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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Leslie Gerson
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Remarks, Conference on OCSE's Role in Human Rights
and Election Monitoring Missions
Washington, DC, April 19, 1999

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The OSCE and Kosovo

Thank you very much, Felice, for that kind introduction. It truly is a pleasure to be here with you today to discuss what is clearly a very timely issue: How best can OSCE field missions "deliver on their promise" by securing respect for human rights and monitoring democratic elections.

I bring you greetings from Assistant Secretary Koh, who very much would have liked to have been here with you today. Unfortunately, his duties require him to be in Europe, where he is in the process of visiting The Hague, Geneva, Vienna, and Skopje as part of the Administration's ongoing effort to resolve the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. As I speak to you, he is meeting with OSCE officials in Vienna to report on what he saw in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [and Albania] over the weekend and to discuss what role the OSCE will play in bringing to an end the massive lawlessness, human rights violations and destruction that have resulted from Slobodan Milosevic's savage actions in Kosovo.

Your conference today is addressing a wide variety of key issues, all of which are extremely important. But as we discuss OSCE field missions to Bosnia and Belarus, or the relative value of election monitoring efforts or conflict resolution strategies, our thoughts inevitably drift to what is happening in a tiny corner of southeastern Europe. As I speak, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces continue to burn , loot, rape, shell, and de-populate Kosovo. We have all seen the images of families uprooted, of locked trains on one-way missions of despair, of children crying for parents they cannot find, of refugees recounting how their loved ones were led away, of ominous satellite photos of freshly-upturned earth and burned-out towns. We cannot let such outrages stand.

That also is why we are fighting for the people of Kosovo. We had hoped to resolve the crisis in Kosovo by the use of diplomacy backed by the threat of force. Only after the diplomatic solution we offered and reoffered at Rambouillet was rejected over and over again by Belgrade -- and only after it became clear that the Milosevic regime was determined to have its way in Kosovo no matter what the consequences -- did we pursue a policy of force backed by diplomacy, justified by international law and by humanitarian necessity.

With full premeditation, Serb forces have engendered a massive humanitarian tragedy. For this to have happened so quickly -- and so savagely -- demonstrates that Serb forces implemented a systematic plan well before NATO bombing began. In response, we have taken action. Our only other choice would have been to sit back, watch ethnic cleansing occur, and only then seek accountability. As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said, "[stopping] the violent repression of minorities ... must take precedence over concerns of sovereignty."

The current crisis highlights the need to integrate the Balkans more fully into the Euro-Atlantic Community of democracies. We have made a start in this direction, but one outcome of the current fighting must be a comprehensive, multi-year, multi-national approach. If we do not want this conflict to serve as a prelude to others, we must utilize international institutions such as the OSCE to promote true security -- not merely in the political and military meanings of the word, but also in terms of the "human dimension" - conflict prevention, democracy promotion, civil society development, and respect for human rights.

We support the OSCE because it promotes the expansion of democratic societies, free elections, the rule of law, tolerance of minorities, freedom of speech, and freedom of economic decision-making. As the Secretary said when she spoke to the OSCE Permanent Council last September, the OSCE is "a standard bearer for open economies, open societies, and open minds." The OSCE's preventive diplomacy missions already have done pioneering work both in supervising elections and in safeguarding human rights. My bureau has maintained a close working relationship with the OSCE's action office for the human dimension, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, in its exceptional efforts to provide both policy advice and the human resources to the OSCE's human rights, democratization, and election monitoring activities. These institutions, reinforced by the by the active engagement of the Permanent Council and the work of the OSCE Secretariat and the Conflict Prevention Center in Vienna, will play an essential role in formulating a comprehensive solution to the Kosovo crisis.

The OSCE Human Dimension Seminar in Warsaw later this month and the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in November also offer key opportunities to map out the role that OSCE can play in securing democracy, the rule of law, civil society, and respect for human rights in Kosovo. Permit me to use my remaining time to outline briefly some of the challenges ahead.

Once the conflict in Kosovo ends, an international peacekeeping force will be deployed there. But the implementation of any post-conflict agreement will require not just military peacekeepers, but also a significant international civilian presence to ensure a smooth transition. Rebuilding Kosovo into a stable, democratic European partner will require a comprehensive and coordinated international relief, reconstruction, and governance program. The OSCE's broad membership, flexible nature and regional experience make it the most logical choice to implement such an initiative.

That said, any transitional civilian implementation mission in Kosovo will face an array of daunting tasks, including the end of impunity, the reconstruction of infrastructure, the restoration of civil order, and the return of confidence in government. In the process, the mission also will have to arrange for the return of the refugees and internally displaced, organize economic reconstruction and development, plan the establishment of democratic civil institutions, re-establish public services, ensure respect for fundamental human rights, establish and train a local police force, and set a schedule and procedures for demilitarization. To succeed, the mission will have to regard these elements not as successive phases, but as parallel tasks with different emphases at different times. Our immediate challenge is to plan for these tasks now, before the process begins, so that the mission will have a clear set of priorities and will identify adequate resources to implement them.

In its first, early days, the implementation mission will need to build on work of the UNHCR and other international and non-governmental organizations to facilitate the safe return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes. But returning refugees must have housing and restored municipal services -- power, water, and sanitation -- in order to participate in rebuilding their society. A reconstruction authority therefore will have to move quickly to implement plans for the rebuilding of the region and to facilitate access by humanitarian organizations to provide stopgap services.

The civilian implementation mission also will have to begin work on justice-related issues by documenting abuses, accounting for the missing, and coordinating with those who would work to investigate and prosecute war crimes. Existing institutions such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Commission of Missing Persons can play a key role in facilitating these efforts. So too will the appointment of a human rights ombudsman to adjudicate new disputes.

In the confidence-building arena, the mission will have to support the reestablishment of independent media and take steps to counter the poisoning effects of hate radio and television. As part of these efforts, the OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media could offer extensive training programs and coordinate financial and in-kind aid to reinvigorate independent media organizations.

Through monitoring and intervention, the mission will have to provide assurances that ethnic conflict will end and that minorities will be able to participate without discrimination in civil and political life. Fostering inter-ethnic tolerance will be a key goal. The expertise of the OSCE's High Commissioner for National Minorities as well as the experience of the NGO community will be essential components of any pursuit of this objective.

The mission also will have to evaluate the capabilities of existing government functions in Kosovo, including the judiciary, public prosecutor and penal institutions. The OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has the capability to provide training for the judiciary, with support from Member States and organizations such as the Council of Europe. Overhauling the criminal justice system will need to be a top priority in order to ensure that those arrested by the newly trained police are placed into a just legal system that allows fair trials and humane incarceration. An ineffective criminal justice system will likely encourage vigilantism and reprisals in a post-conflict Kosovo.

The civilian mission will have to coordinate the transition to a constitutional government with vibrant legislative, executive and judicial institutions based on the rule of law. It also will need to facilitate the development of indigenous governance structures and train a local cadre of unbiased, democratically oriented officials. Through ODIHR, the OSCE can deploy the required expertise to train local officials, thus facilitating conditions that support the development of sustainable democratic political party structures.

As elections approach, the mission will have to devote major energies to registering and educating voters, promoting the transition of former combatants to political participation, and supporting the development of political parties. Since Serb authorities have stripped refugees of their identification documents, and are likely to have destroyed records facilities, this task will require the reconstruction of voter registration records which may entail OSCE oversight of a census.

Even this brief sketch of the tasks facing a Kosovo civilian implementation mission makes clear how much there is to be done, and how little time there is to do it. Our long-term goal is nothing less than the establishment of stable, secure government institutions run by trained, democratically elected local officials. This task will pose significant political, economic and strategic challenges to the OSCE. Each and every Member State will need to be prepared to provide the necessary resources to ensure that the OSCE can address one of the most pressing human rights and democratization challenges it has ever faced. Clearly the EU will play a key leadership role in this process.

Given the OSCE's comprehensive approach to security and its experience on the ground in Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, and pre-conflict Kosovo, I am confident of its ability to get the job done - but only with the support of participating states. Rebuilding Kosovo's civilian institutions also will require the OSCE to call on the resources and expertise of diverse multilateral institutions, including the EU, ICTY, COE, UNHCR, IMF and the World Bank. Bilateral assistance programs and the continuing efforts of NGOs also will be vital.

By directly addressing the crisis in Kosovo, the OSCE will strengthen its own institutions and enhance its own crisis management expertise. Surely, the task will be hard, and the challenges difficult. But as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Only by dedicating ourselves to ending the darkness that currently envelops Kosovo, can we secure lasting peace and stability in Europe. I look forward to working with you to ensure that the OSCE continues to play a key role in making this possible.

Thank you very much.

[end of document]

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Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and labor Policy Remarks | Department of State

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