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After Meeting Clinton, Ukrainian Activist Says Situation 'Is Not Hopeless'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Dublin this week. She also met with rights activists while there.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Dublin this week. She also met with rights activists while there.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of efforts to roll back human rights in the former Soviet Union as she met with 11 activists from the region on December 7. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with one of the activists, Oleksandra Delemenchuk of the Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties, about her impressions of the meeting on the sidelines of the OSCE conference in Dublin, Ireland.

RFE/RL: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reported to have said that governments in the former Soviet space are "becoming much more aggressive" in trying to stifle dissent and prevent the free expression and exchange of views. Did she give some examples of what this means?

Oleksandra Delemenchuk: She gave some examples during her speech and these were examples of different countries [including] Azerbaijan, Belarus, and the Russian Federation. Recently in many countries of our region different laws have been adopted...targeting human rights NGOs and individual human rights defenders.

Some of them are targeting independent media. For example, many independent media [outlets] have been closed in Kazakhstan. In Belarus it is almost impossible to run human rights NGOs. In Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and other countries human rights defenders are in prison. So we have a variety of bad examples from our countries.

RFE/RL: Clinton is also reported to have said there is an effort to eliminate both American and international assistance for human rights advocates. Did she mention some examples of this?
Oleksandra Delemenchuk
Oleksandra Delemenchuk

Delemenchuk: This example, first of all, is related to the Russian Federation where recently a law on foreign agents, so-called foreign agents, has been passed which has made it almost impossible for human rights NGOs [that] receive funding from international institutions...[because] they are labeled as foreign agents and as spies.

And that is why, for example, the USAID office in the Russian Federation has been closed down and they received notification that they have to leave in a month and they had to withdraw.

RFE/RL: Clinton also reportedly said that "we will have to come up with new ways to support you, since everything we have been doing in some places, most notably Russia, is being criminalized." Did the activists at the meeting exchange some ideas with her regarding how such support might be given?

Delemenchuk: Unfortunately our time was very short because the schedule of Secretary Clinton is very tight. She just stated this and that we should work together on this, the U.S. Department of State and civil society. So, for now, we don't have concrete recipes.

RFE/RL: At the same time, Clinton reportedly acknowledged that Washington has limited influence with some governments to change the worsening situation for human rights activists in the region. She apparently said "we have struck out so far" in Belarus, that Ukraine is "one of our biggest disappointments," and that from Turkmenistan "we get no response." This suggests a bleak assessment of the possibilities for improvements in the future. Do you agree with that assessment?

Delemenchuk: Almost. The only thing I can say is that I think the situation in Ukraine is not hopeless. There is space for improvement and I see a great role for the U.S. government and the governments of the European Union in balancing and improving the situation in Ukraine.

RFE/RL: Finally, Clinton reportedly referred to Russian-led efforts to create greater regional integration, saying "there is a move to re-Sovietize the region." She apparently added, "It's not going to be called that. It's going to be called [a] customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that" but that "we know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow it down or prevent it." What did you understand this remark to mean?

Delemenchuk: You know, we are very well aware, unfortunately, of these efforts, which are also related to my country, Ukraine, as well as to Kazakhstan and Russia. They are creating some kind of customs unions, free-trade zones, whatever they call it. But this trend is very strong as the Russian Federation tries to influence the social and political situation in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

So, such a danger exists. But I think that the only option to counteract it is to further Euro-Atlantic integration for our countries and also to promote people-to-people contacts and international networks of civil society activists and human-rights defenders.

RFE/RL: What mood did you walk away with from the meeting?

Delemenchuk: It's hard to say but on the one hand I was very encouraged because Secretary Clinton was very attentive to us and she was saying very warm words and [gave a] high evaluation of our work. It was very touching in some moments when we were speaking about our colleagues and friends who were in prison or under some pressure in different countries of our region.

But on the other hand I should say that I was a bit sad because, as the secretary also said, we understand that we need to find new ways to be effective because in many countries it doesn't matter what we do, nobody listens. So, it's sad that we don't have alternatives for the moment but nevertheless we need to carry on with our work.

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