Right of reply on ODIHR, HDIM

In order to make my first comment I’d like to tell people that there is a basketball team in New York City, that residents of New York City have a love-hate relationship with because they don’t always deliver the way that their fans would like, called the New York Knicks – some of you may have heard of them. And they play at Madison Square Garden, right in the middle of Manhattan. When people used to criticize the UN, Ambassador Holbrooke, when he was ambassador to the UN, used to say criticizing the UN for the way countries within the UN behave is like criticizing Madison Square Garden for the way the Knicks play basketball: It doesn’t make any sense.

I think it’s important to recognize that ODIHR does us a service by organizing the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, by facilitating it, by setting up the sessions, by making sure that there are note takers, and all the rest of it; if there are criticisms of the way certain actors around the table behave, those criticisms should be lodged at the actors, not the forum provider. Obviously, ODIHR does a great deal of substantive work the whole year round, but in this case it really is doing a service for all of us.

I heard concern from our distinguished Russian colleague about “anti-Russian radicalization”, and I just wanted to respond to that and to assure the distinguished Russian ambassador that we work very hard to make our interventions at HDIM. We work very hard on the interventions, I think I spend more time at HDIM than any other ambassador around this table, we take it very seriously, and we spend months preparing these interventions, and we work very hard to make them fact-based. As you know, the United States produces human rights reports every year, under a congressional mandate, and we work very hard to make sure that what we’re talking about are facts, and I’ll come back to that later when I criticize the Swiss ambassador gently.

And I wanted to assure him that far from being an anti-Russian perspective, when we raise concerns about the Russian government’s shortcomings with respect to its OSCE commitments in the human dimension, we’re motivated by a deep desire to see the Russian people have a stronger future. We believe that, as the leadership of all our participating States have affirmed many times, implementing human dimension commitments is key to having a stronger future across all three dimensions. And we have deep concern that the human rights backsliding that has happened under President Putin has consequences not only for people within Russia, but also for the wider region, as recent events have demonstrated.

So, if it appears that there is more discussion about human rights shortcomings in Russia, I can only tell you that from our perspective that is motivated not by a desire to shine a greater spotlight on human rights shortcomings in Russia, but rather by the fact that there are more human rights shortcomings to see. It is the facts that motivate this, not an orientation. And the orientation is one that we have towards every participating State, which is that we believe that the strongest future for the citizens of each country comes from having a strong future for the citizens of all our countries, and we believe that the prime responsibility we have together as governments is to work for that comprehensively secure future.

Next point is that the distinguished Russian ambassador claimed regret over what he called the use of HDIM as a “political arena”. And, in this respect, raised concerns about a speaker who the Russians brought who indeed represented himself as an NGO when he registered, but then represented himself as being ambiguously… and also holds another position within the illegal occupying authorities in Crimea. And it was unclear how he had represented himself when he started speaking. A point of order was called, and it appears that procedural rules were broken because this so-called authority representing the de facto Russian occupation authorities in Crimea attempted, under the guise of representing an NGO, to address HDIM. And when the point of order was called, whether you agree with it or not, he was asked appropriately by the moderator to cede the floor so that the point of order could be resolved. And he refused to cede the floor to the moderator when the point of order was called.

The broader point here is that this was actually an attempt to disrupt the meeting in Warsaw. And it has followed other similar attempts to disrupt OSCE meetings, and there should be no repeat of these attempts to disrupt OSCE meetings. The international community does not recognize any claim by Russia to Crimea or the legitimacy of any de facto occupation authorities.

Next point: Although I understand Russia’s concerns expressed today about the report that was duly invited by the authorities of Ukraine to continued ODIHR support for monitoring and supporting human rights progress in Ukraine, including Crimea, although I understand Russia’s concerns about certain statements made at HDIM, surely threatening the budget of ODIHR, as political retaliation, can’t be the best way forward. We support the raising of concerns with findings. We welcome your raising concerns with U.S. statements when you believe them to be not factual. But surely threatening our common institutions is not the best way forward; we can find a better way. And we urge the Russian Federation to refrain from that kind of statement, because we don’t think that that serves either the interests of the Russian Federation or the broader interests of those around this table.

With respect to comments made by our distinguished Swiss colleague, I just want to point out that the phrase “name and shame” is one that has leapt into the lexicon, and often gets used as a defensive shield by those who have violations or failures to uphold their commitments, and I just want to assure you as well that when the United States calls out specific problems in specific places, the aim is not to shame, but indeed we do believe that if you don’t name the problems and name the places there is no way that you can actually identify solutions. And so I would just caution against using the term “name and shame”, because I think that it has developed for one reason or another a stigma that it doesn’t deserve, and I think that it is fundamental to being serious about a dialogue about human rights.

With respect to the comments made by our distinguished colleague from Azerbaijan, certainly I believe that the United States in more ways than can be counted outside of this forum, and certainly domestically, responds to criticisms by engaging with civil society, by engaging with stories that are produced by our independent media, etcetera, so your call for us to engage on criticisms made of the United States is one that I believe we already heed, and certainly I believe that we have made a concerted effort within this forum to respond to criticisms, particularly those raised in good faith, on the human rights practices of the United States, and we will continue to do that. I would also like to emphasize the fact that while at HDIM, despite the often personal attacks on me that were being lodged by those who affiliated themselves with the Azerbaijani delegation, my delegation invited the delegation of Azerbaijan to come to a bilateral meeting, to discuss any issues that were important to them, I’m grateful that they took us up on that offer, we had a decent discussion, it was fruitful, and that is the kind of dialogue that I think can happen both around a table like this, but also on the margins of these meetings, and I think that we should continue to support that.

Thank you.