The Week in Review: January 29th to February 2nd
At the Permanent Council: Holocaust Remembrance
Following Holocaust Remembrance Day and in line with the practice of previous years, the Italian OSCE Chairmanship invited the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to address the Permanent Council. IHRA, currently chaired by Switzerland, brings together governments and experts to strengthen, advance, and promote Holocaust research, and remembrance, and to uphold the commitments of the 2000 ‘Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust’.
Dr. Michele Galizia, head of Switzerland’s Federal Service to Combat Racism, addressed the delegations on behalf of IHRA,outlining some of Switzerland work to educate youth, keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, and secure the stories of the survivors.
In response, we stressed the importance that every generation learn and apply the lessons of the Holocaust to prevent new horrors against humanity, and how we must all remain vigilant to protect the human rights and inherent dignity of every human being.
We also encourage all participating States that have not yet done so to use IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism. Using the definition does not change our international obligations or our internal laws, but it does mean that, when we discuss anti-Semitism, we are all talking about the same thing. We cannot overstate the practical value of this in combating anti-Semitism.
At the Permanent Council: The Three Committee Chairs Present Their 2018 Work Plans
The Ambassadors of Spain, Kazakhstan, and the UK presented their work plans for the year as the chairs the OSCE’s three committees.
Thanking Ambassador González Román for Spain’s leadership of the Security Committee, we welcomed Spain’s efforts to increase awareness of how information and communications technologies may affect international peace and security. We also suggested the Committee consider what more the OSCE could do to counter the threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters returning from conflict zones — including by supporting implementation of last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 2396, and suggested a spotlight on preventing and combating trafficking in children and their sexual exploitation, in line with the OSCE Vienna Ministerial Council decision and UN Security Council Resolution 2388 of last year.
Ambassador Kairat Sarybay of Kazakhstan chairs the Economic and Environmental Committee (EEC) for a second year running, and we thanked him for his close coordination with both the Austrian and Italian Chairmanships. We examined with interest the EEC’s work plan for 2018, which includes a focus on connectivity as a means to grow our economies, and highlighted in our response the central role of business environments and trade based on the rule of law play in this effort. We look forward to collaborating with Kazakhstan and the Chairmanship on Second Dimension issues in 2018.
Another OSCE participating State chairing an OSCE Committee for a second consecutive year is the United Kingdom, which leads the Human Dimension Committee (HDC) again in 2018. We voiced our appreciation for Ambassador Sian MacLeod’s principled and inclusive management of human dimension-related negotiations at the 2017 Vienna Ministerial, and expressed our view that the UK’s 2018 HDC work plan rightly focuses on OSCE commitments regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Given the shrinking space for civil society in many parts of the OSCE region, we also commended the UK’s intention to continue producing detailed “Concept Notes” and to involve OSCE institutions, field missions, and civil society in our HDC discussions. We also welcomed the importance that the UK HDC chair places on voluntary reporting, which helps gauge progress, as well as on the continuing challenges participating States face in implementing their Human Dimension commitments.
At the Permanent Council: On Russia’s Ongoing Violations in Ukraine
We again called on Russia to rejoin the Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC), a mechanism for establishing temporary ceasefires in the areas of eastern Ukraine affected by the Russia-fomented and perpetuated conflict there. Russia abandoned its role in the JCCC in December 2017, making it unlikely that the “windows of silence” needed to repair critical infrastructure can take place. Russia must not shirk its responsibilities and return to the JCCC immediately.
We called on Russia and its proxies to allow internationally-recognized humanitarian aid organizations and their local partners to deliver humanitarian assistance. The so-called “LPR” and “DPR” are deliberately impeding the delivery of legitimate aid to people near the line of contact who are suffering this winter. Furthermore, if Russia wants to help address the humanitarian crisis it created, it should contribute to the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan. Russia has not contributed to the UN’s efforts for several years, leaving it to others to help the people Russia claims to care about.
We also voiced our continued concern about those brave enough to speak out against Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Crimean Tatar activists, many of whom were transferred to Russia for incarceration, suffer in poor conditions, with Russian occupation authorities continuing to harass and persecute them with impunity. Ongoing raids on Tatar homes and villages this week resulted in several more arrests on trumped-up charges.
The United States fully supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally-recognized borders. We seek the safety and security of all Ukrainians, regardless of language, religion or ethnicity. We do not, nor will we ever, recognize Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea. Crimea-related sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine. And we join our European and other partners in restating that our sanctions against Russia for its aggression in eastern Ukraine will remain until Russia fully implements its commitments under the Minsk agreements.
At the Permanent Council: On Russia’s Attempts to Silence Independent Voices
We spoke out about the Russian government’s growing intolerance of all forms of dissent, and renewed our call for independent voices to be allowed to speak without fear of harassment and intimidation.
This followed the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia on January 28 — an affront to core democratic values and fundamental OSCE commitments.
We also voiced concern about recent attacks on civil society activists in apparent retaliation for their work. In one incident, unidentified perpetrators attacked Dinar Idrisov, a known activist and public defender of detained protesters, when he was livestreaming the January 28 protests in St. Petersburg. He sustained serious injuries and is currently hospitalized.
We also noted with concern draft Russian legislation that would amend Russia’s foreign agent media legislation to authorize the government to designate as so-called “foreign agents” individuals who publish information online, and receive any kind of funding from abroad. We have previously highlighted the threat posed by Russia’s Foreign Agents Law, which has been used to justify a constant stream of raids, harassment, and legal proceedings that obstruct the work of non-governmental organizations.
At the Permanent Council: A Call on Russia to Release Oyub Titiev and Respect Human Rights in Chechnya
We called on Chechen authorities to immediately release Oyub Titiev, head of the Chechnya branch office of the Russian human rights NGO Memorial, following the Supreme Court of Chechnya’s January 25 decision to authorize his pre-trial detention. Titiev was arrested on January 9, reportedly on questionable drug charges.
We continue to urge Russian authorities to conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into a recent attack on Memorial’s office in Ingushetia, as well as the burning of a vehicle belonging to Memorial’s office in Dagestan, accompanied by threats made on the lives of Memorial employees there. Those responsible for the attacks and threats must be held accountable for their actions.
At the Permanent Council: Russia’s Violations of Georgian Sovereignty
We condemned the Russian Federation’s approval of an agreement with the de facto leaders in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia regarding a joint military force. This so-called “treaty” has no legitimacy, and does not constitute a valid international agreement.
The United States’ position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia is unwavering: We fully support Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally-recognized borders, and reject Russia’s attempts to create so-called “borders” along the Administrative Boundary Lines in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia’s actions restrict freedom of movement of the population and prevent international and humanitarian organizations from fully assisting those affected by the conflicts, and Russia’s recent establishment of customs points in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia contravene its OSCE commitments to the principles of respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty, the inviolability of borders, and the territorial integrity of states.
We also view these actions as inconsistent with the principles underlying the Geneva International Discussions, in which Russia is a participant. The United States urges Russia to withdraw its forces to pre-war positions, in accordance with the 2008 ceasefire agreement, and reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
At the Permanent Council: On Broadcasting Concerns in Moldova
Recognizing the Republic of Moldova’s concerns about disinformation, we nevertheless urged Moldova to respond in a way that does not limit the public’s access to information, especially in the run-up to the Parliamentary elections.
Disinformation needs to be countered, and we voiced our belief that the best way to counter propaganda and its pernicious effects is not through less information, but more: to ensure viewers are well-informed and have access to multiple sources of information.