Response to the Address by OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, Ambassador Knut Vollebaek

As delivered by Ambassador Ian Kelly
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
July 12, 2012

The United States warmly welcomes Ambassador Knut Vollebaek back to the Permanent Council and thanks him for his report. We look forward to the release of the guidelines to promote integration in diverse societies.

We share the Ambassador’s view of the fundamental importance of the principles of nondiscrimination, equality, and respect for diversity. Therefore, we share your concerns over persistent violations of the human rights of persons belonging to minorities within OSCE participating States.

It is clear from your report that, while advances have been made, there are still significant problems related to minority education in the OSCE area. We urge participating States to follow through on their commitments in this important area. We note that several participating States are taking steps to develop multilingual education programs.

Education has been one of the critical tools with which we have advanced equality and promoted integration in the United States. When we reflect on our past, we remember the systemic discrimination, exemplified through the educational system, toward Native Americans, as well as toward African Americans. Over the last decades, we have been working to right these wrongs, but we still have much work to do in the United States. These painful lessons lead us to perceive the current experiences of far too many Romani people as some of the most glaring human rights tragedies of Europe witnessed today.

With regard to challenges for minority education within the OSCE community, the lack of access to education for many Romani children is tragic, and its consequences will continue to be felt in terms of lost human potential and lost GDP. We observe this occurring within the broader context of discrimination against Roma, and note that the situation is deteriorating rapidly as the economic crisis continues. Protecting and promoting the human rights of members of Roma communities everywhere has long been a personal commitment for Secretary Clinton and, under this Administration, it is a stated priority of the United States. We reiterated this commitment by becoming an Observer to the Decade of Roma Inclusion last month in Sofia. Thus, it bears repeating that like all people, Romani persons should have the opportunity to live free from discrimination, enjoy equal access to education, healthcare, housing, and employment, and have the ability to pursue their full potential.

Ambassador Vollebaek, the United States echoes your concerns regarding the participating States of the Western Balkans, and we thank you for your commitment to reducing inter-ethnic strife in Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. We agree that in Kosovo and Serbia more must be done to address directly the root causes of ethnic tensions so that new generations can move forward. The United States stands behind the Ohrid Framework Agreement, and we fully support your continuing efforts to encourage reform of the education system in Macedonia. While the government of Macedonia has adopted a strategy for integrated education, we regrettably agree with your assessment that the government has not provided the strategy with the backing it needs. Such a program is an indispensable tool to overcome interethnic tensions and divisions.

The United States also strongly supports your work in Central Asia. As you rightly point out, your Recommendations on Policing in Multi-Ethnic Societies provide participating States with the much needed practical guidance required to develop policies and laws to strengthen inter-ethnic relations and increase the operational effectiveness of their police services. The project supported by your office in Kazakhstan is an excellent example for the region and beyond.

We also share your concerns in Kyrgyzstan about what many see as ‘incomplete and biased justice,’ which leaves the minority ethnic Uzbek community in Kyrgyzstan feeling marginalized, and which undermines the prospect of reconciliation. We join in your call for the Kyrgyz Government to take visible, effective, impartial, and immediate measures to enforce law and order with full respect for human rights and due process under Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional and international commitments, and to promote the participation of members of national minorities in all state structures.

In Georgia, the United States welcomes the ongoing education reforms, including increasing access to education in minority languages, and the repatriation and reintegration of Meskhetians. We also welcome the High Commissioner’s call for the return of a strong OSCE presence in Georgia, especially in light of the violent incidents that have taken place in recent months. While the United States urges all stakeholders to show restraint and avoid provocations that could undermine security and stability in the region, these events further demonstrate the need for greater transparency and international monitoring in the occupied territories.

We greatly appreciate your perspective on the trend toward ‘kin-State activism.’ Too often we hear the cause of national minorities and criticism of aggressive nationalism in another country invoked as a political tactic. To establish credibility on these issues, a kin-state must demonstrate genuine efforts to address racism and xenophobia within its own borders

Ambassador Vollebaek, your efforts play a crucial role in reducing tensions within and among states through addressing sensitive issues related to national minorities. The United States continues to support your work fully and wishes you all the success in your endeavors.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.