- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Human rights crisis

Slovenia’s foreign minister is worried that Europe’s main human rights watchdog is becoming irrelevant and is urging the United States to rescue the group from decline.

Slovenia currently holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has promoted civil rights and democratic elections since it was founded in 1972. Informally called the Helsinki commission, the OSCE was an inspiration for anti-communist dissidents behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, however, the decline is so sharp that the OSCE remains without a 2005 budget because the 55-member nations have failed to agree on its future mission, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said during a recent Washington visit.

Mr. Rupel appealed for help from the U.S. sister organization, the congressional Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He also said he discussed the problem with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Some critics, even heads of state, are questioning its relevance, its way of implementing decisions, its approach to election monitoring and accusing it of double standards,” he told the commission last week.

“Is the OSCE in crisis? The situation is not ideal, but perhaps this is an opportunity to get some things out in the open that have been festering for a while,” Mr. Rupel said.

Moscow complained about OSCE double standards after the organization criticized the threats to democracy in Russia. Mr. Rupel noted that few agree with Russia but added that Moscow’s “views should not be ignored or dismissed.”

“We have to address the perception that countries west of Vienna are teachers with a license to lecture pupils east of Vienna,” he said, referring to the Austrian capital, where the OSCE is headquartered.

“That is not to say that we should lower our standards or erode our common principles, but we have to maintain a cooperative spirit.”

He called on the commission to continue to support the OSCE, saying, “Your work is more vital today, perhaps, than ever.”

“The future of this organization and what it stands for should not be taken for granted,” he said. “We must avoid the reopening of divisions in Europe and any backsliding of the progress made in recent years. The OSCE is absolutely instrumental in that process.”

Warning Mugabe

The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe warned the country’s authoritarian president that his government will be under “intense international scrutiny” during the March 31 legislative elections.

Ambassador Christopher Dell told the Voice of America in an interview this week that the government has already tilted the campaign against the opposition.

“These elections begin on an unleveled playing field,” he said. “The government of Zimbabwe controls all of the institutions involved in the elections. They have set the rules. They have set the terms of the debate.”

Mr. Dell said the United States is interested in seeing free and fair elections, regardless of whether President Robert Mugabe maintains control of the legislature.

“We’re not interest in the ‘who’ of who is in power in Zimbabwe. We are interested in the ‘how.’ If genuinely free and fair elections are held, if those elections reflect the genuine will of the people of Zimbabwe, then we will respect their choice, no matter who is elected,” Mr. Dell said.

However, he added, Mr. Mugabe knows that the international community is watching closely.

“I believe the government and President Mugabe’s political party very much understand that they are under intense international scrutiny about the conduct of these elections,” Mr. Dell said.

The State Department’s latest human rights report accused Mr. Mugabe of unleashing a “government-sanctioned campaign of violence” against white farmers after he was re-elected in 2002. The political opposition was subjected to intimidation and violence in that campaign, the report said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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