OSCE institutions


The remit of the OSCE has expanded in the last ten years due to many domestic and inter‑ethnic conflicts and now includes new functions in the field of early warning, conflict prevention and post‑conflict peacebuilding.

OSCE missions and Offices

OSCE Secretariat in Vienna
OSCE Secretariat in Vienna © OSCE

The local missions and offices of the OSCE have proved to be a particularly practical conflict prevention and conflict management tool. They are established by the OSCE Permanent Council, i.e. with the agreement of all OSCE participating States and in consultation with the host countries. As a rule they are headed by experienced professional diplomats, who are appointed by the Chairperson‑in‑Office following consultations with the host country.

Through regular reports to the OSCE Permanent Council, the missions provide an objective and nuanced picture of the situation on the ground. Around 310 international employees currently work at the long‑term missions, including approximately 20 Germans.

The concrete tasks of a mission can vary considerably. The main focus is on helping ensure that human and minority rights are respected, assisting with building democratic and rule‑of‑law structures, fostering dialogue, especially between ethnic groups, creating modern societal and economic orders and helping to run elections.

Currently the OSCE has 16 field missions in Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine (2) and Uzbekistan.

The participating States provide diplomatic agents and experts for the missions. As a rule the missions have between five and forty international and other local employees, although in some cases they can be much larger.

The OSCE’s operational measures focus particularly on South Eastern Europe and, since 2014, Ukraine. At the moment the largest mission is the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which is due to increase to encompass 800 international observers in the course of 2016.

OSCE missions

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)

The ODIHR is the largest OSCE institution in the area of the human dimension. Its chief tasks are organising election observation missions, promoting democracy, the rule of law, tolerance and non‑discrimination, building up and advising institutions and monitoring compliance with standards in the area of the human dimension. Compliance with these obligations is discussed at the annual Implementation Meeting. The last Implementation Meeting was held in Warsaw from 21 September to 2 October 2015.

Michael Georg Link has been the Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights since July 2014.

Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)

The High Commissioner on National Minorities

Astrid Thors from Finland has been the High Commissioner on National Minorities since August 2013. The High Commissioner’s work mainly focuses on early warning and advice in the case of tensions connected to problems with minorities. She is currently active in Ukraine, Serbia, Kyrgyzstan and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as well as in Moldova, among other places, and on behalf of the Sinti and Roma.

The High Commissioner on National Minorities

The OSCE representative on freedom of the media

The institution of the OSCE representative on freedom of the media was established as the result of a German initiative, recognising the special significance of the OSCE’s obligations with regard to freedom of opinion and the role of free and pluralistic media.

The remit to create the new institution was issued by the OSCE Summit in Lisbon in 1996. The mandate was adopted by the Ministerial Council in Copenhagen (December 1997), which also appointed former Member of the German Bundestag Freimut Duve as the first OSCE representative on freedom of the media. In March 2010 Dunja Mijatovic from Bosnia and Herzegovina assumed the position.

Like the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the representative on freedom of the media plays an early warning role. She takes action in response to restrictions on media freedom, which as a rule are signs of a political development with conflict potential. If serious infringements of OSCE principles are suspected, the representative on freedom of the media contacts the participating State and other parties directly, assesses the situation and offers the participating State assistance with solving the problem.

The representative on freedom of the media

The OSCE family also includes:

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

To strengthen parliamentary exchange and intensify the participation of elected representatives in the OSCE process, the OSCE (then CSCE) Parliamentary Assembly was established in 1991. The parliaments of all participating States send delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly, which comprises 323 members. It convenes for sessions three times a year at different locations in the OSCE area. The work of the parliamentarians is chaired by a body led by an elected president. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has its own Secretariat based in Copenhagen.


The OSCE Court of Conciliation and Arbitration

The Convention on Conciliation and Arbitration within the OSCE entered into force on 5 December 1994. The Convention is now in force in more than 30 states, including Germany. The Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, based in Geneva, which was established on the basis of this Convention, was formed on 29 May 1995 but has not been active to date. President of the Court is the German international law expert Professor Christian Tomuschat.

Court of Conciliation and Arbitration

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