Response to the Report by Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, Director of ODIHR, on the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

As delivered by Ambassador Ian Kelly
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
November 8, 2012

Thank you, Ambassador Lenarčič, for your comprehensive report on the 2012 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.  The United States strongly supports ODIHR, which has earned its place as the key institution in the OSCE’s efforts to assist participating States in meeting their Human Dimension commitments by promoting democratic development, human rights, and free and fair elections.

We agree with your assessment that this year’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting was a success.  As you mentioned, the HDIM drew an enormous number of participants, both governmental and non-governmental.  The turnout clearly shows that the HDIM remains one of the most important events on the OSCE calendar.

As has been the case in previous years, the level of participation in most sessions of the HDIM was so high that the time allotted for interventions and replies had to be curtailed several times.  Attendance and audience participation at the diverse array of 51 side events also was broad and engaged.  These indicators suggest that shortening the HDIM, as some are proposing as we assess Human Dimension modalities, would prove unwise and ill-advised. It would also be untimely, as HDIM chronicled serious challenges of implementation in a number of participating States, including troubling developments affecting the ability of non-governmental organizations and activists to pursue their efforts.

We are reassured to hear from you that geographical participation of NGOs was balanced – this shows that the HDIM is an attractive and important event to civil society throughout the OSCE region.  The HDIM provides an unequaled opportunity for civil society to join us at the table and to be heard.  In some cases, the HDIM represents the only time NGOs are able to speak directly before their own governments.  We commend ODIHR and the Irish Chairmanship for ensuring full NGO access to and participation in the HDIM.  We look forward to continued high standards of openness and access at the upcoming Ministerial and at next year’s Human Dimension meetings. We will not support proposals that restrict NGO participation.

We also took note that the most over-subscribed sessions were those concerning core issues concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms.  We believe that this also demonstrates that the HDIM is effective in its review function.  None of us like to be the target of criticism.  Many shortcomings were identified during the HDIM, and we must follow up with action.  That is why we hold this Permanent Council discussion of the HDIM each year – to bring the matters raised at the HDIM before this decision making body and to take needed actions to address them, either in the OSCE or inside our own countries.

Each year, certain themes and specific cases emerge throughout the meeting, in response to current developments, threats, and challenges. A major theme again this year was the harassment and restriction faced by some human rights defenders and civil society representatives.  The United States raised many cases during the course of the HDIM, including our concerns about several activists who had participated in previous HDIMs and other OSCE events, but who are now imprisoned, including Ales Byalyatski of Belarus and Vladimir Kozlov of Kazakhstan.  We urge all participating States to ensure that members of civil society are allowed to function, alone or in community with others, whether online or off line, unhindered and with full respect for their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly.  We believe that the protection of human rights defenders should be a focus of an OSCE event next year.

We share Ambassador Lenarčič’s concern, frequently repeated by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, that there is a need for participating States to better implement existing commitments on free expression more effectively, including the commitments to members of the media. We are witnessing deterioration of media freedom within the media in numerous participating States.  At the HDIM, we raised concerns about specific cases, legislation, or policies in Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, as well as in Hungary and other participating States.  We urge these countries to look closely at these issues, and hope they will be addressed appropriately.

At the HDIM, the U.S. reiterated the view that fundamental freedoms and human rights are exercised also through digital media. Internet freedom is not only about the freedom to express ones views online, but also to use the new technologies to exercise the freedoms of association, assembly and religion. For example, connective technologies help civil society members network, organize activities and assemble together both online and offline.  We believe this should also be a topic for OSCE work next year.

We appreciated the focus at this year’s HDIM on tolerance and non-discrimination and reiterate that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, whether they are Roma, national minorities, or LGBT, to name just a few, must be respected. All persons must be treated with dignity, and violent crimes and other crimes of hate are never justified against any human being. There is still much work to be done by participating States in this regard.  We support ODIHR’s work and the continued work of the three CiO Personal Representatives to address these issues and assist participating States in implementing their commitments. This is another topic which deserves more attention next year.

Mr. Chairman, we also strongly support OSCE election observation activities, including the work done this year in Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus – and most recently in the United States – to name just a few of the important elections that ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly have observed.  A budget with sufficient resources to monitor all elections, East and West of Vienna, remains critical.

In conclusion, we look forward to working with other OSCE states to fulfill our shared obligations to implement our OSCE commitments, and we believe that the HDIM remains the most important review mechanism we have to assist us in identifying areas where we need to do better. We also retain our full confidence in the vital work performed by ODIHR and will continue to support it.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.