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U.S. OSCE Official Says Dialogue Best Way To Spread Democracy

BRUSSELS -- Michael Haltzel, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, heads the U.S. delegation at the OSCE's "Human Dimension" workshop taking place in Warsaw on September 28-29. In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas, he says engagement remains the best way to tackle difficult regimes. He also says he hopes to see gradual progress in those post-Soviet nations where human rights abuses remain regular and democratic standards have yet to take root.

RFE/RL: The OSCE's Chairman-in-Office next year, Kazakhstan, has a rather patchy democratic record at best -- less than free and fair elections, pending legislation for a president for life, and rife rights abuses. How will the elevation of such a nation to leadership status affect the OSCE?

Michael Haltzel: It's a challenge. I mentioned it this morning in my opening statement. Other speakers alluded to it without actually mentioning it by name. There was a silent protest when the representative of Kazakhstan gave her opening speech. This was because of the imprisonment of Yevgeny Zhovtis, who's a human rights worker. It's a criminal case having to do with a fatal car accident [and] there is concern about his treatment. So, people understand that this is a real challenge for them and we hope that Kazakhstan can rise to the occasion.

RFE/RL: Kazakh officials have said in the past that the OSCE needs an injection of "Asian values." Do you think that is the case?

Haltzel: No. I think that people all over the world have the same attachment to human values, to human rights. I think North Americans, Europeans, and Central Asians -- the average person still wants to have freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly, and freedom from torture, and all of the other values that are outlined in the OSCE.

And don't forget -- all the countries, all 56 participating states in the OSCE, [which], of course, is the largest regional organization in the world encompassing close to 900 million people, they all signed on the dotted line -- [or] their governments did. This is nothing that is being imposed on anybody. The government signed, and it's a solemn pledge, and it's not imposed and there is nothing to with geography -- east of Vienna, west of Vienna, or anything like that at all.

RFE/RL: Who's meant to enforce this, to make sure that everyone in practice adheres to the same set of values?

Haltzel: This is a [voluntary] exercise. There is no world government and whether it's the OSCE or the United Nations or any other organization, obviously, enforcement is done by the powers that be. And one hopes that discussions like the 'Human Dimension Implementation Meeting' will have an effect on the governments -- but there is no world government. That's just not there. I think behavior has been changed in the past and we hope that will be the case in the future. It's not just Kazakhstan -- no government has a perfect record in these things.

RFE/RL: Speaking of the "human dimension" -- what difference do efforts by the EU and the United States, and possibly others, to conduct human rights dialogues and civil society outreach programs actually make in countries like the Central Asian nations, or Belarus?

Haltzel: This is a fair question and, again, it gets back to the enforcement issue. It would be nice if one could say one has an international organization, be it a regional one like the OSCE, or an almost universal one like the United Nations -- when they decreed something that there'd be instantaneous acceptance by all parties. That's not the way the world works. There's no magic formula.

There's a whole series of ways that governments can be influenced. There's [what] some people have called 'shaming,' I'm not sure that's the right word, but it's not good to be called upon the carpet, so to speak, at an international meeting and [other] countries going into detail.

Of course, one of the great advantages of HDIM -- the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE -- is that nongovernmental organizations have status here. And they speak and give everyone the benefit of their expertise. There are side events which are not in the plenary sessions -- the program is full of them. There are obviously discussions, bilateral meetings. I have bilateral meetings set up as head of the U.S. delegation [and] with 20 other delegation heads.

We just came from a luncheon with the head of the EU delegation here, [its] Swedish presidency, and talked about all sorts of important issues. So -- yes, there are different ways to pressure, obviously the whole OSCE is one part of a whole, one part of a puzzle whereby the national governments and non-governmental organizations attempt to influence each other.

It's a complex process, I know it sounds frustrating, it is frustrating both for journalists and diplomats and for the average citizen alike -- that sometimes progress is frustratingly slow, painfully slow. But I think they have to put things into perspective.

RFE/RL: Do you think RFE/RL's listeners in Central Asia and elsewhere will see the benefits of that progress within their lifetime?

Haltzel: I certainly hope so. In my opening statement today I mentioned the fact that one of the governments had recently blocked FM broadcasting of RFE/RL and the BBC. We're obviously pushing for [them to resume]. But again, I want to re-emphasize that the OSCE, important as it is, is only one piece in the puzzle.

There are any number of other ways, there are bilateral relations between the United States and each of these governments. There are relations between the EU and individual EU states and these governments. There are a host of economic and political [issues which] come into play. I would only say that the OSCE is an important element in this picture.

RFE/RL: From your point of view, are powers like the EU and the United States best advised to engage difficult regimes like those in Central Asia, or should they opt for sanctions more often?

I'm always in favor of engagement. I think if we talk only to our best friends, it's kind of futile. We should engage, we can calibrate the level of engagement, we can do any number of things that way. But if we don't talk to people with whom we have disagreements, we'll continue to have disagreements. So, yes, I'm completely for engagement.