CSP Conference 2021: “Human Dimension of the OSCE: Reviving Key Principles from the Past, Looking into the Future: an overview

CSP Conference “Human Dimension of the OSCE: Reviving Key Principles from the Past, Looking into the Future”, held in Warsaw, Poland on 13 October 2021: an overview

  1. Brief information

The CSP conference was held on the eve of the conference organized by the ODIHR on 14-15 October 2021 in Warsaw, “ODIHR: Three decades and ready for the future. Democracy, human rights and security”, with support of the Swedish Chairpersonship and the government of Poland. The purpose was to hold the CSP event back-to-back, in the spirit of parallel civil society events that have been held regularly during the last ten years in conjunction with official OSCE meetings. Given that there was, no HDIM this year the CSP wanted to use this rare opportunity gathering in Warsaw as much as possible. The current material presents an overview of the CSP Conference held on 13 October in Warsaw, Poland.

  1. Agenda
  2. The Warsaw Declaration of the Civic Solidarity Platform
  3. Statement in support of Polish civil society and on rule of law and human rights concerns in Poland (To be added)
  4. Texts of the speakers’ remarks

Ms. Ryabiko reflected on the past 30 years since the Moscow document and ODIHR’s operations. 1991, was a time of changes and transformations, which in turn brought a lot of hope for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Civil society is a fundamental pillar not only in the OSCE at large but also in the ODIHR’s mandate.”

Ms. Ryabiko highlighted in her speech that ODIHR has put forward recommendations on securing the practices of the civil society during times of crises specifically in the ongoing pandemic. The civil society has been a crucial part of the ODIHR’s work and direct assistance in election monitoring and follow-up in election observation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated the shirking space for the civil society, at the same time indicating that ODIHR is committed to tackling the problem by providing platforms for civil society for interaction among themselves and with the local government. ODIHR has many instruments at hand for advancing the rights of the civil societies, such as legislation that facilitates the right to form and engage in associations for the OSCE participating states, advises them, monitors the situation for the human rights defenders and to develops recommendations for their protection, as well as engagement in the follow-up activity in the election monitoring missions and raising awareness of the threats for the civil society space on the international level. Ms. Ryabiko reminded the interconnectedness that the pandemic has revealed within our societies and beyond, which is important to take into account in conversations.  

“ Civil Society is always part of the solution”

Ms. Tsikhanouskaya spoke on the behalf of the millions of Belarusians who have been fighting for their freedom for decades. The freedoms that the Belarusians are fighting for are often taken for granted in democratic countries. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya reminded us that the OSCE commitments made by the participating states in 1991 are not only relevant to this day but also crucial.

Ms. Tsikhanouskaya identified three groups among the OSCE participating states: those states that uphold the commitments, those that aspire to do better, and those that only say they enforce the commitments but see them as a danger to their political interests in implementing them. Furthermore, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya highlighted the connection between the OSCE commitments and the threat to the region in economic and/or military terms.

“I am firmly convinced that the OSCE commitments are there to benefit the people, not the governments...I see this conference as a timely opportunity for the OSCE participating States to be reminded about the value of these commitments. I also see a great value in civil society’s reminding the OSCE institutions that in these trying times people have very high expectations from their work…After the discussions are over, after this conference has ended, please do not stop. I call on you to continue your work on the Belarusian agenda in the OSCE institutions

Ms. Tsikhanouskaya emphasized the interconnectedness of the region, reminding that the successes, failures travel fast, and lessons are learned even faster.

I call on you to help my nation in the fight for justice and democracy. Belarusians have shown to the whole world that the thirst for democracy is alive in the 21st century. I call on you to follow our example and do what you can to help us succeed.”

  • Andrei Kovalev, Retired Soviet and Russian diplomat, one of the drafters of the CSCE Moscow Document and organisers of the CSCE Moscow Conference

Mr Kovalev talked about the process behind the doors prior to the Moscow document from the Soviet perceptive and the challenges faced. Mr. Kovalev noted that although those times had been filled with the optimism of the new democratic future for Russia, not that many changes had materialized.

Those years were revolutionary and seemed to replace the shadows of the totalitarianism. The OSCE meeting in Vienna in 1986 seemed like any diplomat meeting but it was aimed at changing the societies.”

Mr. Kovalev reminded that the demolition of Soviet totalitarianism was not without risks and went with “hard battles”. There was pressure and extortion, sometimes with physical or legal methods. The positive changes were possible because of the support by Gorbachev, Yakovlev, and Shevardnadze. Mr.Kovalev emphasized that the Human Dimension is not fully functional, as some of its principles have been ignored by certain OSCE participating states and thus called for more accountability and sanctions towards the violators of the OSCE principles. Mr. Kovalev highlighted that it is important to convey to everyone that the commitments must be fulfilled or else states must withdraw from the agreements, this would add pressure for the governments to follow the commitments.

  • Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, Professor emeritus of international law, University of Graz (Austria), OSCE rapporteur of the two most recent Moscow Mechanism reports

Dr. Benedek suggested that the increased use of the Moscow Mechanism could partly compensate for the blockage on the HDMI by Russia. A minimum of ten participating states can request a report on a “a particularly serious threat to the fulfillment of the provisions of the OSCE human dimension” taking place in another OSCE state. The Vienna Mechanism contains an obligation to respond to the requests. Dr. Benedek walked through the process behind the Moscow Mechanism and its functions. The intended procedures and the reality have been to a certain extend different, mainly from the fact that the state under investigation has refused cooperation and declined rapporteurs and institutions to access its territory. The barriers involved are limited and even in the case of non-cooperation a report can be finalized and discussed at the following session of the Permanent Council.

“Fortunately, protected digital communications today allow to pursue fact-findings without having to travel to the country or put individuals or NGOs at risk. In practice, NGOs will be the main source of information, which needs to be cross-checked with individual testimonies and all other sources available.”

The mandate consists of facts and advice, as well as the solutions to the questions raised. Furthermore, it may indicate allegations that need addressing and the advice in the form of recommendations. Dr. Benedek lists the main advantages and disadvantages of the Moscow Mechanism. Additionally raising points that ought to be strengthened, such as more realistic deadlines for the report in correlation to the size of the mandate. The follow-up to the report and the recommendations is a crucial part of the Moscow Mechanism.

“The Moscow mechanism of OSCE provides a little known, but potentially effective tool of OSCE to have major allegations of violations of human rights and democracy investigated by independent experts. The resulting fact-finding report and recommendations can serve as a basis for further action in OSCE/ODIHR… as well as strengthen the efforts of pertinent NGOs and human rights defenders. The Moscow Mechanism in its contentious form is focused on the most serious human rights violations and therefore cannot take the many human rights issues needed to be discussed in all participating states sufficiently into account.”

Finally, Dr. Benedek argued that more frequent use of the Moscow Mechanism could compensate for the lack of scrutiny and accountability of major human rights violations. The additional use can potentially inspire the usage of other forms of scrutiny such as the HDIM. All of this requires general strengthening of the Moscow Mechanism especially its follow-up procedure.

  • Adam Bodnar, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Institute of Law, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Warsaw), former Commissioner for Human Rights of the Republic of Poland (2015-2021)

Mr. Bodnar reflected on the times as the Polish Ombudsman and the authoritarian trends in Europe but also beyond. Although, there were some problems in the early 2000s the general direction in Poland was going towards the “old democracies” in the West. Mr. Bodnar highlights 2015 as the turning year in Poland, when following the Hungarian example the newly elected parliament started anti-democratic changes. Mr. Bodnar emphasized the need to improve on civic and legal education and culture, in order for the public to understand why democratic institutions are important and needed.

“The Polish example is not exceptional one but part of a larger authoritarian trend. This has an impact on the whole European Union and we have a huge discussion on non-enforcement of the cooperate justice of the EU and even some attempts to undermine the credibility of the EU as this a political organization. We see that the EU is on the one hand suffering because of the problems with Poland and Hungary but on the other hand the EU is strengthening its own instruments on the rule of law, human rights and is becoming more and more active player not only globally but locally in European endowment of democracy.”

Mr. Bodnar underlined that the strong cooperation between the EU and the US based on universal human rights is essential. Furthermore, calling for more broadening the topic of individual rights to include the discussion on climate change to appeal to the younger public that deems this as an important issue.

The negative authoritarian trends in Europe should serve as a lesson on the importance of civic education, some of these methods include discriminatory legalism, where the law has been used to address the enemies but friends are sheltered from it. The use of economic power of the state to retail freedom and to shrink the space for the civil society and support those that are “friends of the government.” Manipulation of propaganda is a new threat and involves a flood of misinformation and as a result, the citizens cannot distinguish the truth. 

  • Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russian journalist, an opposition politician, and civil society activist

Mr. Kara-Murza reminded that all major obligations that have been codified in the OSCE documents have been violated by the current Russian regime. The ongoing pandemic has been used as a pretense to further restrict the rights of civil society. There were only three places in Moscow, where the COVID-19 restrictions had been kept in place by the Russian authorities: the courtrooms, opposition rallies, and the OSCE observation missions.

“Freedom of assembly the second area that have been hampered by the Kremlin regime, participating in a peaceful demonstration is essentially a crime in Putin’s Russia. More than eleven thousand detainees this year alone from the peaceful rallies…more than hundred criminal cases of participation in peaceful demonstrations and exercising their right of the freedom of assembly guaranteed by the OSCE founding documents.”

Another area violated by the current Russian regime is the prohibition on arbitrary arrest or detention, the Russian human rights center “Memorial” estimates that there are four hundred twelve people in Russia that are recognized under the Council of Europe and OSCE criteria as political prisoners. Furthermore, the most important right under the OSCE commitments is the right to life. Mr. Kara-Murza reflected on the assassination of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov:

“The assassinators continue to enjoy protection from the state to this day, we also have confirmed by several independent meeting investigations that we have a death squat operating within the FSB, the Russian secret services. There are people who are tasked physically eliminating opponents of Vladimir Putin by the use of prohibited chemical weapons

Mr. Kara-Murza highlighted that it is important not to only speak of the problems but also think of the solutions that the OSCE can present to these regimes. For example, the OSCE parliamentary assembly had tasked a special rapporteur to investigate the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, the report presented statements from the witnesses that were completely ignored by the Russian investigators. Investigations such as these provide justice and accountability when there is a lack of that on the national level. Furthermore, Mr. Kara-Murza called for a special representative at the OSCE for politically motivated imprisonment, a problem that was very prominent in many OSCE states.

 “This gives to other participating states, the democracies of the OSCE not just a right but an obligation to do something about the fact that other participating states are violating these commitments. It is very important to speak about not only the violations but also what can and should the democracies of the OSCE be doing.”

  • Roman Udot, co-chair of “Golos” movement for the defense of voters’ rights (Russia)

Roman Udot reflected on the recent Duma election in Russia. He noted that the broadcasting on the polling stations was a powerful tool for the civil society to use against the authorities, as violations were recorded on their own video. Nevertheless, Mr. Udot described the overall difficulty and impossibility presented to observe and report on the elections by the journalists and the civil society. 

“We will stand up and will survive but the blow to our volunteers, our activists is most harsh and we suffer a lot because of that. It is like your children being beaten in front of your eyes. We can receive blows ourselves but for people all over the country, fifteen regional coordinators were declared a foreign media-foreign agent.”

Mr. Udot highlighted the economic difficulty experienced by the civil society, opposition, and activists from the government. Constant fines, blocking of the bank accounts people eventually get tired and afraid:

You can be brave on the battle field but when you have to pay fine after fine and then you don’t have money for food for your children, it’s absolutely different situation nothing heroic in that“.

At the same time, Mr. Udot reminded that the current efforts have not been in vain. Especially younger people were active. Having the civil society around certain crimes the government will not dare to repeat again referencing the backlash domestically after the war with Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. The people on the streets give shackles to the repressive government.  

Mr. Dabravolski talked about the situation in Belarus that has been ongoing since 2020 and provided a few reasons why the mass protests erupted now and not before. Some of the reasons mentioned include the fact that the society got tired of one man leading the country but also the fact that potential alternative candidates appeared such as Viktor Babariko, Valery Tsepkalo, and Sergey Tikhanovsky. None of the candidates were allowed to participate and some were arrested. Only Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was able to register as a candidate and the oppositional forces joined in her support against Lukashenko. The overwhelming majority of Belarusians are convinced that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is the real winner of the presidential elections in Belarus. Following the elections, the street protests went on for a few months drawing hundred of thousands of people all over the country. The protest has not disappeared but taken a new form.

Everyone knows that Lukashenko lost the elections even he himself knows that. The best evidence of that is the inauguration that he decided to have in secret.”

Mr. Dabravolski described two main post-election strategies: the legitimization of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the delegitimization of Lukashenko. The strategy has been reached in Belarus but also with the international community. Nevertheless, Lukashenko still is the leader de-facto of Belarus, as he is still controlling the situation in the country but not de jure.

The democratic forces have three main demands: to stop the repressions, to free political prisoners, and to have new fair elections. The negotiations with the current regime have been proposed but so far with refusal from Lukashenko. Mr. Dabravolski emphasized that more pressure is needed. The nature of the current crises is political but will most likely spill over into economic and humanitarian crises. The crises are brought by Lukashenko’s refusal to leave his post and thus there is only one solution to the crisis: his removal.

Mr. Dabravolski is confident that sooner or later Lukashenko will leave, as the time cannot be reversed. Lukashenko has become a barrier to the development of the country. The most favorable solution for all involved would be the negotiations on the condition of new elections. The societal revolution can also happen but is not favored as it might leave the country in a difficult political state. The solution to the Belarusian crisis lies in the future and new elections need to be negotiated to allow the country to take a step in this direction and allow it to progress.

Mr. Talerchik talked about ByPol’s mission investigating and recording the crimes of the Belarusian regime.

Mr. Talerchik walked through the repressive steps taken by the regime to strengthen its position, notably after the Presidential elections in 2006 and 2010. Lukashenko has highly centralized power with all the state committees directly accountable to him. In 2020, a ruling was made banning criminal proceedings against the governmental committees, making 680 cases on torture, violence, etc. non-admissible. Mr. Talerchik highlighted that the main thing the Belarusians expected from the international society is the feeling that Lukashenko is no longer recognized as the leader of the country.

“While Lukashenko is in power the repressions will not stop in Belarus. “

Mr. Papuashvili highlighted that the behavior of the Belarusian authorities can and should be classified as a crime against humanity as defined by international law. This in turn raises the question of criminal liability of the individuals who commit these crimes. Nevertheless, the international stakeholders and the governments of the OSCE participating states have to decide on the most appropriate format for adjudicating the crimes in question. It is important for the impartial tribunal to assess the evidence and come to a conclusion in the form of a verdict. This can be achieved in two ways:

 “One of them is through criminal proceedings that can be initiated by states that have so-called universal jurisdiction laws, which permit extraterritorial application of criminal law, another is through the International Criminal Court or the ICC.”

Lukashenko’s crimes are no secret to prosecuting authorities in many European countries but Mr. Papuashvili urged the investigative authorities to examine the evidence and deal with it through courts without delay. Another way this can be handled is through the ICC. The criminal investigations through European states or the ICC will not likely lead to the surrender of Lukashenko but will most likely play an important factor in the support of the Belarusian people’s struggle towards a free and democratic society. Issuing an arrest warrant on a person is a clear message to both inside and outside of the country. Furthermore, the arrest warrant will have significant consequences on the ability of the person to engage in the political process, seek relocation or support from the international community. Furthermore, the criminal proceedings are a possibility for the victims of the regime to seek justice.

  • Anaïs Marin, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation with human rights in Belarus

The demonstrations in Belarus have been ongoing for over 1,5 years but have remained mainly peaceful despite the overwhelming challenges posed by the Belarusian government.

“The repression is going on, we shouldn’t forget this, it was not only in August 2020, it’s still going and it’s becoming subtle in a way that it aims at destroying the civil society as a whole in a climate of a total arbitrariness- “bezakonnye”, which reigns in Belarus and this makes the process of any type of transition peace and stability and democratic change very much difficult, you cannot trust any institution in the country, not the police not the justice system.”

Ms. Marin reminded that besides the obvious victims of the Belarusian regime, such as the political prisoners and activists there were many more victims, due to the intimidation and reprisals against the relatives, this has led to tens of thousands seeking safety abroad but there they still require psychological support to overcome everything they have been through, what their relatives are going through.  Ms. Marin called for more support from the diplomats towards the political prisoners and emphasized the two accountability mechanisms needed to stop the impunity in Belarus: establishing an international accountability platform for Belarus within the OSCE Moscow Mechanism, additionally, examination by the OHCHR on Belarus launched following the resolution 46/20 at the Human Rights Council. Ms. Marin highlighted paragraph 13, which empowers and requests the high commissioner with the help of special procedure mandate holders and independent experts to gather, to consolidate, to analyze the circumstances the serious violations have taken place aiming to hold the perpetrators accountable and to provide justice to the victims. The OHCHR does not have a judiciary mission; nevertheless, this mechanism has been possible to launch. This is the first step in gathering the information. States should send the referrals to the prosecutors of the ICC.

More coordination between the representatives of the civil society and political opposition abroad is needed, currently, it is lacking. The international community should recognize that Belarus has crossed too many red lines and has disregarded all the recommendations made; the first clause for the international conference on the situation of human rights in Belarus should be renewed.

Ms. Kate Watters talked about the intersection between climate justice and the human dimension highlighting the impact of environmental impacts but also the human rights issues connected to climate change. Ms. Watters acknowledged the previous work done by the OSCE for the environment, climate change and human rights both in policy and action.  Nevertheless, encouraging more action in areas related to democracy, human rights and climate justice. Protecting the environmental defenders ought to be clearly stated within the OSCE commitments. 

If environmental and climate activists are to continue their important work, they must be protected by the institutions that claim to value and support their contributions. Environmental defenders are increasingly under attack

Ms. Watters called for the OSCE to take further steps to align the environmental commitments including but not limited to adopting Paris-equivalent environmental standards, as this is something that has been ratified by all of the OSCE members and this would solidify the institutions’ commitments to the environment.  Meanwhile taking the intersectional nature of the climate crisis. Many topics are linked to the impacts of climate change and recognizing this is critical. Ms. Watters concluded with the remark that OSCE and CSP both have the opportunity to be part of the climate solution.