Testimony :: The Honorable Lorne W. Craner
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor - US Department of State
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Commission, it is a pleasure to join you again this year to reflect and consider U.S. policy toward the OSCE. As an Executive Branch appointee to the Commission, I know first-hand that members who serve on the Commission are true leaders in the human rights field. Thank you for the time and energy you put into human rights work. I also want to thank the Commission staff for working closely and tirelessly with my staff.
It is almost exactly one year since I last spoke before the Commission on this topic. At that last hearing, which was held shortly after September 11th, I gave you my firm assurance that this Administration would not abandon human rights to fight the war on terrorism. I vowed that we would continue to use the range of tools available to us to advocate for human rights and democracy, that we would continue to monitor and report accurately and comprehensively on human rights situations around the globe, and that we would continue programming work to assist other countries in improving human rights infrastructure and policies, and in building democratic institutions.
I am honored to come before you today and say that we are working hard to keep our promises. The President’s national security strategy explicitly commits the U.S. to work actively to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets and free trade to every corner of the world. We start from these core beliefs and look outward for possibilities to expand liberty. Our goals are political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with states, and respect for human dignity. America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and, respect for private property.
We have been applying these same beliefs and objectives to the OSCE region. Since we last met on this subject I have traveled many times to OSCE countries, including twice to Central Asia. I plan one more trip this year, and one of my Deputy Assistant Secretaries has been to the region three times, including two trips to participate in important OSCE meetings. My Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary is going there right now. Our goal there has been to fully engage the countries of the region on important human rights issues and to make sure the message is heard that the United States Government holds firm in its commitment to promoting democracy and human rights.
We have also remained vigilant in our monitoring duties. This year we released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001, which have been recognized as an honest, even-handed, and frank account of country conditions.
Regarding my pledge to ensure that United States funding be programmed to improve human rights and democracy infrastructure, we obligated a substantial portion of Human Rights and Democracy Funds (HRDF) for hard-hitting democracy and human rights programs in numerous OSCE countries. This is in addition to the significant amounts of funding from the SEED funds and Freedom Support Act that have also been programmed to support democracy initiatives.
Throughout these diplomatic and programming efforts, the OSCE has continued to play a key role of influence in promoting democracy and respect for human rights in the Euro-Atlantic region. With 55 members, it is in fact the only Euro-Atlantic institution with such a mandate. Since September 11, we have come to appreciate the role of the OSCE even more, as a forum in which questions of both security and human rights are brought together. No other institution in the world has this comprehensive approach to security. We are committed to support the OSCE and its various mechanisms wherever possible, as a means of strengthening democracy across Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Because of the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security and human rights, I would like to highlight the continued importance of the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, which took place last month in Warsaw. After the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Human Dimension meeting is the most prestigious annual human rights gathering. Importantly, it is also attracting a growing number of active NGOs as participants –- a reliable barometer of democratic activity and the growth of civil society. Once again, I would stress the important contribution that your Commission’s staff makes as part of the U.S. Delegation to the Human Dimension meeting every year, and my sincere appreciation to you for making that effort.
We have witnessed great improvements in human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in the countries of Southeast Europe in recent years, and the OSCE has played a major role in achieving these results. The successful conduct of the presidential elections in Serbia on September 29, as verified by international observers, stands as strong testimony to the increasing effectiveness of the OSCE influence in that country. In Albania, the OSCE presence, working closely with the EU and the United States, has contributed significantly to increased political stability, regional security, and improved public order. In Macedonia, where ethnic tensions threatened to erupt into wide-scale conflict last year, constructive engagement by the OSCE greatly contributed to implementing the Ohrid Agreements and to the holding of recent peaceful elections. Croatia, a country that resented the OSCE mission presence for several years, has experienced a change of heart and is now working cooperatively with the organization. The OSCE mission in Croatia has made serious progress this past year toward the day the OSCE will be able to draw down and close the mission as it looks to allocate resources more effectively and address more pressing situations in the area. We look forward to the day when conditions in the other countries of Southeast Europe will permit other missions to follow suit.
Of course, challenges remain. I stated in my testimony last year that the countries of the former Soviet Union continue to present some of the greatest challenges to the OSCE. This is equally true today. Although we have seen some positive steps over the past year, human rights observance has been mixed at best, and in many cases downright poor.
For example, the countries of Central Asia present a very mixed picture. Tajikistan has made some notable gains this year; freedom of media was appreciably increased when the government licensed the first independent radio station in Dushanbe and dropped criminal charges against exiled journalist Dododjon Atovulloev. When the Tajik government lowered the fee for registering NGOs this spring, the number of such groups increased dramatically. Abolishing exit visas also was an important step forward. Yet harassment of journalists and media outlets continues. We therefore urge the government of Tajikistan to reform its media laws and especially to continue consultations with OSCE officials in Dushanbe to ensure that these laws conform with international standards. The government of Tajikistan deserves praise for sanctioning political pluralism by allowing the only Islamic opposition political party in Central Asia to exist. Yet in order for pluralism to flourish, we urge the government to reform election and party legislation to enable more parties to register and campaign freely during elections. Again, we believe the OSCE center in Dushanbe can provide a valuable service in advising the government on acceptable international standards.
Unfortunately, other countries of the region have not fared so well. Turkmenistan remains a country with an extremely poor human rights record. The people of Turkmenistan remain without any of the fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and speech. While we are pleased that this year the government released Shageldy Atakov, a well-known religious prisoner, and abolished exit visas, we remain very concerned about Turkmenistan’s lack of progress in allowing democracy to develop.
In Kazahkstan, the year started off on a positive note with the formation of a new democratic opposition movement and appearance of much critical reporting in independent media outlets. By late summer the situation had changed dramatically. Leading opposition leaders Zakiyanov and Ablyazov have been sentenced to long prison terms in trials for corruption that appear to have been politically motivated. Newly enacted political party legislation will severely limit the ability of smaller opposition parties to survive. And the independent media has been the victim of a consistent and persistent pattern of intimidation, ranging from firebombings of newspaper offices to malicious beatings of journalists. We continue to raise these disturbing issues with the government of Kazakhstan.
Likewise, in Kyrgyzstan, events of the past year have raised concerns. A draconian presidential decree severely restricted media freedom and a leading member of parliament was jailed on what appeared to be politically motivated charges. The decree was later rescinded and the parliamentarian was cleared. A low point was reached in March when police shot and killed five unarmed demonstrators. Since then the Government has taken steps to redress citizen grievances, including the formation of a Constitutional Council which includes some members of the opposition. As the Council proceeds to make its recommendations on constitutional and governmental reform, we hope that it will produce genuine reform that is reflective of the will of all the people.
During the first half of the year we were heartened to see some small but significant steps forward to increase respect for human rights in Uzbekistan. The Government granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to all detention facilities, the first-ever human rights organization was registered, and law enforcement officials were convicted and received long prison sentences after being found guilty of torturing prisoners to death. However, a second human rights group was recently denied registration and has resubmitted its application; even more disheartening were the brutal deaths of two prisoners due to torture. While the censorship board was formally abolished, self-censorship remains a serious problem. Political pluralism will remain a distant goal as long as no opposition political parties are registered. However, we note that Birlik has held a series of organizing conferences to prepare for formal registration.
In the Caucasus, we also have a number of concerns. But here I want to highlight a series of important elections that will take place in that area in the next three years. We will press for elections that meet OSCE standards. Independent election commissions at all levels, transparent vote counting procedures, political pluralism, and a level playing field for all candidates, are among the elements essential for democratic elections.
In this connection, the U.S. is concerned that the constitutional referendum held in Azerbaijan on August 24 did little to advance that country’s democratization. On the positive side, the government and opposition appeared on prime-time TV debating the merits of the proposal. However, we were disappointed by the restrictions on domestic monitoring, lack of election commission reform, limited time for public education, and failure to invite comments on the referendum from the OSCE or Council of Europe. Observations by international observers suggest that voting was marred by widespread irregularities of the kind noted in previous elections. Vote totals in precincts where U.S. and other international monitors were present greatly exceeded the level of participation observed. The substantial irregularities and a lack of transparency have raised questions about the credibility of the referendum results.
In Russia, the government continues to justify its military action in Chechnya as part of the international war against terrorism. However, on the ground, reports of serious human rights violations –- and even atrocities -– emerge frequently after Russian security sweeps. Such conduct only serves to alienate large parts of the Chechen population from the Russian State and to create support for the Chechen fighters and the international terrorists associated with them. Thus far, there has been no meaningful accountability. Accountability is crucial not only to discourage further human rights violations, but also as a means of diminishing support within the Chechen population for the extremism that can occur in response to human rights abuses. The trial of Colonel Budanov will be an important indicator of the commitment of federal authorities to combat impunity.
We also continue to be troubled by the undue influence of Russia's security services in a series of so-called "espionage" cases -- such as those of Pasko and Sutyagin -- which appear to us to be politically motivated. Media freedom also remains a concern, including the precarious situation of TV-6, although our worst fears of two years ago –- in the aftermath of the struggle over ownership of NTV –- have not materialized. In the "good news" category, Russia's civil society and middle class both continue to grow, and official anti-Semitism hopefully is a thing of the past. President Putin himself has taken the lead to condemn publicly last summer’s rash of anti-Semitic bomb threats and attacks. However, the response of lower level officials to these incidents often has left room for improvement.
In Ukraine, we were heartened by the role that non-governmental organizations played in this spring's parliamentary elections. Despite serious obstacles, Ukrainian civil society showed its power and influence in a way previously unknown in Ukrainian politics. This is not to say we do not have concerns about these elections; while the OSCE noted progress over previous elections in some respects, the elections did not fully meet OSCE standards. The abuse of administrative resources, dramatic contrast between the party-list vote and the single-mandate results, the disqualification of a key opposition candidate at the last moment of a by-election, and efforts to silence opposition media show there is much room for improvement.
It has been two years since the disappearance and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. This case has still not been properly investigated. Conducting a transparent, independent investigation resulting in meaningful accountability in this case is crucial not only for the relationship between Ukrainian authorities and civil society, but also for Ukraine's standing in the international community. Such action is also needed in the case of murdered journalist Ihor Aleksandrov, and election monitor Olexander Oliynyk, who disappeared following impressive efforts to promote free and fair parliamentary elections.
In Belarus, parliament recently passed a law on religion that threatens religious freedom imposing an insurmountable hurdle for many “non-traditional” faiths because it limits registration to those religious groups that have been present in Belarus for twenty years. Civil society increasingly is under attack by the Lukashenko regime. Journalists have been imprisoned and newspapers closed down. The government has sought to crush all legitimate opposition. The United States has condemned the recent conviction for slander of the editor of the publication "Robochii," Viktor Ivashkevich, as another attempt by the regime to silence its critics. Furthermore, members of NGOs have been assaulted, fined, and imprisoned and opponents of the regime have disappeared. Under Lukashenka’s direction, the Presidential Guard –- initially created to protect senior officials –- continues to act against the political enemies of the Lukashenka regime with no judicial or legislative oversight. Members of the security forces have committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Meanwhile, the presidential election held last year failed to meet international standards and, unless serious electoral reforms are adopted, local elections expected in early 2003 will face the same fate.
Clearly the HDIM and other OSCE mechanisms including field missions and special representatives play important roles in addressing a range of human rights violations. In Belarus, however, the OSCE faces a unique institutional challenge. The OSCE's response to efforts by the Lukashenko regime to shut down the OSCE's field mission will set an important precedent. Other participating states will take note of how the OSCE reacts. We are therefore discussing with other like-minded participating states possible consequences for Belarus' disregard for the OSCE as an institution. These consequences may include bilateral as well as multilateral components. We feel strongly that the organization must respond to this challenge in real time. We have advised Belarus that failure to resolve this matter will likely ensure it will be raised by the Ministers at the end of the year.
As we consider what to do about countries that defy OSCE commitments, we must look not only to egregious violations, but also to the more subtle eroding of democracy and human rights that is now taking place with respect to religious freedom. We see governments across the NIS considering and in some cases adopting legislation to make their laws on religion more restrictive. We see new restrictions on registration of religious organizations and visa difficulties increasing for foreign religious workers from minority religions. We hear of increasing reports of pressure on landlords not to rent space to minority religious groups, and shadowy visits reminiscent of the Cold War days from members in the Security Services who intimate that minority religions are the objects of security concerns.
While the challenges remain daunting, we are certain that the OSCE can play a decisive role in promoting democracy and human rights. The State Department is committed to the vision of using the OSCE more productively to reinforce our own strategies for promoting democracy and human rights. We see the OSCE as our natural partner in pursuing hard-hitting policies and supporting innovative projects. There are two areas in particular, where I see a strong leadership role for my Bureau: the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) and strategic planning for a new U.S. role in Central Asia.
As noted previously, aside from Geneva, we consider the HDIM to be one of the premier fora for addressing human rights abuses in the world. Last month’s HDIM expanded its broad focus on democratic institutions and rule of law to bring renewed attention to anti-Semitism, trafficking in persons, the Roma and Sinti communities, and torture –- all issues that our delegation emphasized in intervention statements presented at the meeting. We are working to ensure that the integrity of the HDIM process enhances its impact.
As I mentioned at the outset, in the past year my staff has worked very closely with the staff of the Helsinki Commission, including your staff member at U.S. OSCE mission, to improve the modalities of the HDIM. We were pleased by some of the improvements this year, including the hosting of the Permanent Council meeting as a part of the Closing Plenary Session. And, we were pleased to see many OSCE Ambassadors in attendance.
But we would like to take the HDIM even further. Especially, we would like to take advantage of the fruitful discussions at Warsaw and make them a larger part of the discussions of the Permanent Council. For example, in the context of the leading issue we are facing now -- the need to respect human rights while combating terrorism and the importance of democracy and human rights observance for eliminating the conditions that breed terrorism -- we would like to see some type of follow-up meeting.
Mr. Chairman, in the year since I last testified to this Commission, we have seen the liberation of Afghanistan, which brought with it a major reduction in terrorist threat in Central Asia. The defeat of the Taliban was also the defeat of the violent extremists threatening the internal security of the Central Asian republics.
In opening remarks to the Afghan Reconstruction Group, Secretary Powell recently emphasized the importance of human rights when he said, "Perhaps most important of all for the long-term stability of the country, we must help to strengthen the country's fledgling institutions; in particular, we must provide resources and expertise to help the new human rights, judicial and constitution committee lay the groundwork for a vibrant civil society, the rule of law and accountable and transparent government."
Reduced threats to internal stability mean these authoritarian regimes now have the political space to turn to internal political reform. Indeed, this Administration, from President Bush, to Secretary Powell, on down to each of our Ambassadors, has made it clear that expanding cooperation with the U.S. will depend on expanded political reform. And with the exception of Turkmenistan, the governments of the region seem to understand the importance of this imperative and have taken some encouraging steps toward reform.
This puts the OSCE in the advantageous position to offer the comprehensive array of assistance needed, from economic, to security, to political. The OSCE can fill an important role in conflict prevention by balancing all three of these dimensions.
My Bureau is prepared to work closely with the OSCE on these issues. In November I plan to travel to Vienna to participate in consultations with key donors about priorities for democracy assistance in Central Asia. While there I hope to be a keynote speaker for a Special Meeting of the Permanent Council to discuss the deteriorating political situation in Central Asia and what the OSCE could be doing to address it, concentrating on concrete ways that the OSCE can feed a Central Asian focus into the Porto Ministerial in December.
I will also be traveling for my third trip to the region this year to kick off two important OSCE-sponsored initiatives.
In Tashkent, I hope to attend the opening session of a roundtable with NGO and Uzbek government participants to discuss the recent recommendations of the U.N. Committee on Torture. Their report could form the basis for developing a comprehensive anti-torture strategy, which should include human rights training conducted by the OSCE. In Bishkek, I will be visiting the newly opened Media Support Center that will house the first independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan.
There are other areas where I see synergy between the initiatives of the United States and the OSCE. For example, in Uzbekistan, where we are using our Human Rights and Democracy Fund to establish a series of resource centers for HR NGOs, we are working with the OSCE mission in Tashkent to place lawyers in those centers to provide badly needed legal counsel for Human Rights defenders facing harassment by government authorities.
In other areas we envision supporting OSCE efforts to establish regional training centers that would provide technical training for various security issues, such as counter-narcotics and border services, that would have an explicit human rights component.
In closing, let me make clear again that we continue to recognize the OSCE as an increasingly dynamic partner in our efforts in furthering peace, stability, and democratic reform in Europe. Through our OSCE missions abroad, the Permanent Council in Vienna, and, of course, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Vienna, we continue to labor to help OSCE’s participating states to fulfill the basic human rights mission. That mission –- to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, to abide by the rule of law, to promote principles of democracy, and to build, strengthen, and protect democratic institutions, as well as to promote tolerance throughout society -- remains the cornerstone of our firm commitment to the people of the OSCE states.
We understand that attaining such lofty goals that embrace basic human rights can be accomplished only through vigorous and spirited actions –- with an unrelenting will and the necessary resources to carry on. We have, and will continue, to demonstrate our will, as in the delivery of our intervention statements at the recent HDIM meeting in Warsaw in which we addressed such issues as the increasing need for democratic institutions and the rule of law, eliminating torture, promoting tolerance, and respecting and guaranteeing the basic freedoms of religion, assembly and the media.
While our goals remain visionary, our approach must be steadfast and adaptable; we understand that our initiatives must find fertile ground in areas such as Central Asia that are still struggling for stability with little historical tradition of freedom and human rights awareness to show the path. Through the OSCE we continue to give participating states guidance on constitutional and legislative reforms to nurture democratic political institutions. As a member state we continue to remind our OSCE partners of their commitments and moral obligations to the international community to protect and defend the fundamental human rights of their citizens. Where we see these struggles yielding success, we acknowledge the results and encourage their expansion; where we see patterns of failure or languishing commitment to meet these obligations, we seek intervention. We understand that many countries are capable of doing more and we seek out opportunities to assist them to build the foundation essential to a democratic society.
Mr. Chairman, I take this opportunity to state once again my recognition of the Helsinki Commission as an integral part of our government’s commitment to the cause of human rights. Your commitment, and that of your members and staff, stands as strong evidence of our will to further the respect and guarantee of these basic freedoms.
Again, thank you for conducting this timely hearing and for giving me the opportunity to confirm our continuing commitment to the cause of human rights and democracy.