U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned of the "danger of authoritarian populism" and the risk of a retreat on the protection of basic human rights in a region stretching from the ex-Soviet Union across Europe to the United States.
Kerry spoke on the first day of a December 8-9 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States, EU states, and former Soviet republics such as Russia, among others.
In "too many places...in the OSCE region" there has been "a rise of authoritarian thinking, accompanied by backsliding on human rights, restrictions on independent media, a spike in acts of intolerance, and hate crimes," he said.
The secretary of state went on, citing "growing corruption in too many countries" and "moves by certain leaders to change constitutions in an effort to consolidate power."
"We all see what's happening -- growing corruption in too many countries, the increase in authoritarianism, moves by certain leaders to change constitutions in an effort to consolidate power, false news being spread through new platforms of the media, torture being actually advocated in certain quarters," Kerry said.
He also called for efforts to put an end to the "suffering and the stalemate" in the portion of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, where fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,700 people since it erupted in April 2014 following Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
"The conflict in the Donbas and the occupation of Crimea have gone on for too long and at a tremendous human cost on both sides of the line of contact," Kerry said.
He said the United States was renewing its call for full implementation of the Minsk accords -- a February 2015 agreement aimed at ending the conflict. Fighting continues despite the deal and there has been little progress toward implementation of its political aspects.
Kerry met earlier in the day with civil-society activists from Azerbaijan, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.
He said that Washington would keep speaking out about "the shrinking space" for civil-society activism, which he said was under pressure in some countries as a result of restrictive laws and the misuse of broad antiextremism legislation, according to the State Department.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the fighting in eastern Ukraine and violence earlier this year in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is in Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, were among developments that show "how fragile the peace framework in Europe still is or has become again."
This framework "seems disordered these days, the supporting pillars have become fragile, rhetorics have become harsher, especially between East and West. I am also saying this with the violence in eastern Ukraine -- which has reoccurred in recent weeks -- in mind. I am saying it with a view to the escalations in Nagorno-Karabakh in April."
He said the OSCE played an "irreplaceable role" and that its instruments for "conflict prevention, conflict management, and conflict aftercare" should be made "even more effective."
"We need common answers for new global challenges like terrorism, extremism, cyberattacks, and especially we need to -- and this is going to be an ongoing issue -- build trust where it has been lost," he said.