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Belarus: OSCE Conference Seeks To Safeguard Individual Rights

Warsaw, 13 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek opened an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference on human rights yesterday by saying the 55-member organization must continue to safeguard freedom of individuals.

"Freedom of individual is the most vital issue for OSCE," he said, adding that individual freedom will be the focus for Poland when it takes over chairmanship over the OSCE next year.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, who is heading the American delegation, said European cooperation with the United States in Bosnia produced very promising results.

"We must learn from Bosnia,' he said.

Shattuck said some war criminals were brought to trial and municipal elections were held, but the resettlement of refugees must be accelerated and media pluralism must also grow.

"It is a long-term process," he said.

Shattuck said the same sort of determination that bore fruit in Bosnia must be applied towards Belarus.

"The OSCE was established precisely for the kind of difficulties Belarus presents right now," he told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview. "Our country and many others in the region are determined to work together to bring about changes in Belarus."

Shattuck said a special OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group will be installed in Belarus in the very near future.

The decision on the formation of the Advisory and Monitoring Group was taken at an OSCE meeting in Vienna in September following analysis of the situation in Belarus.

The group is scheduled to open a dialogue with Belarus and provide the Belarusian authorities with ready expertise and advice on OSCE commitments and principles.

Shattuck said the operation of the Group should change the human rights situation in Belarus for the better.

"It is a mission of technical assistance but also for improvement of the situation of democracy and human rights," he said.

OSCE Chairman Fris Moller also touched upon the situation in Belarus, saying the international community is concerned by the violation of human rights.

He said authorities closed the Soros Foundation in Minsk, freedom of journalists has been curbed and punitive measures have been used against the political opposition.

In August, the Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental international organization, said that Belarus "has reversed nearly all the advances in the field of human rights and rule of law" that had been achieved in the past decade.

The OSCE conference is scheduled to last until November 28. Problems dealing with ethnic cleansing, aggressive nationalism, treatment of Gypsies, and freedom of speech and religion are to be discussed by the delegates.

No final statement will be issued at the end of the conference.