U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently joined a Foreign Ministers meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Secretary voiced her concerns about a range of serious human rights violations throughout the OSCE region.
In Belarus, human rights defenders face unremitting persecution. Political activist Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on trumped up charges of tax evasion. In the eyes of the state, his "real" crime was advocating for human rights. Former opposition presidential candidates, including Andrei Sannikau and Mikalai Statkevich, remain in prison a year after the government crackdown along with other political prisoners.
In Ukraine, the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko raises serious questions about political motivations, said Secretary Clinton. The United States is also concerned by the prosecution of other opposition leaders and members of the preceding government. Politically motivated trials undermine democracy and democratic values. Politically motivated trials risk ingraining self-censorship in the media and discourage civil participation more broadly for fear of prosecution.
In Russia, the recent Duma elections were neither free nor fair. Independent political parties, such as PARNAS, were denied the right to register. Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation. And the U.S. urges the Russian government to take action on the recommendations that will be forthcoming from the OSCE electoral observer mission.
Human rights protections must also extend to cyber space. “Fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion apply as much to a Twitter conversation," said Secretary Clinton, "and a gathering organized by NGOs on Facebook as they do to a demonstration in a public square." That's why the United States urges all OSCE participating States to join consensus on the Declaration on Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age.
In sum, the countries of the OSCE, from Vancouver to Vladivostok and from Minsk to Tashkent, must never lose sight of the organization’s core concept: Respect for human rights and human security is essential to the overall progress and security of a country.