Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 7: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination II

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 7: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination II

Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities; Treatment of Citizens of Other States and Human Rights of Migrants; Roma and Sinti Issues

As prepared for delivery by Desirée Cormier Smith,
U.S. Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice
Warsaw, October 11, 2023

Structural racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance, including the exclusion and othering of Roma and Sinti, migrants, refugees, and other marginalized communities, are global scourges that require global solutions.  Exclusion and intolerance weaken societies and make democracies less prosperous, less stable, and less equitable.  They foster polarization and distrust.  And they rob democracies of the strength, innovation, and creativity that can be drawn from diverse and inclusive societies and communities.   

At the individual level, racism and intolerance undermine the full enjoyment of dignity and human rights for members of marginalized and radicalized communities, including Roma, Sinti, and people of African descent.  Promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms allows members of marginalized and racialized communities to live up to their full potential, which improves the individual’s livelihood and consequently benefits all of society. 

Because of the metastatic nature of racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance, a concerted and urgent effort on the part of all OSCE participating States, our communities, and our institutions is needed to address these challenges.

When we defend equal rights of members of marginalized and racialized communities — of Roma and Sinti, women, and girls in all their diversity, migrants, people of African descent, LGBTQI+ individuals, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background and religion — we help ensure that those rights are protected for everyone

Roma have long faced persistent societal prejudice and systemic discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion, leading to disproportionate poverty and inequities in work opportunities, access to health care, and affordable housing and resources.  Many Roma are vulnerable to illegal or unjust evictions, without consultation, adequate notification, or offer of alternative accommodation.  Racism in policing – whether latent negligence in practice or patent profiling and excessive uses of force in reality – an issue the United States knows all too well, can lead to diminished trust in government and, when accepted and perpetuated, democratic backsliding and a lack of judicial will.

Among the millions of refugees and displaced persons created by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Roma refugees disproportionately face discrimination in accessing refugee benefits and services, including in housing, assistance, and employment.  Roma refugees also often lack equitable access to official documentation to prove residency and citizenship, which further exacerbates their marginalization.  There are devastating reports about how families offering rooms to refugees specifically request to house white refugees only, forcing many Roma to rely on host country governments to provide often substandard longer-term housing solutions.  In some areas, Roma are the only refugees remaining in refugee centers or group housing.  Roma communities are even facing increased hostility, including anti-Roma demonstrations such as those which recently took place in Hungary.

The official statements of Russian President Putin and other senior leaders lay bare that Russia’s illegal war of aggression seeks to wipe Ukraine off the map as a sovereign state, break the will of the people of Ukraine, and subjugate them to the Kremlin’s rule.  The proud citizens of Ukraine of all ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds have courageously defended their country’s sovereign territory to protect their freedom, democracy, and rich culture.  Successive reports of Moscow Mechanism Expert Missions, the OHCHR Commission of Inquiry, and other respected bodies have documented that members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials have engaged in atrocities, summary executions, forcible transfers and deportations of civilians, including children, torture including sexual violence, and other abuses.  Russia is undertaking systematic “passportization” policies in the parts of Ukraine it occupies.  Public servants are already required to accept Russian Federation passports, and by next year all residents – including all newborns – will be required to adopt Russian citizenship and acquire Russian identity documents to access basic resources, including humanitarian aid.  These actions have had catastrophic impacts on the people of Ukraine, including racialized and ethnic communities.

In occupied Crimea, Russia’s forces have disproportionately targeted Crimean Tatars for repression, imprisonment, and abuse since Moscow’s initial invasion in 2014.  Russia holds more than 150 political prisoners from Crimea, most of them Crimean Tatars, and many of them journalists.  In late August, Russia’s forces detained six Crimean Tatar activists for alleged involvement in a so-called “terrorist organization.”  Russia’s occupation authorities commonly use fabricated terrorism charges to target Crimean Tatar civil society activists, journalists, or other citizens who expose Russia’s suppression of their identity, faith, and freedoms. 

Within its own borders, the Russian Federation disproportionately draws from poorer, ethnic minority regions – including Buryatia and Dagestan – for conscription into its brutal war against Ukraine.  This has resulted in a disproportionately high number of ethnic minority troops dying in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States is deeply troubled by heightened ethnonationalism in political rhetoric and decision-making, particularly from authorities in the Republika Srpska entity and from some Bosnian Serb politicians in the state-level and Federation governments.  Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik’s moves toward secession undermine the post-Dayton peace and the Constitution, increasing the risk of interethnic and interreligious conflict.  

In Serbia, we are concerned about the disproportionate enforcement of residency requirements against ethnic Albanians, many of whom have been denied access to essential services based on an often-specious determination that they have abandoned their primary residence.  

Across the Western Balkans ethnic minorities, including Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians, face regular social and institutional discrimination in employment, education, and other essential areas, where harsh political rhetoric against ethnic minorities damages prospects for social integration. 

Both Europe and the United States are facing unprecedented levels of irregular migration.  As we work to tackle the root causes of irregular migration in the Americas and identify a comprehensive solution to the Mediterranean migration crisis here, we must ensure that we are always adhering to international norms and respecting the human rights and dignity of those seeking safety and a better quality of life. 

In Tajikistan, we urge the government to stop pressuring predominantly ethnic Pamiri civil society and NGOs from the Gorno-Badakhshon Autonomous Region to dissolve their organizations. 

We commend North Macedonia‘s recent amendments to its Citizenship Law, which resulted in eased procedures for long-term residents to obtain citizenship and access to healthcare and other essential services.  We are encouraged by North Macedonia’s pledge to end statelessness.

The United States seeks to address inequities that marginalized communities face as a means to a more just and peaceful world for all – NOT because we have solved these issues ourselves, but because we want to be a positive and productive member of the global community committed to equality.  The United States has taken steps to acknowledge and address systemic racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance and the scourge of white supremacy within our own borders.  Racial inequity is not an issue for a single U.S. department or agency – it is the business of the whole of the U.S. government in all of our federal policies and institutions.  We encourage other participating States to take a similarly holistic approach.

The work of promoting inclusive democracy, human rights, and political and economic stability in OSCE participating States is critical to ensuring and bolstering peace and security around the world.  We must work together to strengthen policies globally to achieve the goal of societies free from racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance.  Our collective efforts will reduce corruption, economic-driven migration, and authoritarianism, and the disproportionate effects these ills have on Roma and Sinti communities, migrants, including African migrants, refugees, and other marginalized and racialized communities.