Asian Partners for Cooperation Conference: The Role of Civil Society in Strengthening Co-Operation Between the OSCE and Asian Partners
The United States is grateful to Sweden for raising this topic at this Conference today.
We are committed to putting human rights, the rule of law, and democracy at the center of our foreign policy, including as we seek to deepen our strong relationship with our Asian Partners. An essential factor in pursuing these goals is the courageous work done by civil society, whose extraordinary contributions in our region have been only more impressive in recent years given the challenges of the global pandemic.
Madam Moderator, OSCE’s Asian Partners as well as all OSCE participating States have affirmed the value of the role played by civil society in ensuring full respect for human rights and democracy; however, we are deeply concerned that the operating space for civil society has been all but eliminated in several participating States.
Madam Moderator, we are witnessing the great dangers that can result for this region and the larger international community when those in power suppress civil society and independent media, and authorities rule unchecked by democratic institutions.
The campaign of onerous restrictions placed on civil society organizations, independent media outlets and individuals designated as “foreign agents” or “undesirable organizations” by the Russian government in recent months and years, jailing multitudes and forcing many others to flee the country, has now been revealed for its true nature: an attempt to eliminate even the possibility of freedom of expression and peaceful dissent, including with regard to questioning Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine.
Complicit in Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, the Lukashenka regime in Belarus continues to intensify its nearly two-year violent crackdown against the pro-democracy movement following the fraudulent 2020 presidential election. The regime holds more than 1,200 political prisoners, has unjustly detained tens of thousands more and has forcibly exiled scores of Belarusians who remain abroad to this day. The Lukashenka regime has perverted the rule of law; levied spurious allegations; forced independent media underground; liquidated hundreds of NGOs; and continues to detain and severely abuse those who exercise their civil and political rights in support of the pro-democracy movement and who express opposition to Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Madam Moderator, the linkage between the brutal suppression of healthy democratic activity in these two countries – including the functions of a robust, independent civil society – and Russia’s and Belarus’s role in the ongoing aggression against another OSCE participating State could not be more clear. The truth, embodied by the very fabric of the commitments undertaken by participating States in this Organization, is that respect for human rights within states is linked to respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity among states. The obverse is glaringly obvious: internal repression and external aggression go hand-in-hand.
Governments that violate the human rights of their own people pose threats to their neighbors and to regional security. The falsity of the notion that only by restricting human rights can societies ensure prosperity and security has been laid bare for all to see – both in the OSCE region and beyond. In Afghanistan, civil society, under sustained attack, faces a dire and disturbing situation that requires the international community’s attention. We are deeply concerned about the Taliban’s restrictions on media that stifle freedom of expression, as well as their restrictions on women and girls’ human right to education – a denial of rights that will almost certainly hold back Afghanistan’s economic stability. We applaud statements delivered by the Asian Partners for Cooperation over the past year drawing clear links between the defense of human rights and democratic principles within the OSCE region and broader trends in South Asia and in the Indo-Pacific.
Madam Moderator, states with robust civil societies are not just more democratic, they are also more resilient, prosperous, and secure, and they are contributors to the wellbeing of the international community. We therefore strongly welcome the attention we are devoting to this very important issue in this format, and we urge all participating States – and all our Partners for Cooperation – to engage fully with civil society and work with them as partners in tackling the complex challenges facing all countries today. We look forward to continuing to seek opportunities to collaborate with civil society groups in the OSCE context to help us improve our adherence to our shared OSCE commitments.