Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Economic Crisis – Closing Session

As delivered by Bridgette Walker, Deputy OSCE Coordinator, Department of State | Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting | Vienna, October 31, 2014

Yesterday, we heard ODIHR Director Link’s report on the recently concluded Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) held in Warsaw. We once again thank Mr. Link and the ODIHR staff for successfully organizing and conducting such an important annual event and for this Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) for the participating States and civil society alike.

It should come as no surprise that the United States considers the human dimension an essential component of a comprehensive approach to security. It is crucial that participating States engage with civil society in a serious and continuous dialogue about human rights concerns. The protection and advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms is always the responsibility of governments, whether in times of prosperity or economic crisis. Indeed, we would argue that it is precisely in challenging times of economic crisis that respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly is crucial. The contributions of an informed, empowered and engaged citizenry are vital to lifting a country out of economic crisis – a government cannot accomplish that alone. Conditions conducive to the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms — the free flow of information and ideas, rule of law, accountable government, and fair and safe labor practices — are the same conditions that foster innovation and growth and facilitate trade and investment.

Within the OSCE region, there are serious challenges in the human dimension, including but not limited to:

  • the persecution of those seeking peacefully to exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms,
  • rising intolerance and xenophobic scapegoating of minority groups such as labor migrants in times of economic downturn,
  • attacks against journalists who expose corruption and other abuses of power,
  • serious impediments to citizens’ ability to receive information of all kinds, and
  • closing space for civil society.

Governments have the responsibility to work for solutions. And for those states that have the will, but lack the capacity, to address the problems they face, other participating States and OSCE institutions and field missions can help.

We should use every opportunity to seek progress in the core problem areas I have mentioned. All participating States have committed themselves to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Austerity measures, disparities in income, and other economic considerations do not absolve a state from meeting its responsibility to uphold the human rights of all individuals. Regardless of the level of their country’s GDP, individuals should be able to freely express themselves and organize themselves into civil society groups or labor unions and participate in peaceful assemblies. Regardless of difficult economic conditions, governments must condemn attacks against the vulnerable and refrain from fanning xenophobic resentments. The state’s responsibility to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms does not fluctuate with the currency or the annual budget or energy prices. The only bottom line that is relevant here is that human rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent in the human person and must always be respected by the state. And, we echo the comments made earlier by the Chairperson that state must also continue to speak out for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, even in difficult times.

Thank you.

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