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Civil society and the OSCE

Harry Hummel
Policy 16 November 2010

A number of human rights NGOs have taken the initiative of a ‘parallel conference’ [http://parallelosceconference.org/] in Astana just before the OSCE Summit. The NGOs state they applaud the OSCE for its significant achievements in advancing the human dimension over the past thirty five years, including “mechanisms for participation of civil society”. Yet, the NGos are disappointed at “the inability of the current OSCE structures to effectively address ongoing and evolving threats to true human security and decreasing implementation of human dimension commitments by member states.”

The organizers want to address three main messages to the Summit:

  • the effectiveness of the organization in safeguarding the notion of comprehensive security with human dimension as its core principle, and the implementation of OSCE commitments by participating states; particular attention will be given to freedomsof assembly, association, expression and movement and the security of human rights defenders
  • strengthening of key operational functions of the OSCE, including strengthening of institutional relationship with civil society and building new mechanisms for such interaction
  • provide recommendations for the OSCE in increasing its effectiveness in responding to political and humanitarian crises

Just as the participating States have lost much of their experiences in preparing OSCE Summits, so has civil society. Hundreds of NGOs gather each year at the Human Dimension meetings of the OSCE. This is a unique opportunity for them to present their issues directly at an intergovernmental forum. Also, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has developed close and valuable cooperative and supportive working relationships with many NGOs, as have a number of the Field Offices. Still, NGO thinking about the performance of the OSCE and how it can be improved, is not very developed. Recent expressions of NGO interest in the OSCE as an institution and a process have been limited to the International Civic Initiative for the OSCE that has presented a number of statements [http://www.mhg.ru/files/010/ICI/ICIDeng.doc]. The Parallel Conference should be an occasion for further sharpening and extending civil society’s interaction with OSCE’s processes and institutions. The promotion of human rights and democracy require an active civil society, and organizations working in that field should have a stimulating and critical relationship with inter-governmental organizations with a mandate in the same field.