Ex-Soviet Republics Chafe at the West's Call for Rights: Seven Nations Seek to Relax Guidelines of OSCE

Article excerpt

Christopher Pala is a staff writer for The Washington Times.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe played a key role during the 1970s and '80s in undermining communism by introducing the spirit of human rights into the countries under Moscow's thumb. In return, the Kremlin got an accord that it interpreted as providing international recognition for the borders of the "Iron Curtain."

For the Kremlin, it was not a good deal: Communism and its borders collapsed, and human rights flourished, to varying degrees, across the former Soviet empire in the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, the empire is striking back.

Since President Vladimir Putin's first election four years ago, Russia, along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, have formed a coalition of seven countries within the 55-member organization to challenge more and more openly one of its key missions: To bring, through a cooperative approach, all member countries to the highest level of democracy, which includes free and fair elections, a free press, and freedom of religion.

OSCE officials point to the rise of suicide bombers in Uzbekistan and Chechnya--the only part of Russia where Moscow allowed an OSCE mission to operate, albeit briefly--and say encouraging nonviolent and democratic forms of dissent is essential to curbing the spread of terrorism in the region.

But the seven countries say the organization should concentrate on economic aid, a more direct fight against terrorism, and curbing the illegal traffic in drugs and people.

The OSCE includes all of the European countries plus the United States and Canada.

The latest challenge from the six post-Soviet countries was the announcement last fall by Kazakhstan, the most economically advanced of the six and the one with the best human rights record, that it will seek the one-year chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. The decision is to be made in 2006.

In doing so, Kazakhstan broke two unwritten rules that govern the way the powerful, one-year chairmanships are allocated by consensus: First, only democratic countries that live up to the OSCE's rules--which Kazakhstan does not--need apply. Second, applicants usually discreetly canvass other members and announce their candidacy only when they are reasonably sure to be elected.

Kazakhstan's candidacy comes as President Nursultan Nazarbayev and officials from other countries say OSCE missions are interfering in their internal affairs with criticism concerning human rights, press freedom, or fair electoral procedures.

"I am convinced that without changing today's situation, the days of field activity are numbered," said the Russian ambassador to the OSCE in an interview to be published in the organization's magazine. "Instead of assisting, they interfere in internal affairs."

OSCE officials here point to a document adopted by consensus in 1991 in Moscow by the organization's members that says human rights matters "are of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned."

Over the last two years, the government of Kazakhstan sped up the departure of the last two OSCE ambassadors after they spoke in public against what they said were violations of human rights. But compared with Russia or other Central Asian countries, where the killing of opposition politicians and journalists is relatively common, Kazakhstan is far better, according to organizations that monitor human rights.

Another ex-Soviet country well-regarded by the OSCE is Estonia, whose president, Arnold Ruutel, visited Almaty in May for three days.

In Kazakhstan, freedom of religion is exemplary. At present, there is just one prisoner viewed by the West as political, an opposition party leader jailed on corruption charges. There is no record of any political killing. …