in the OSCE missions abroad.

Such efforts are often fraught with frustration, but sometimes they do succeed. We must always bear in mind that despite the many setbacks we encounter, we are trying to help these countries integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community of nations, to deepen their commitment to democratization, the rule of law and the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Copenhagen Document and other OSCE documents they have all signed. We know these countries are capable of doing more and we want to help their societies make that leap to democracy. We need to help them build the foundation essential for a flourishing democracy.

We must continue our resolve to press important human rights violation concerns at every level, especially at sessions of the Permanent Council in Vienna, in the OSCE missions abroad and, of course, at the Human Dimension Meetings in Warsaw. Our goals this year have been to continue raising such pressing issues as good governance, religious liberty, anti-trafficking, follow-through on ODIHR election recommendations, prevention of torture, strengthening the human rights mandate of the field missions and addressing structural censorship of independent media. These are areas where we would like to work further with the OSCE to improve. In addition, we will continue to work with the OSCE to ensure that the resources available address the most serious human rights problems.

Mr. Chairman, I want to re-emphasize that the Helsinki Commission is an important part of the U.S. team. The knowledge and commitment of your Members and staff to the human rights cause is well known. This hearing is yet another example of your important role. I very much look forward to working with you in the OSCE process. We need to make sure that the OSCE is a results-oriented organization that is long on expertise and positive action, with a minimum of bureaucracy and overlap. I appreciate knowing that we can call on you for assistance

Thank you, again, for holding this timely hearing which provides me with an opportunity to restate the importance of human rights and democracy.