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OSCE: Several CIS States Rebuke Democracy Watchdog

Russia and eight other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are accusing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- the continent's biggest security and human rights watchdog -- of failing to respect their sovereignty. A written statement signed by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan said the OSCE does not respect fundamental principles such as noninterference in internal affairs and respect of national sovereignty.

Prague, 9 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's delegation at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), on behalf of nine members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), yesterday presented a statement accusing the human rights watchdog of what it called "double standards."

Aleksei Borodavkin, Russia's permanent representative at the OSCE, read the document at a meeting of the Vienna-based group's Permanent Council. The statement says the 55-nation organization -- of which all 12 CIS nations are members -- focuses too much on promoting human rights and democratic institutions in certain countries, while overlooking others.

Borodavkin said the presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine endorsed the statement on 3 July during an informal meeting in Moscow. The statement rebukes the OSCE for giving "selective increased attention" to some countries while ignoring problems in other participant states and accuses it of "unwillingness to consider the realities and peculiarities of a single state." Of the OSCE's 18 field activities, 12 are in the former Soviet Union.

Russian political analyst Fedor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the Russian quarterly "Russia in Global Policy," told RFE/RL that the statement shows many CIS countries are becoming increasingly frustrated with the stress that the OSCE places on respect for democracy and human rights. "The leaderships of most CIS countries are now equally annoyed with the fact that the OSCE's activities have long become limited to monitoring the situation with respect to democracy and human rights in these countries," he said.
Of course, the state of democracy in all of the post-Soviet countries leaves much to be desired." -- Lukyanov

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the OSCE focuses its field missions in the CIS countries and the Balkans, while ignoring the rights of national minorities in Latvia and Estonia. Russian-speaking minorities in those Baltic countries have complained of discrimination.

The OSCE was also part of a monitoring mission that declared Russia's presidential election in March short of democratic standards, particularly where state media was concerned.

The Belarusian government announced in October 2002 that it was closing the OSCE's office in Minsk after accusing the organization of supporting the opposition and meddling in the country's internal affairs.

The common CIS statement was not signed by Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Georgia, while Moldova made a reservation that more attention must be given to the OSCE's insufficient effectiveness in the resolution of territorial conflicts.

"Certainly, the OSCE has annoyed practically all CIS countries with few exceptions -- for instance, Georgia, which has not signed [the OSCE declaration]. I have the impression that the new Georgian leadership hasn't yet managed to anger the OSCE. But, of course, the state of democracy in all of the post-Soviet countries leaves much to be desired," Lukyanov said.

Both Moldova and Georgia have been entangled in long-running disputes with separatist regions such as Transdniester, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Mediation efforts that also involved the OSCE have so far proved fruitless.

Even some of the signatories to the statement have said they do not have complaints about the OSCE, but signed the statement out of solidarity with other CIS members.

Abdil Segizbaev, a press aide to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, told RFE/RL: "If there are some shortcomings of the OSCE in [our partner] states [within the CIS], then our duty is to speak out and advise on that [to the OSCE]. I think the statement could appear in such a way. That is why, I suppose, Kyrgyzstan could join the statement. Regarding our internal situation, I would say that Kyrgyzstan does not have [any complaints about] the OSCE. Until now, the OSCE has been doing a great job here. If the OSCE will continue its cooperation with us in such a way, then we will be happy with that."

The EU and U.S. missions to the OSCE argued in response that human rights and rule-of-law issues cannot be considered internal affairs. In a statement issued by the Netherlands, which holds the bloc's rotating presidency, the EU said it would reflect on the issues raised by Russia and the other nations, but added that it has "serious concern about certain elements of the declaration."