On Developments in the Human Dimension in the OSCE Region

In the OSCE’s region, some governments advance the falsehood that only by restricting human rights can societies ensure prosperity and security.

On Developments in the Human Dimension in the OSCE Region

As delivered by Political Counselor Elisabeth Rosenstock-Siller
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
October 1, 2020

Mr. Chair, the United States deeply regrets that the ongoing CoViD-19 pandemic prevented us from convening in Warsaw for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.  We look forward to doing so next year.  Human dimension issues remain central to the work of this organization and to the security of this region.

I wish to begin this statement by honoring the man who put a face on the Human Dimension of the OSCE: physicist and human rights activist Yuri Orlov, the founder of the first citizens’ Helsinki monitoring group, who died at the age of 96 on September 27.  Dr. Orlov conceived the idea that citizens could and should hold governments accountable for the promises they made in Helsinki.  He and a small, brave band of human rights defenders announced the formation of their group at a Press conference in the Moscow apartment of Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov in May 1976.  That first Moscow Helsinki Group inspired other such citizens’ groups in the Soviet Union, as well as KOR in Poland, Charter ‘77 in Czechoslovakia and civil society monitoring organizations now operating in the OSCE region and around the globe.  By defending the role of civil society in the OSCE process, and recognizing that HDIM derives its unique value from the vibrant participation of civil society, we are honoring Dr. Orlov’s legacy.

Like many of today’s frontline civil society activists, Dr. Orlov paid dearly for his selfless defense of human rights.  Soviet authorities arrested him in 1977 and sent him to the Gulag.  In 1986, he was deprived of his citizenship and expelled from the USSR.  He became a U.S. citizen in 1993 and, in 2005, was the first recipient of the American Physical Society’s Sakharov Prize awarded to scientists for exceptional work in promoting human rights.

The most fitting way to honor Dr. Orlov’s memory is never to lose sight of the human face of the Human Dimension.   

In that spirit, I wish to bring the following concerns and issues to the attention of this body:  

Long before the high-profile poisoning of Aleksey Navalny, the United States and many others in this Council repeatedly called on Russia to end impunity for the violent—often deadly—crimes against civil society advocates, members of the opposition and independent journalists.  During the September elections in Russia, observers reported thousands of electoral violations, including physical attacks against opposition candidates and their representatives.

Journalists were detained on spurious traffic violations, and independent observers and candidates’ representatives were denied access to polling stations across the country.  There were also many reports of intimidation against electoral commission members.  The murders, poisonings, and beatings keep mounting in Russia.

The Karelia Supreme Court decided on September 29 to increase the sentence of Yuri Dmitriev, historian, and Karelia regional leader of the NGO Memorial, to 13 years in a high security prison.  His case is widely seen as politically motivated.  I reiterate my call for his immediate release.  

We are deeply troubled by arrests in Azerbaijan of political opposition members and reports of torture and denial of legal representation.  We urge the government to release all those incarcerated for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms—including Fuad Gakhramanli and Polad Aslanov.  We further call upon the authorities to immediately drop the charges against and release from house arrest those who are no longer in detention, such as Tofig Yagublu.    

The United States remains deeply disturbed by the arrest, poor treatment while in custody, and extradition of Bobomurod Abdullaev to Uzbekistan.  Although Mr. Abdullaev was provisionally released after he arrived in Uzbekistan, his status is unclear.  

We call on Uzbekistan to clarify the allegations against him and allow him to travel to any location of his choosing.  We are concerned by allegations that the Kyrgyz intelligence service tortured Mr. Abdullaev during his detention, as well as by the Kyrgyz Republic’s decision to extradite him to Uzbekistan despite its non-refoulement obligations.  The United States will continue to raise our concerns with both the Uzbekistani and Kyrgyz governments.

Separatist “authorities” in Moldova’s Transnistria region are deploying a new so-called “anti-extremism” strategy to prosecute peaceful opposition members and dissidents.  At least eight individuals face criminal charges. We are concerned by these recent developments and call on the “authorities” in Tiraspol to respect human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of movement.  

We welcome Kyrgyz President Jeenbekov’s decision to return proposed legislation to Parliament that would have allowed blocking websites containing “false” or “inaccurate” information.  We are glad to see that the President does not plan to sign the bill and hope the government will not pursue adoption of legislation along these lines.

Under a new law in Tajikistan, individuals and mass media can be fined for spreading “false information” about the pandemic.  Similar rules in Uzbekistan deter independent journalists from providing the public access to accurate, up-to-date information to help fight CoViD-19.  We urge both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to refrain from applying these laws and to repeal them.

We call on the President of Uzbekistan to reject the proposed law on Rallies, Meetings, and Demonstrations as it is broadly restrictive of the right of peaceful assembly.  We commend the government for requesting the Council of Europe and ODIHR complete a legislative review of its revised draft law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organization.

The United States welcomes Kazakhstani President Tokayev’s intention to pursue political reforms to ensure full participation of Kazakhstan’s citizens in the country’s future.  Amendments to the Public Assemblies Law President Tokayev signed on May 25 were a positive step.  However, the law retains concerning restrictions on the ability to conduct peaceful demonstrations.  We urge Kazakhstan to revise this law to remove restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, and to implement President Tokayev’s reform agenda in actions and words.

We are concerned by the appearance of a selective investigation by the Serbian Finance Ministry against 37 NGOs and media organizations, and 20 individuals, for alleged money laundering and terrorist financing.  The list from the Finance Ministry’s Anti-Money Laundering Unit targets many organizations and individuals with a history of criticizing the authorities.  

Serbian law requires that the government has “reason to suspect” an individual or group before requesting such financial information.  We are concerned this standard may not have been met.    Under the Copenhagen Document, participating States committed to allow NGOs to solicit, receive and utilize—for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms—financial contributions from national and international sources.

The United States wishes to congratulate the government and people of Moldova on their new law on non-commercial organizations.  After years of public discussion, this new law is a major win for civil society and democracy.  We encourage Moldova to continue making progress on reforms.

Although HDIM will not occur this year, we must not lose focus on human rights and democratic governance in the OSCE region.  We support the Chair’s initiative to organize Human Dimension-related webinars and encourage governments and representatives of civil society to join.  By partnering with civil society to insist governments meet their human rights obligations, we build upon Dr. Orlov’s legacy and strengthen security in this region. 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.