Response to Commissioner of Human Rights Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg

As delivered by Ambassador Ian Kelly to the Permanent Council

Vienna, February 2, 2012

Commissioner Hammarberg, we warmly welcome you to the Permanent Council and thank you for your presentation.  The United States applauds the coordination that takes place between the OSCE and the Council of Europe.  Together the OSCE and the Council of Europe have an important impact on the development and maintenance of freedom and democracy throughout the region, and we need to continue to ensure that the two organizations’ activities are complementary rather than duplicative.

We value particularly the information exchange between the OSCE/ODIHR and your office with regard to the situation of human rights defenders.  We appreciate the emphasis placed by you on the protection of human rights defenders during your tenure and in particular your support for Ales Byalyatski in Belarus.

We were dismayed to learn of the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer Aleh Volchak on January 27—another in a continuing series of attempts meant to silence the critics of the Lukashenka regime.  We reiterate our call for the immediate, unconditional release and full rehabilitation of all political prisoners in Belarus.

Commissioner Hammarberg, let me assure you that the United States, in concert with our European partners, will continue to monitor developments in Belarus and will seek to hold accountable all those responsible for repression.  We also remain committed to support the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people.

The protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms requires constant vigilance, and we commend your focus on media freedom.  We appreciate your contributions to OSCE events in 2011, particularly the Media Freedom lectures on both the protection of journalists and media pluralism.  The United States will continue to advocate for the safety of journalists and protection of fundamental freedoms in the digital age. We encourage greater coordination between the OSCE and the Council of Europe in our joint focus on media freedoms.

We also applaud your attention to the often horrific conditions that Roma, Sinti, and Travelers confront throughout Europe.  We urge participating States to review the Council of Europe’s recommendations and to develop strategies to implement practical steps for the protection of Europe’s vulnerable communities.  We look forward to your final report on the human rights of persons belonging to the Roma and Travelers communities in Europe.

We greatly appreciate your recognition of the discrimination that exists against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons.  The Council of Europe has noted gross discrimination in some member states against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity although all participating States have committed to prevent all such forms of discrimination.

It is imperative that participating States review your report on “Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Europe.”  We need to demonstrate courage and leadership in confronting and eliminating practices that lead to the marginalization and stigmatization of such individuals and begin a dialogue on this issue.  We urge the CoE and OSCE participating States to condemn violence against LGBT individuals.

Commissioner Hammarberg, we wish you every success during your last months of your work in the Commissioner’s Office, and we look forward to continuing cooperation with your successor, Dr. Nils Muiznieks.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.