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OSCE: U. S. Delegate Calls For Respect Of Minority Rights

Warsaw, 21 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - Problems of national minorities' rights dominated discussions at yesterday's session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference on human rights in Warsaw.

Many delegates referred to human rights abuses in Turkey, Greece, Slovakia, Kazakhstan and Macedonia.

Dorothy Douglas Taft, a member of the U.S. delegation, noted that violations of minority rights in some OSCE countries contribute to instability and even the threat of war.

"We need look no further than the former Yugoslavia, where policies directed at differing ethnic groups proved to be the harbinger of a horrific war," she told the conference. Taft said the United States is particularly concerned about violations of rights of nearly 2 million Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo. She also criticized Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar for suggesting wholesale population exchanges with Hungary. "It sent a strong message that this particular government simply doesn't want its Hungarian minority," she said.

But Taft also said that one member of the Hungarian Smallholders Party had suggested two weeks ago to resolve the problem of the minorities in the region by re-drawing the currently existing borders. "We invite our Hungarian colleagues here to reiterate once again their respect for and commitment to its current borders, consistent with the Helsinki Final Act," she said. Taft drew the attention of the conference to the situation in Kazakhstan where the government continues to discriminate in favor of employing ethnic Kazakhs in all government positions as well as in education and housing opportunities. Greek authorities came under fire of criticism by Taft for putting on trial a person for mere asserting the existence of a "Macedonian" minority, and Turkey for denying its ethnic Kurd population basic cultural and linguistic rights.

Alexander Bilyk, chairman of the Belarusian State Committee on Religious Affairs and Nationalities, said in his report to the conference that Belarus has complied with international standards.

This was challenged by a Belarusian woman, who, requesting anonymity, told RFE/RL that minorities continue to be discriminated against by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government. She said that the rights of several major ethnic minority groups even deteriorated in comparison with the Soviet era.

The woman gave an example of the large Polish minority. The number of ethnic Poles in Belarus is estimated at between 400,000 and one million. Belarus has a population of 10 million.

The woman said that in a central Belarusian city in which she lives the parents of children attending Polish-language schools were pressed by the local governor to take their children from such schools. She said that the parents "were threatened to lose their jobs unless they comply."