Warsaw Human Dimension Conference | Follow up on Invocations of the Moscow Mechanism

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference

Closing Session:  Any Other Business

Follow up on Invocations of the Moscow Mechanism

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

The United States would like to follow up on the use of the Moscow Mechanism and raise continuing concerns about Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, its repression at home including in its Republic of Chechnya, and serious human rights abuses in Belarus and Turkmenistan.  The grim human rights conditions that led to these invocations have not been resolved.  We call on Russia, Belarus, and Turkmenistan to take immediate steps to address the concerns identified in the Expert Missions’ reports and implement the recommendations in them.

In March and June of last year, the United States joined numerous fellow participating States, with Ukraine’s support, in invoking the Moscow Mechanism to examine human rights violations and abuses committed by Russia on Ukraine’s sovereign territory since February 24, 2022.  Every day, evidence mounts of members of Russia’s forces committing heinous crimes, including torture and executions of civilians, in Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine.  Civilian infrastructure has been decimated by Russia’s relentless bombing and missile strikes.  Thousands of civilians have been senselessly killed and the quality of life severely degraded for tens of millions more.  Some of the most egregious crimes by members of Russia’s forces have been committed against the most vulnerable, especially Ukraine’s children. The most recent Moscow Mechanism Expert Mission report from May 2023 found that members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials have engaged in the large-scale forcible transfer of Ukraine’s children to Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine or their deportation to Russia itself.  They are subjected to pro-Russia indoctrination and some have been adopted into Russian families.  Russia’s forcible transfer and deportation of Ukraine’s children was key to Secretary of State Blinken’s determination that members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine and to the International Criminal Court’s issuance of arrest warrants for President Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights.

The Russian government has responded to most of these well documented war crimes with denial, victim-blaming, and/or doubling down.

We know that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and other malign actions toward its neighbors are connected to its repression at home.  The Moscow Mechanism report presented in September 2022 concerning repression inside the Russian Federation summarizes both long-standing concerns and new violations and abuses of human rights.  These include: employing “anti-extremism” laws against perceived political opponents and religious groups not favored by the State; increasing numbers of political prisoners; lack of freedom of peaceful assembly and association; censorship of independent information online; and harassment or forced closure of virtually all independent media.  The Expert Mission report noted that the situation had worsened at all levels, and it continues to do so.  As the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine drags on and its military losses increase, the Kremlin’s need becomes more urgent to silence dissent and hide information from the people of Russia.

In Belarus, in response to the fraudulent 2020 presidential election in Belarus and the human rights violations prior to, during, and after the election, the United States joined other concerned participating States in invoking the Moscow Mechanism.  The resulting report characterized the election as neither free nor fair and described horrific attacks on peaceful protestors, members of civil society, journalists, human rights activists, political figures, and others, in some cases involving torture.  The report was ignored by Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who remains in power only by selling out the sovereignty of his own country to his backer in the Kremlin.  Since the second Expert Mission report on Belarus released in May 2023, evidence of torture and other acts of repression has continued grow.  The political prisoner population has increased to more than 1,500 people.  A number of those arrested have been held incommunicado for months, and their family members and attorneys have been denied visits.  We will not stop calling for justice in Belarus, starting with the unconditional release of political prisoners.

The United States also joined other participating States in the 2018 invocation of the Moscow Mechanism concerning serious human rights abuses in Russia’s Republic of Chechnya, particularly against LGBTQI+ persons, human rights defenders, members of the independent media, lawyers and others.  We have seen no improvement in the situation and Russian Federation authorities have taken no action to hold those responsible to account.  Chechen authorities continue to target for repression members of minority groups, dissidents critical of Chechen authorities, and journalists, as well as the family members of such individuals.  Abusers continue to operate in a climate of impunity.  The Kremlin gives a free hand to Chechnya’s brutal leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who the United States and the European Union have sanctioned.

Since the Moscow Mechanism was invoked concerning Turkmenistan in 2002, the United States repeatedly has raised concerns about prisoners who have not been allowed to communicate with the outside world, including the former Permanent Representative and our colleague at the OSCE, Batyr Berdiev.  NGOs have documented numerous cases of individuals whose fate is still unknown.

At the Tirana Ministerial in 2020, Turkmenistan joined consensus on a decision strengthening OSCE commitments concerning the treatment of persons in detention and the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.  The Tirana decision also addressed enforced disappearances.  Turkmenistani authorities need to urgently provide information on, and unhindered access to, all prisoners and ensure that families have information on the whereabouts and well-being of their relatives, including their current place of detention and details of their custodial sentence.