By Emil Danielyan and Armen Zakarian
Armenia has joined Russia and seven other ex-Soviet states in accusing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe of unjustly meddling in their internal affairs.
In a joint statement circulated at the OSCE’s governing Permanent Council in Vienna on Thursday, they complained that the 55-nation security organization, of which they are all members, spends too much time monitoring elections and human rights in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
"In part (the OSCE) does not respect such fundamental principles...as non-interference in internal affairs and respect of national sovereignty," said the statement signed by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
“It is of concern that OSCE field missions focus not on their mandated role to help the authorities of the receiving state..., but exclusively on monitoring human rights and democratic institutions,” it added.
“The document did not come out of thin air,” the spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Hamlet Gasparian, told RFE/RL on Friday. “There has long been concern about the OSCE and a need for reform inside the OSCE.”
Gasparian claimed that the OSCE “sometimes” acts beyond the framework of its responsibilities in the former Soviet Union. “Whenever a certain organization oversteps that boundary that is considered an interference in internal affairs,” he said.
The criticism was apparently initiated by the biggest and most influential CIS country, Russia. It has long accused the OSCE of applying double standards to its member. Moscow is in particular unhappy with OSCE observers’ criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s landslide reelection last March.
Other signatories of the statement, notably Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, have long been ruled by autocratic leaders who are regularly denounced as gross human rights offenders by international non-governmental watchdogs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The OSCE has monitored the presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia since independence and did not judge any of them to be democratic. Its observers reported numerous instances of serious fraud such as ballot stuffing and miscounting during last year’s Armenian presidential vote.
Also, the OSCE’s permanent office in Armenia has repeatedly criticized the Armenian authorities’ human rights record. It described as politically motivated the arrests of several prominent opposition figures during the recent campaign of anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan and helped to secure their release.
“We are not saying that human rights are not important,” Gasparian said. “We are talking about unbalanced approaches during electoral processes. There is a misbalance of importance attached by the OSCE to various spheres and there is inequality in its assessment of countries.”
The Russian head of the OSCE office, Vladimir Pryakhin, declined on Friday to comment on the CIS criticism of his organization.
Reacting to the statement, the European Union and the United States missions to OSCE argued that human rights and rule-of-law issues can not be considered internal affairs, the Associated Press reported. In a statement issued by the Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU presidency, the union said it will reflect on the issues raised by Russia and the others but added that it has “serious concern about certain elements of the declaration.”
Armenia committed itself to even stricter standards of democracy and human rights when it joined the Council of Europe in 2001. Furthermore, Armenian leaders announced last March that they are ready to assume additional obligations on political reform in order to forge closer ties with the EU. They will apparently have to do so after the recent inclusion of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the EU’s “European Neighborhood Policy” of privileged relations with the bloc’s immediate neighbors.
However, it remains to be seen whether Yerevan will similarly cry foul if its controversial electoral and human rights practices come under EU scrutiny.