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Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2016 in Warszaw - Closing Speech of the OSCE Chairmanship

30.09.2016 - Speech

Given by Ambassador Eberhard Pohl on behalf of the Special Representative of the Federal Government for the OSCE Chairmanship 2016 Gernot Erler

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Michael Link,
Lamberto Zannier,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to offer you all a warm welcome to this final session of the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE.

I know that the HDIM demands stamina and patience.

For two weeks we have seen meetings in lots of different formats and some lively – and occasionally very controversial – debates. We government officials in particular were reminded on a daily basis here of our obligations in the human dimension and are urged to adhere to them.

This Implementation Meeting, like the entire human dimension of the OSCE, was not created merely as a jolly for when the going is good.

On the contrary: they are intended to remind us, particularly at times when security policy is facing critical challenges, that human rights and fundamental freedoms are neither an unnecessary luxury nor a decorative accessory nor a political bargaining chip.

Implementing human rights and fundamental freedoms – in a dialogue with civil society – is our obligation. Because they form the human rights backbone of our comprehensive concept of security in the OSCE area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In his opening speech at this year’s HDIM, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Federal Minister Steinmeier, reminded everyone that the “human dimension is an integral component of security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”.

We must not forget that protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is always a contribution to security and stability. We all committed to this approach in the Charter of Paris and the follow‑up documents.

In the post‑Cold War days, when ODIHR and the other independent OSCE institutions were established, the awareness of this connection permeated everything.

Then as now, instability and political upheaval were the result not of too much human rights protection or too much democracy, but, on the contrary, of lawlessness, suppression of freedom and a lack of prospects.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The pioneering documents of the 1990s on which the human dimension of the OSCE rests even today attached the same value to the protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic standards as to the other dimensions of our common security for precisely these two reasons: to protect the individual and to make a contribution to stability and peace.

Some of the issues thought to be particularly important and worthy of protection back then have been the subject of intensive discussion here in Warsaw over the past few days too.

These include the crucial importance of democratic institutions and free elections. Election observation and support for democratic reform have become trademarks of ODIHR.

In this context, I am delighted that ODIHR was able to present the new “Handbook on the Follow‑up of Electoral Recommendations” on the margins of this HDIM.

In it, all OSCE participating States are reminded of their undertaking, in Istanbul in 1999 for instance, to “conduct free and fair elections in accordance with OSCE commitments” and “to follow up promptly the ODIHR’s election assessment and recommendations”.

These recommendations, too, may occasionally be uncomfortable. But ultimately they always help to improve electoral procedures and thus also to ensure acceptance of the election result by all involved.

Strengthening the legitimacy of elections must surely be something we all aim to do. We should therefore work together to support ODIHR in its tasks and provide it with the necessary means.

Another subject on the agenda both then and now is freedom of assembly and association.

This year’s HDIM also saw the launch of the new ODIHR “Human Rights Handbook on Policing Assemblies”.

This will help ensure more effective implementation of OSCE commitments regarding freedom of assembly by presenting good practical approaches which participating States can adopt. These approaches are the product of concrete observations. For example, ODIHR observed the policing of demonstrations during the G7 Summit in Elmau in June last year, and we reported on these experiences to the participating States in Vienna ourselves.

Finally, two more topics discussed in the 90s and today: the rule of law and good governance. These have been central pillars of the OSCE commitments in the human dimension ever since the Charter of Paris and are indispensable elements of international stability to this day.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The annual HDIMs here in Warsaw are not only intended as a forum for reaffirming and managing a great heritage.

Fundamental freedoms and human rights are invariably the fields which give a particularly clear indication of current political developments and challenges.

That’s why, at the first HDIM, in 1993, Max van der Stoel, the first OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, described his job as acting as a “tripwire”.

I would perhaps rather say a seismograph: the HDIM is and will remain the most important sensor for detecting the slightest vibrations threatening human rights and fundamental freedoms.

At the same time, however, the HDIM is a central platform for dialogue among governments and civil society on the day’s urgent challenges to our security and cooperation.

This year’s record attendance of 1,800 participants shows that the HDIM is both accepted and used in this dual function as an early‑warning system and platform for dialogue for positive but also worrying developments.

These might include, for example, the current challenges to freedom of opinion and of information – both basic preconditions for stable, active societies, but both also freedoms which are at particular risk in an age of aggressive misinformation campaigns and propaganda using cutting‑edge communications.

They might also include a whole range of issues which have taken on new urgency in the light of the dramatic challenge posed by refugee flows and migration.

At this HDIM, for example, we discussed ways to combat human trafficking. This criminal practice particularly hits the weakest of the weak, defenceless people fleeing from their homes, and especially women and children. But it also nurtures criminal structures which endanger our common security.

We also discussed the need to improve tolerance and non‑discrimination in our societies, as well as ways to combat hate crime, racism, xenophobia and discrimination.

We want to continue these talks very soon, at our Chairmanship conference on tolerance and diversity in Berlin on 20 October, to which you are all cordially invited.

Finally, this meeting focused on the protection of freedom of opinion, conscience, religion and belief.

It is not just that our ability to master the challenges posed by migration and refugee flows in our societies within the OSCE depends on our success in shaping and propagating these freedoms.

Rather, their restriction and infringement is also one of the main reasons why people flee their countries of origin outside the OSCE. We should therefore all have a shared interest in strengthening these freedoms around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The wide range of issues we have discussed here in Warsaw is a reflection of the increasing importance of human rights and fundamental freedom for stability and peace in the OSCE area and beyond.

It is therefore important that this meeting could take place this year, and I am pleased that we have all taken the trouble to build bridges, arrive at compromises and ensure that our differences of opinion do not gnaw at this, the heart of the human dimension of the OSCE.

And I am grateful for the lively participation this year again of civil society, of the many organisations and above all of the many courageous defenders of human rights and fundamental freedoms all across the world.

We explicitly want to hear your critical voices, in your countries, but also at this meeting.

Yes, you should be difficult and nudging us, the OSCE participating States, to reassess and justify our priorities and political decisions in the light of our responsibility for protecting the individual.

For over twenty years, this frank exchange between government representatives and civil society has been the unmistakeable trademark of our Implementation Meetings here in Warsaw. And it is more important today than ever before.

To enable such a frank exchange, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to respect and guarantee free speech at this meeting and to respect and protect the integrity of every participant, before, during and after our meeting.

At the same time, we should be open to any constructive suggestions for further improving the efficacy and public perception of this meeting. We encourage all participating States to engage in a constructive exchange of views on this subject in the coming weeks and months.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Another important task of this meeting is to show up and allow taboo‑free discussion of the differences and differing priorities we have in the human dimension.

The OSCE provides us with a forum for openness, and so I am pleased that we kept talking and will continue to keep talking about our differences of opinion.

Particularly in this, ODIHR’s 25th anniversary year, however, we should remember the special context in which the human dimension of the OSCE was born: a time of instability and threats to what we had achieved for peace and freedom, the time of democratic upheaval in Europe.

In this awareness, we should continue our discussions in the weeks and months ahead, so that at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg we can issue a visible signal of the continuing importance of our commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In this, we are counting on you, and on your active support.

I believe we can succeed in this if we judge our contributions to the debate on the basis of whether they are also making a contribution towards strengthening the human dimension.

Let us work together to do what needs to be done.

Thank you for your attention. It only remains for me to wish you all a pleasant trip home.

Thank you very much.

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