Forty years ago the signing of the Helsinki Final Act spurred courageous human rights defenders across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to press for the implementation of fundamental rights. Today, a new generation of brave women and men are working tirelessly across the region to realize those same rights.
In recent years, there has been an uptick in the disregard for human rights in member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said U.S. Head of Delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension meeting David Kramer.
“Nowhere in the region is this more evident than in Russia,” said Mr. Kramer, “where an increasingly authoritarian government has eroded the democratic institutions that ensure a government’s accountability to its people.”
“In Russia today, the space for civil society and human rights defenders is closing as the government increasingly uses the cloak of legislation to stigmatize and, in some cases, criminalize the work of non-governmental organizations. A largely state-controlled media is used to propagate fear, disinformation, and aggression.”
The Russian government “exert[s] tight control over information and stifles independent views creating an environment conducive to Russian government aggression, including the invasion and occupation of Crimea and ongoing efforts to destabilize Ukraine.”
The unprecedented crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan that began in 2013 continues.Human rights activists, journalists and defense lawyers have been interrogated and incarcerated.
In Turkmenistan, the U.S. remains concerned about disappeared political prisoners. In Uzbekistan, the U.S. is concerned over reports that the government continues to compel labor for the harvest from teachers and medical professionals, and has detained and abused activists documenting such practices. And in Kazakhstan, the government has taken actions that may limit political opposition, labor unions, and civil society.
In Hungary, the U.S. is concerned about the erosion of democratic institutions and pressure on Hungary's NGOs.
Ambassador Kramer thanked the human rights defenders who traveled at great risk to themselves to join the OSCE meeting. "Your presence profoundly deepens our understanding and reminds us of our solemn responsibility to defend and advance respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people."