Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate the continuation of Commission engagement with key policy makers from the State Department responsible for U.S. OSCE policy. I welcome the high-level and personal attention given to recent OSCE events by Secretary Powell and urge a sustained engagement to utilize this unique organization to advance U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region. Today's hearing also provides Commissioners with an opportunity to highlight some of our priorities not only with respect to the OSCE as an institution, but also in terms of participating States of particular concern.
As sponsor of the Senate resolution on anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region, I thank you as well as Ambassador Minikes and his team for securing agreement to the convening the Vienna Conference on Anti-Semitism, held in June. I enlist your support for a sustained specific OSCE focus on anti-Semitism, especially in light of the German offer to host a follow-up OSCE event in Berlin next year. In order to maintain focus and momentum on this issue, the December OSCE Ministerial should formally embrace the German initiative.
As we prepare to mark the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th later this week, we are reminded that developments in seemingly far-off lands can have dire consequences for Americans and American interests at home and abroad. Failed and failing states--typically led by authoritarians or outright dictators--provide fertile grounds for all sorts of problems. Coddling such leaders is short sighted at best.
I share Chairman Smith's concern that Central Asian leaders believe they can get away with anything, as long as they are cooperating in the war on terrorism. While the U.S. has maintained a public profile on human rights in the countries of the region, a growing number of individuals see a growing gap between rhetoric and results. Have U.S. warnings that further development of relations is hindered by their poor human rights records begun to ring hollow? What consequences are there for leaders bent on continuing or even intensifying their crackdown on civil society and political opposition?
Obviously, the worst offender is Turkmenistan, where no human rights of any kind are observed. Having activated the OSCE mechanism to look into developments in that country since last November, the participating States, including the U.S. appear to have backed off. If the OSCE cannot or will not move ahead, what is the U.S. doing bilaterally? The Commission received reports last week that Turkmenistan's former Foreign Minister and Ambassador to OSCE may have died in prison. Any light our witnesses can shed on this would be appreciated.
As a former law enforcement officer, I have a particular interest in the OSCE's training program for policemen in Kyrgyzstan. Other countries have expressed interest in this pilot project so there is a great deal at stake in its success. In March 2002, policemen in Kyrgyzstan shot six demonstrators leading to a year of social and political upheaval. Clearly, policemen must have crowd-control options short of lethal force. But NGOs and human rights activists worry that empowering the police without inculcating respect among officials for freedom of assembly will strengthen the increasingly authoritarian regime in that country. I hope our witnesses will reassure us that serious and credible human rights provisions have been built into OSCE policing programs.
Central Asia has become the OSCE's "black hole" of human rights but there are plenty of concerns. As President Bush prepares to meet with President Putin of Russia, I trust that human rights concerns stemming from the ongoing war in Chechnya will be on the agenda. The most egregious violations of international humanitarian law in the OSCE region are occurring today in Chechnya.
Belarus continues to violate basic rights and freedoms, with independent media and foreign and domestic NGOs under increasing harassment. Last month, U.S.-funded organizations such as IREX and Internews were closed down. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media was forced to cancel his visit to Belarus after being denied a visa. No progress has been made on the cases of the disappeared opposition leaders, and Minsk has made no effort to meet the four conditions set by the OSCE in 2000. As Senate sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act, I am concerned that the U.S. is not doing enough to support civil society and democratic forces in Belarus.
While we welcome Ukraine's participation in the coalition peacekeeping operations in Iraq, it is important that we not downplay other longstanding concerns, including arms deals, high-level corruption and the assault on media freedoms. Three years after the Gongadze murder, and despite considerable international pressure, the Ukrainian authorities' mishandling of that investigation has only reinforced suspicions of official involvement in his murder. We also have concerns that the crucial presidential elections scheduled for next year meet OSCE standards.
Mr. Chairman, I could go on at greater length but, in the interest of time, will stop here and look forward to the response to these points by our witnesses.