The international system of human rights protection established after the Second World War is at risk. Throughout the 57-nation region of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, we have seen a decline in recent years of respect for human rights, with old and new challenges – related to issues such as conflicts, migration and the growing tide of nationalism and populism – adding to feelings of insecurity and mistrust and heightening tensions in our region.
But how can this negative trend be reversed, how can enhanced commitment by OSCE countries be ensured? How can we transform a shrinking space for non-governmental organizations into a flourishing and open civil society? And how can parliamentarians contribute towards this aim?
As rapporteur of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, I will present a report and draft resolution at the Parliamentary Assembly’s 27th Annual Session in Berlin starting on 7 July that underlines the importance of human rights and the role of parliaments in implementing international standards.
In times like these of growing division and a widening gap of trust between East and West, I am convinced that strengthening the focus on the human dimension of security can help build confidence between our countries. The comprehensive security concept developed by the OSCE, encompassing a combination of political, military, economic, environmental and human rights co-operation, should be considered a cornerstone to build and uphold peace and stability throughout the OSCE area.
In my report and draft resolution, I hope to shed light on recent human rights challenges within our region, urging our governments to contribute to addressing such challenges by respecting and upholding commitments that aim at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In conflict areas such as Syria, Ukraine, and the South Caucasus, where violence is having a devastating humanitarian impact on civilians and where serious human rights violations are committed, it is important to recall that international humanitarian law must be upheld. Also important is ensuring that in areas under foreign military occupation, human rights are applicable in their entirety. Human rights violations of people in conflict zones and occupied territories need to be investigated and freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and property and educational rights need to be restored.
Considering recent developments in the region it also becomes ever more apparent that the OSCE PA and its member parliaments must enhance efforts towards the protection of refugees’ and migrants’ human rights in compliance with international law and standards, particularly their right to freedom from arbitrary detention.
The EU, attempting to reduce irregular migration flows, shifted its migration control efforts to Libya, with horrific human rights consequences. Efforts in this regard must comply with international obligations, particularly the principle of non-refoulement. Regrettably, however, many OSCE countries have maintained excessively restrictive migration policies and emergency measures, thus causing unnecessary hardship for thousands of migrants detained in Libya in deplorable conditions.
The growing tide of nationalism and populism has reached alarming proportions, often being associated with or resulting in restrictions targeting democratic institutions and citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. Redoubling the efforts to safeguard and further promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the OSCE area is central in keeping the ultimate goal of a security community alive. Such a community must be based on democratic institutions, primarily impartial and independent judiciaries and on inclusive societies underpinned by fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association and freedom of religion.
Unfortunately, repression and persecutions against lawyers, particularly those working in the field of human rights, as well as other human rights defenders, journalists, activist groups, national human rights institutions are a reality in many places in the OSCE. The ongoing state of emergency in Turkey since the failed coup attempt in July 2016 and the subsequent operations against alleged terrorists within and beyond Turkey’s borders facilitated such a deterioration of the human rights situation and immediate steps must be taken towards the restoration of the political and civic space in the country. Against this background of a shrinking space for civil society it becomes ever more important that the OSCE continues to enable active participation of civil society representatives in its activities, in order to remain a constructive platform of open and frank discussions.
As a strategic priority the OSCE’s advocacy should also be targeted to youth and children, as a critical mass of people is essential in order to defend the human rights acquis enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. In this regard, a core strategic goal should be an inclusive education, as in many OSCE countries children with disabilities, migrant children and economically disadvantaged children are kept in separate classes or schools. Another strategic goal should be finding common ground on recognizing the right to education as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, considering that governments have diverging interpretations of this provision.
In the light of such human rights developments the ability of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to promote awareness and adherence to OSCE principles and commitments should be kept in mind as a vital tool in these difficult times. Renewed focus by governments and national parliaments on advancing human rights in all of our countries is crucial in ensuring the OSCE’s effectiveness in promoting security and co-operation as a whole.