OSCE Moves to Reestablish Human Rights, Democracy Focus
Freedom House welcomes decisions in support of human rights and democracy adopted at the annual OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting that concluded today in Helsinki, Finland. Especially significant is the decision to recommit OSCE participating states to the principles and values enshrined in the Universal Human Rights Declaration which is marking its 60th anniversary this year.
"In order for the OSCE to remain relevant and credible, it was critical for the participating states to reaffirm their commitment to the universal human rights principles," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "Disagreements among member states in recent years have caused the OSCE to stray from its mission to promote human rights and democratization."
Freedom House also positively notes that the meeting reaffirmed the OSCE principle that democracy and human rights issues—known as the OSCE's "human dimension"—are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states and are not exclusive to the internal affairs of the country in question.
To build on the momentum of the ministerial meeting, the OSCE Permanent Council should focus on discussing human dimension issues instead of relegating them to subsidiary bodies. One of its first tasks should be addressing the fact that Kazakhstan's is failing to democratize its political system and expand media freedoms this year, as it promised in its bid to win the OSCE Chairmanship in 2010. The Ministerial Meeting did not discuss this issue, nor did participating states agree on a declaration regarding the August conflict between Russia and Georgia.
"Despite positive developments in the human dimension at the Ministerial Council Meeting, the organization’s consensus rule still makes it difficult for the OSCE to tackle difficult issues," said Vladimir Shkolnikov, Freedom House Europe director.
Shkolnikov reserved special praise for Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Maxime Verhagen for advocating on behalf of nongovernmental organizations that wished to gain access to the opening and closing sessions of the Ministerial Council Meeting. OSCE rules guarantee such access, but that has been denied in recent years in practice. Freedom House hopes this issue will be positively resolved at next year's meeting in Greece.
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