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Europe: Human Rights Records To Come Under Fire At OSCE Meeting

Munich, 11 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- International human rights experts open a meeting in Warsaw tomorrow to review how European countries are honoring the commitments they have made in international agreements. Officials expect that several countries, particularly Belarus, will meet sharp criticism for their failure to meet international standards.

The conference has been organized by the human rights section of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). An OSCE spokesman said all 54 active members of the organization are expected to attend. The conference continues until the end of the month. The sessions will be held behind closed doors, but OSCE officials said the agenda includes such basic issues as the right of peaceful assembly and the free expression of opinions, the freedom of the media and the freedom of religion.

The conference will also cover such things as aggressive nationalism, ethnic cleansing, the mistreatment of prisoners, the independence of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial. At least one session will be devoted to the problems of national minorities and discrimination against the Roma and Sinti peoples (Gypsies).

A U.S. spokesman tells RFE/RL that Washington will criticize Belarus on several issues. The first opportunity may come during closed sessions Friday, dealing with the right of peaceful assembly, which critics say is violated in Belarus. Another closed session Friday will discuss freedom of expression and the right to a free media. Several countries are likely to face criticism on this issue. The U.S. spokesman said the U.S. delegation might ask about the proposed amendments to the media law in Belarus, which were drafted by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, but recently rejected by parliament.

The U.S. spokesman tells our correspondent: "There are quite a lot of problems in Belarus which we want to bring up, both in the working groups and in private discussions with the Belarus delegation." The U.S. delegation will be led by a veteran diplomat, Rudolf Perina, who has had extensive experience with human rights issues. He is supported by a team of experts on human rights problems.

A spokesman said the U.S. might also raise the restrictions on freedom of assembly in some Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Bulgaria might be asked about the degree of religious freedom allowed non-traditional groups, such as evangelists. The U.S. remains concerned about Bulgaria's law on registering churches.

West European countries are expected to protest various human rights problems in Croatia and Serbia. Turkey is also expected to face criticism from the U.S. and Western Europe on a variety of human rights issues, including freedom of expression and the mistreatment of prisoners.

The U.S. has said it is uneasy about the citizenship laws of the Czech Republic and discrimination against Gypsies among the Czech population. However, the U.S. spokesman said the U.S. recognizes that the Czech government recently approved a plan for improving the social and economic situation of the approximately 300,000 Gypsies in the country. Slovakia's poor human rights record is expected to face protests from a number of countries.

The U.S. spokesman said Washington had prepared speeches on problems in several countries but would not necessarily raise them all. "A lot depends on how much support we get from other countries," he said. "The U.S. does not want to be the only one raising questions while other delegations say nothing." The Warsaw conference has also attracted a number of non-governmental organizations (NGO) which are expected to publicize specific problems, such as Serbian repressions of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Some NGO groups will publicize attempts to silence journalists who raise uncomfortable questions. One of them is a former American correspondent in Moscow, Nick Danilov, who in the 1980's was accused of espionage and briefly jailed. Danilov now represents an organization for the protection of journalists.

The Warsaw conference will not produce a final document with specific resolutions naming individual countries. After talks end November 28, the OSCE will publish a summary of the discussions. An OSCE spokesman said it will probably be couched in broad terms and will neither identify the critic, nor the country criticized.

Instead, the Warsaw conference will use the discussions to draw-up a number of recommendations on human rights problems. The recommendations will be considered by OSCE foreign ministers at a meeting in Copenhagen next month.