The geographical region of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe – stretching from North America to Central Asia – is witnessing a period of tension and insecurity unlike any since the Cold War. In recent years new violent conflicts have erupted and longstanding ones have reignited. Enduring rivalries and persistent mistrust bubble under the surface of many societies, raising fears of renewed civil conflicts on the horizon. A gap of legitimacy between peoples and their institutions adds to a popular sense of dislocation and disorientation. External factors, particularly imported radical ideologies on the one hand and the influx of refugees and non-European migrants on the other hand, exacerbate feelings of insecurity and perceptions of crisis.
In times like these, we need to intensify our focus on the human dimension of security. The singular concept of comprehensive security developed by the OSCE, grounded on the combination of political, military, economic, environmental and human rights co-operation, must be considered the cornerstone of our efforts to ensure peace and stability throughout the OSCE region.
As rapporteur of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, I want to underline the importance of human rights in building and upholding both internal and international peace. Today, in responding to such challenges as the spread of radical ideologies or the massive flows of refugees and migrants, government leaders may be tempted to assert greater control over their societies, borders and institutions. However, increasing restrictions and prescribing simplistic and narrow-minded security responses is not the solution – in fact, it is the opposite of what we must do.
In the report and draft resolution that I will present at the Parliamentary Assembly’s 26th Annual Session in Minsk on 6 July, I hope to remind the OSCE that as the world’s largest regional security organization, it must at all times bear in mind the risks of overly securitizing such challenges. In this regard I urge our governments to prioritize commitments to protect fundamental human rights and freedoms of every individual in addressing such pressing issues as countering violent extremism.
The OSCE provides a forum where human dimension commitments are openly discussed, where governments hold each other to account. It is the responsibility of OSCE countries to protect and strengthen these forums and to improve enforcement mechanisms when human rights violations take place. As a consensus-based organization, the OSCE relies on the political will of its participants to pursue intergovernmental co-operation in the interest of stability, peace and comprehensive security. But the interests of our citizens must always be our focus.
OSCE countries have committed to fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals, and build societies based on pluralistic democracy and rule of law. In a time of heightened security tensions, it is our mission to renew our commitments to those principles, also concerning oversight of our military, security, and intelligence services, and not to use security concerns to justify restrictions on human rights and the subversion of the rule of law.
We have seen too many examples of human rights violations leading to violence and fueling conflict, either directly or indirectly. As such, any effort to resolve existing conflicts and prevent new ones from emerging must place the human dimension at its centre. Freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion or belief, and the protection of the rights of especially vulnerable people must be regarded as central to future security and stability of the region.
As a member of the Committee on Refugee-Enclaved-Missing-Adversely Affected Persons of the House of Representatives of Cyprus, I am particularly sensitive to the importance of safeguarding refugees’ human rights and ensuring their protection in compliance with international standards. Furthermore, internally displaced persons are scattered over a number of the OSCE countries. Millions of persons are internally displaced, including in my country of Cyprus. It is fundamental for governments to seek durable solutions for the return, local integration or integration elsewhere in the home countries of displaced persons.
It must also be recalled that within the migration flows are refugees who have been targeted for violence in their home countries, and our organization must make special provisions for those especially vulnerable populations on the periphery of the OSCE region.
At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s 26th Annual Session, taking place 5-9 July in Minsk, I will propose the establishment in our organization of a Special Representative for the Middle East. This, I believe, is necessary to effectively respond to massive migration flows, counter the spread of radical ideologies and terrorism – both of which are central to the current and future stability of the OSCE region.
For over four decades, the OSCE has championed its concept of comprehensive security articulated in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, a political document that was instrumental in bringing an end to the Cold War and offering the possibility of a space of genuine mutual trust from Vancouver to Vladivostok. This comprehensive security model remains the best way forward in our current historical moment.
We must work urgently to preserve the OSCE as a space where such a vision can gain fresh impetus and help shape our collective future, including by strengthening its human dimension.