Rule of Law, Part 2: Statement at HDIM Session 13

Flags of the OSCE participating States outside the Hofburg Congress Center in Vienna, Austria (USOSCE/Colin Peters)

Rule of Law, Part 2: Statement at HDIM Session 13

As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Michael Kozak, Head of Delegation
September 19, 2017

In Helsinki in 2008, the OSCE participating States affirmed that “human rights, the rule of law, and democracy… are inter-linked and mutually reinforcing.” As we see from the history of the OSCE region, however, democratic progress is not necessarily linear.

In Russia, the judiciary and law enforcement are used as tools of political repression. There is a climate of impunity for those responsible for egregious human rights violations and abuses, such as the torture and murder of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, and the ordering of the assassinations of opposition politician Boris Nemstov, journalist Anna Politovskaya, and human rights activist Natalya Estimerova. With widespread impunity, corruption by Russian officials is widespread.  According to credible human rights groups, today there are at least 120 people imprisoned in Russia in contravention of Helsinki Final Act Principle VII.

Abuses extend to Russian-occupied Crimea where Crimean Tatars, political dissidents, journalists, and other independent voices experience harassment and politically-motivated prosecution and imprisonment. We call on Russia to release Akhtem Chiygoz, Ilmi Umerov, Volodymyr Balukh, Oleh Sentsov, Oleksander Kolchenko, Oleksander Kostenko, Mykola Semena, Ruslan Zeitullayev, and all the others subject to retaliatory prosecution in Crimea.

In Turkey, the judiciary is subjected to intense pressure by the executive branch. We call on the government to suspend the state of emergency and to rebuild confidence in the rule of law. Turkey must ensure fair, transparent, and timely trials for the tens of thousands of people caught up in the post-coup dragnet. We continue to advocate for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been wrongfully imprisoned.

In Azerbaijan, authorities regularly misuse the law to harass, intimidate, detain, and jail peaceful independent voices. Azerbaijan should immediately release all prisoners of conscience, which NGOs report number more than 140, including former presidential candidate Ilgar Mammadov. Defense attorneys who take on politically-motivated cases are frequently subjected to harassment and suffer professional repercussions, including disbarment. These should end now.

Elsewhere in the Caucasus, the United States commends Armenia’s openness to international consultations in shaping its draft judicial code, and urges Armenia to pass reforms to advance judicial independence. Despite Georgia’s progress, there is still work to be done. Judicial independence and effectiveness is critical for attracting investment and for securing economic growth and stability.

In Poland, following President Duda’s July vetoes of National Judiciary Council and Supreme Court legislation, the parliament will reportedly consider new judicial reform legislation. We urge the government to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland’s constitution or international legal obligations, and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers.

Peaceful demonstrations in Romania this year, the largest since the fall of communism, demonstrated the people’s desire for the rule of law and good governance. The United States supports Romania’s measures to strengthen anti-corruption efforts, the judiciary, transparency, and the rule of law.

The United States encourages Serbia to remain focused on judicial reform, and to utilize its EU accession negotiations as a catalyst to improve the independence of the judiciary from political manipulation and address concerns about the use of lengthy pre-trial detention. We deeply regret that, despite the highest-level promise to take action, Serbian authorities still have not brought to justice those responsible for the brutal murders of three American citizens – the Bytyqi brothers – in July 1999. In Serbia and throughout the Balkans, those responsible for heinous crimes committed in the 1990s must be brought to justice.

We recognize the dedicated and difficult work of Macedonia’s Special Prosecutor, which has operated since 2015, to investigate high-profile cases of illegal wiretapping, corruption, abuse of power, and election fraud. We encourage Macedonia’s new government to support the work of the judiciary in carrying out fair and transparent trials of those charged by the special prosecutor and pursue reforms to enhance judicial independence.

We commend Albania for its continuing implementation of constitutional reforms approved last year, and urge the new government to continue this work.

In Tajikistan, we see the targeting of defense lawyers, particularly the politically-motivated sentencing of Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhkamov, who represented the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, to long prison sentences. The court recently sentenced Yorov to an additional three years in jail on charges of fraud and insulting the Leader of the Nation, bringing his total sentence to 28 years. The United States calls on the Government of Turkmenistan to provide information on all persons who have disappeared into the country’s prison system, including former OSCE Ambassador Batyr Berdiev. We continue to be concerned about poor prison conditions and the lack of international access to prisons.

The United States commends Uzbekistan’s increased engagement with the international community with a view toward tackling its significant institutional reform challenges. We note the releases of several prisoners of concern, and look forward to further progress. We were pleased to see Tashkent receive OSCE PA President Christine Muttonen, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein, and a Human Rights Watch delegation, among others this year, to discuss important rule of law concerns. At the same time, we urge Uzbekistan to facilitate the return of international NGOs to support justice sector reforms.