Forty-one years ago, the Helsinki Final Act “recognized the universal significance of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and committed every signatory nation “to promote universal and effective respect for them.”
In a speech to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Human Dimension Meeting, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski noted that “every threat to the security of Europe. . .has resulted from the actions of states that deny human rights to their own people.”
Throughout the course of the Human Dimension meeting, as Assistant Secretary Malinowski highlighted in his remarks, one truth kept coming up – the necessity of promoting tolerance and ensuring a strong and active civil society to address contemporary challenges, such as that presented by violent extremism. In the context of the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security, the human dimension has a direct and measurable impact on the security and economic dimensions. The human dimension remains critical to our collective ability to address the stark security threats we now face.
As Assistant Secretary Malinowski noted in his remarks, those governments that persecute as so-called “foreign agents” civil society groups that are so essential to maintaining checks and balances in any democracy are clearly violating the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. They are hurting and disrespecting their people, for instance, as Russia, Azerbaijan and several countries in Central Asia have done in cracking down on citizens groups, including those dedicated to fighting torture, educating about HIV/AIDS, and even protecting migratory birds.
Despite mounting pressure in many participating States against civil society and independent media, civil society representatives spoke movingly at this year’s Human Dimension meeting about the true human rights situations in a number of participating States, including Russia, Azerbaijan, and several Central Asian states.
The United States will continue to uphold and to champion the democratic ideals embodied in the Helsinki Final Act. “We will continue to defend the OSCE,” said Assistant Secretary Malinowski, “and resist every effort to weaken its institutions and our common commitments.”