Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Closing Statement

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Closing Statement

As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak,
Head of Delegation
Warsaw, October 13, 2023

On behalf of the Delegation of the United States and Ambassador Carpenter, I wish to express sincere appreciation to the North Macedonia Chairmanship for its leadership in convening this conference, and to ODIHR for organizing it.  As long as Russia continues to obstruct the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, holding the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference remains imperative.

Once again, all but a handful of participating States and hundreds of civil society representatives from across the OSCE region attended the WHDC and made it a success.   Together, we demonstrated our resolve to hold governments responsible for putting OSCE commitments into practice. 

Once again, Russia and the Lukashenka regime in Belarus chose not to attend.  Their empty chairs are an admission their actions are indefensible.  They failed to appear, but they did not escape scrutiny.  Throughout our working sessions, a chorus of governments and civil society voices called out their unconscionable abuses.

The contempt the Kremlin and the Lukashenka regime have shown for this conference is the same contempt they show for their citizens and for the OSCE principles that are essential to regional, indeed global, security.  Respect for the human rights of persons and for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states are inextricably linked.

No country and no person can be safe as long as these principles are trampled with impunity, by Russia or by any other state.  We defend these principles by standing united with Ukraine and by shining a light on the Kremlin’s intensifying internal crackdown that goes hand in hand with Russia’s external aggression.   The plight of Russian democracy activist and political prisoner Vladimir Kara Murza is emblematic of the double-headed evil of external aggression and internal repression.  He was sentenced to 25 years in prison just for speaking out against Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine.  

Here at the WHDC, governments and civil society have spoken out against laws in many participating States aimed at silencing dissent and independent media, preventing peaceful assembly, or criminalizing association.   When governments wield laws as political weapons, it shows they distrust their own citizens and doubt their own legitimacy.  That’s rule by fear, not rule of law.

It’s also a mark of fear and weakness on the part of the authorities.  Strong leaders listen to others, defend their policy decisions, and persuade their citizens to support them.  They do not poison and imprison their critics, criminalize the questioning of their policies, boycott conferences, or hide the horrific consequences of their decisions from their own people through media censorship.  And they do not rig elections and change the Constitution to retain power as a protection against accountability for their crimes.  

Together at the WHDC, governments and civil society also have condemned intolerance and discrimination.  We raised awareness of the dangerous interconnections among hatreds, and we emphasized that no one should be persecuted for their religion, for how they look, or whom they love.  

Standing up for OSCE principles means fully applying them at home and advancing them throughout this region.  Our common security is undermined when governments cherry pick what principles they uphold but ignore or violate the others, such as when they defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states while they violate the human rights of their people.  Full respect for all principles is the only sure path to a secure future for everyone.  

No country has a perfect record, mine included.  We must own up to our flaws instead of hiding them, and make good faith efforts to improve.  Throughout this conference, my government and the vast majority of others have done just that.  But not all.  When governments send GONGOs to peddle their propaganda, nobody buys it.  They waste our time and demonstrate their weakness. 

Here at the WHDC, we have taken note of important progress made.  We can and must make more.   Together, we have explored practical ways we can work together and with the OSCE’s experts, field missions, and independent institutions to advance human rights and democracy, because we know this makes societies resilient, governments responsive, and relationships richer among states.  

But no one here harbors illusions.  This is a sobering time for human rights and democracy.  Consider only a few disturbing developments during the time we’ve been meeting here in Warsaw:

Independent media is reporting Russian law enforcement are currently searching the offices of lawyers who have previously defended imprisoned opposition figure Alexey Navalny.  At least one has reportedly been detained.

A Russian strike obliterated a cafe in Hroza, Ukraine, taking the lives of one-sixth of the village’s inhabitants.

A Russian court rubber stamped the extension of Putin’s wrongful detention of journalist and U.S. citizen Evan Gershkovich.  We again call for his immediate release.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies called for the dismissal of the head of the Belarusian Red Cross.  He was involved in improper activities related to Russia’s transfer of Ukraine’s children to camps in Belarus, and other breaches of integrity.

Legislation recently introduced, passed, or still contemplated in some participating States runs counter to commitments on civil society and rule of law, including in Georgia and the Kyrgyz Republic.  Some subnational entities are also taking these steps, such as the Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The horrific terrorist attacks in Israel in which hundreds of civilians were murdered, including children and the elderly, have motivated spikes in antisemitic rhetoric and incidents in a number of our member countries.  

100,000 ethnic Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.  We again call for independent, international monitoring mission to provide transparency and reassurance to protect the rights and security of ethnic Armenians — particularly those who wish to return.  Azerbaijan must comply with its obligations under international law, including those related to the conduct of hostilities, humane treatment of combatants, and protection of civilians and cultural sites.  

As we bring this conference to a close, our thoughts turn to all those imprisoned merely for expressing views or conveying information not favored by the government.  They and their families are enduring Hell.  We will continue to press for the release of these unjustly imprisoned people.

My delegation has been made aware that some civil society activists and journalists have reported receiving threats for participating in this WHDC, including Kyrgyz journalists and activists Gladis Temirchieva, Semetei Karypkulov and Timur Sultanov, and Azerbaijani journalist Abid Gafarov.  The United States condemns these blatant acts of transnational repression.  It is unacceptable that anyone should suffer reprisals for taking part in this meeting and we will follow these cases closely.

It was a privilege to have met with many human rights defenders here.  My delegation and I value your insights and we are inspired by your courage.  I hope that our WHDC discussions prove worthy of the risks you and your fellow activists across the region take for the freedom and dignity of us all.

We thank the government and people of Poland for their gracious hospitality.