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A Report on the OSCE Roundtable

Posted by paulipoldie on July 25, 2009

A Report on the OSCE Roundtable

by Baron Bodissey

Earlier this month the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held a “Human Dimension Roundtable” in Vienna. One of the participants — a Counterjihad sympathizer — has prepared the following report.

OSCE map
Click the image above to see a full-sized map of the OSCE countries. At the bottom of this post is a list of those countries, as well as the mission statement of the OSCE. The original map of OSCE states (in pdf format) can be found here.

Henrik Ræder Clausen has also posted a report on the same event.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
and the Counterjihad

A report from the Human Dimension Roundtable, Vienna
July 9-10, 2009

One may wonder what the Counterjihad and an organization like the OSCE could possibly have in common. Before I delve into this matter, I will provide a short overview of the OSCE, as it is a rather obscure organization, especially for non-Europeans, despite the membership of the United States and Canada. I will also touch on how the OSCE processes work.

According to its fact sheet, “The OSCE works for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation. The Organization comprises 56 participating States that span the globe, encompassing three continents — North America, Europe and Asia — and more than a billion people.” However, the OSCE uses the “d”-word: dialogue. The fact sheet calls it its “genetic code, in order to maintain security throughout its region.”

To be fair, the OSCE does its work in relative obscurity, “away from the headlines”, in order to defuse potential threats. The only time we hear about the OSCE is during elections, when monitoring missions are established, most recently in Georgia. The OSCE is also active in post-conflict areas, “helping to reinforce confidence- and security-building measures.” These measures include, among others, initiatives for minority rights, legislative reform, the rule of law, and press freedom.

The OSCE, like the EU, believes in Euro-Mediterranean partnership which includes countries like Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan for further cooperation. All partners for cooperation, save Israel, were noticeably absent from the roundtable discussions.

OSCE seats
The OSCE, or rather its predecessor the CSCE, was one of the main players in bringing down Communism:

The Organization traces its origins to the early 1970s, to the Helsinki Final Act and the creation of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which at the height of the Cold War served as an important multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between East and West. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 heralded the start of a new era for a “Europe whole and free”, and the participating States called upon the CSCE to respond to the emerging challenges. The CSCE acquired its first permanent structures, including a Secretariat and institutions, and established the first field missions. In 1994 the CSCE, more than a conference, was renamed the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The Organization “views security as comprehensive and takes action in three ‘dimensions’: the politico-military; the economic and environmental; and the human.” It is precisely the third dimension — the human dimension — that brought down communism. The Soviets, through their participation in the CSCE, were gently led toward the acceptance of human rights, including freedom of worship:

“…[T]he inclusion of the humanitarian aspect was a victory for the West, including the neutral states….[A]t the beginning of the negotiations the Soviets did not even accept the use of the term “human rights” at the negotiations concerning the Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations Between Participating States, instead the word “penguin” was used. Finally they were forced to accept the human rights aspect on their territory as an “essential factor for peace, well-being and justice”. For instance, by accepting this the Soviet Union had to change its views on the suppression of its citizens of the Jewish faith as well as other minorities. The Soviet Union could not but free some of its imprisoned and persecuted dissidents […] As the Chairman of the United States Delegation to the Vienna CSCE Follow-up Meeting noted, “there were remarkable results”. By 1986, jamming of radio broadcasts had ceased, enabling citizens of all participating states to listen to broadcasts of their choosing. A significant number of Jews were able to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Freedom of speech and press censorship were also matters which were addressed as a consequence. At the same time over 600 political prisoners had been freed, dissidents had been allowed more freedom, worshipers form different religious faiths had won more tolerance. But not only the citizens of the Soviet Union profited form the CSCE process: in particular, citizens of both Germans states were finally able to visit each other (however, only up to 30 days per year), mostly to visit relatives.” (Source: university paper by ESW, “The evolution of the CSCE to the OSCE. Did the Institutionalization of the CSCE increase its Effectiveness — evaluation of successes and failures with emphasis on human rights and national minorities. 2002)

In addition:
– – – – – – – –

The very concept of freedom of movement for people, as established in the Helsinki Final Act, is what essentially facilitated the fall of Communism and marked the beginning of the end for bipolarism in Europe. What began in the early 1980’s in Poland with the mass protests of the Solidarity union, which was cracked down by the government, ended once again with Poland in 1988 the massive anti-government strikes forced the government to allow free elections in which the Communists were heavily defeated. These protests rapidly spread to other Soviet satellite states such as Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. By the end of 1991, Gorbachev had resigned and the Soviet Union had split up into separate republics. Communism was not defeated but had defeated itself.

The OSCE is

“unique and innovative in several respects. Firstly, the concept of “sovereign and independent states and in conditions of full equality” was unheard of in an era of bloc-to-bloc confrontation. Secondly, while other negotiations embraced a rather fragmented approach to security, the CSCE endorsed a comprehensive view. Thirdly, unlike the United Nations Security Council, where decisions could be halted by vetoes, the CSCE’s advantage was consensus. Thus, the CSCE did not offer the two blocs a playground for power politics. Instead of ambiguity, the CSCE process encouraged transparency in all fields.”

In OSCE terminology, the term human dimension is used to describe the set of norms and activities related to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, which is regarded within the OSCE as one of the three dimensions of security. The term also indicates that the OSCE norms in this field cover a wider area than traditional human rights law. (Human Dimension commitments, vol. 1, 2005)

According to its book on “Human Dimension Commitments, Vol. 1, 2005”, “the OSCE process is essentially a political process that does not create legally binding norms or principles. Unlike many other human rights documents, OSCE human dimension commitments are politically, rather than legally, binding. This is an important distinction since it limits the legal enforceability of OSCE standards. On other words, OSCE commitments cannot be enforced in a court of law.”

The OSCE’s office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR), based in Warsaw, is the main institution of the OSCE for human dimension. It organizes “regular meetings that take stock of OSCE human dimension commitments and recommends follow-up. In all its activities, the ODHIR reaches out to a network of partners active in related areas, including international and local non-governmental human rights organizations.”

ODHIR organizes and hosts thematic roundtables to give civil society representatives the opportunity to draft recommendations for the OSCE and participating states.

The OSCE’s “Tolerance and Non-Discrimination and Information System (TANDIS) is worth looking into more closely, especially its brochure on hate crimes (pdf)

It is this consensus which was so extremely helpful in killing some “very poisonous” (Henrik R. Clausen) recommendations made at the Civil Society roundtable in July 2009. This is advantageous because if there is no consensus, then the recommendation is not carried and thus no longer an issue. Of course, this means only a very limited number of recommendations make it into the protocol.

These are the recommendations agreed upon in the Civil Society roundtable:

1. Freedom of religion or belief should be mainstreamed in the work of ODIHR;
2. Participating States are encouraged to implement existing commitments on freedom of religion or belief according to international human rights standards. Participating States are encouraged to make use of the assistance available from ODIHR;
3. The rule of law should be recognized as an essential prerequisite for full and proper enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief;
4. Participating States are encouraged to actively create an atmosphere in the public space within which freedom of religion or belief can best flourish and in which religious and belief communities can engage in full and fruitful dialogue. This space should be open to all, and the public media can play an important role in the creation of this space.

Some of the poisonous recommendations are listed below:

Cojep International (no link to Cojep’s press release is available, as they were distributed on paper) appears to be a very dangerous organization. It was represented by its Vice-Chair, Veysel Filip, who not only took the floor sharply criticizing the “Charter on Muslim Understanding” in an official statement, but also complaining about “the inadequate response of the German government to date given the nature of the crime (the stabbing of an Egyptian woman in a courtroom in Dresden)” and “urges the German authorities to publicly condemn the attack.”

Now why should the German authorities react by condemnation? Here is Henrik R. Clausen’s (ICLA) statement in response:

“(Regarding) the murder in Dresden: We have full confidence in the German law to handle this matter, and we emphasize that no such events, no matter how evil, should be used (and abused) as a pretext for assaulting freedom of expression or implementing draconic legislation.”

It should be noted that other than the official German representative to the OSCE, no participating state or organization except for ICLA, took the floor.

Cojep added that “Governments should ensure that law enforcement officers are trained to respond to and investigate anti-Muslim crimes. Public education efforts should promote tolerance and diversity and address anti-Muslim prejudice.”

A similar request was made during the Civil Society round-table meeting, namely for “sensitivity training in schools”, but this was quickly off the table thanks to ICLA and Pax Europa interjections.

In its recommendations, Cojep “has recently observed a sharp decline of funding for support of the Muslim NGOs which is necessary for them to attend OSCE human dimension events and make their voice to be heard. We would like to emphasise that in order to ensure a more balanced participation of all communities in the OSCE region, ODIHR [OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] should promote the participation of Muslim NGOs more.”

There should be no public funding for NGO groups as this would undermine the credibility of an NGO’s status as a non-governmental group. Other funding is acceptable, but it hard to understand the whining of Cojep regarding a supposed under-representation of Muslim NGOs. There were plenty of those present at the July 2009 meeting.

With regard to hate speech laws (which are described in great detail in an OSCE brochure “Hate Crime Laws — A Practical Guide”), the United States Mission to the OSCE weighs in:

“Anti-terrorism laws or extremism laws are too often misused — sometimes deliberately — to limit religious groups. To cite two recent examples, new religion laws in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan appear to be aimed at keeping a lid on religious extremism. In practice, however, such restrictions on legitimate religious activities tend to enhance extremism. Among the groups labeled this way in some participating States are many Muslim groups…[…].”

The US Mission also quotes President Obama who “noted the importance for countries to avoid impeding their citizens from practicing religion in almost any way they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a woman should wear.” As discussed by many commentators, this statement is truly poisonous when it comes to Islam.

However, the US Mission must be applauded for its statement on freedom of expression, namely that limitations must not be imposed unless there is a call for violence:

“Sometimes calls for religious tolerance or calls to respect others’ beliefs are used to justify limitations on our OSCE commitments relating to freedom of expression and religion. The United States believes that such limitations on freedom of expression, including religious expression, are unacceptable absent a clear threat of violence — governments should permit free expression to the fullest extent possible. In our view, the antidote to intolerant speech is not limitations on speech — even when it is admittedly offensive — but rather ensuring that our society uses its freedom of expression to discredit and condemn such statements, while nevertheless aspiring to a level of dialogue that is respectful and constructive.”

Though ICLA, Pax Europa, Mission Europa, and the Akademikerbund were invited to sign the Joint NGO Statement (Observatory for Religious Freedom, Spain; Alliance Defence Fund, United States et. al.; Paneuropa Union, Austria; Human Rights Platform www.christianophobia.eu, Europe; Evangelischer Aufbruch, Germany), we were unable to do so. There are some acceptable ideas included in the statement; however, other statements contrary to our ideas were truly problematic, even if the intention is noble.

For example, this statement was unacceptable:

“Governments must admit religious attire even in public places, except when paramount interests such as safety, public order or health compel to rule otherwise. Governments must recognize the wide extent and implications of the right of parents to the moral and religious upbringing of children, without any interference from political power and from official ideology leading to indoctrination. In sum, States must recognize religion as a vital source of moral behaviour which is beyond and superior to secular legal systems.”

Religious law must never be recognized as superior to secular law. This is where Muslims will applaud since this is precisely what Muslims believe: Sharia law is above any other law since it is Allah’s law. Thus, a clear “No” to religious law’s superiority to secular law.

The idea that of granting the parents the unconditional right to moral and religious upbringing of their children unfortunately opens the door to Islamic madrassas, widely known to be breeding grounds for religious indoctrination and brainwashing. While this — the parents being in charge of their children’s moral upbringing — might be seen as good and moral idea, Muslim parents must first renounce the problematic verses and suras of the Quran (see Charter for Muslim Understanding).

On the other hand, one recommendation can and must definitely be supported:

“To guarantee the availability of places of worship taking into account urban planning considerations, and the artistic, cultural, religious, architectural and environmental characteristics of the territory. A dialogue should be established with the local community and religions traditionally present in that area. Legislative regulations should distinguish between places used for worship only and places of worship used for activities beyond purpose of worship.”

Here is a (sometimes very problematic) list of recommendations submitted to the OSCE prior to the Roundtable for Civil Society:

Alliance Defense Fund (US):

Freedom of religion and freedom of assembly are complementary rights, with the former requiring the latter for actualization, maturation and perpetuation. A disturbing trend exists where laws regarding the establishment of places of worship for minority Christian religions are either illusory (because of administrative provisions making the operative provisions of laws allowing for the establishment of places of worship virtually impossible to utilize) such as in Turkey, or are non-existent such as in several of the more conservative Middle Eastern Nations (e.g. United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia).

Weg der Versöhnung — Way of Reconciliation (Austria):

FREEDOM OF SPEECH is the foundation and basis of success of every democracy. It is the basis of the dignity of the human being. The loss of the freedom of speech is the beginning of tyranny, as history proves. It is being severely threatened in the EU in our day by so-called Hate Speech and Antidiscrimination legislation.

Cojep International (France):

In Europe we observe that Muslims have been increasingly facing arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on their right to manifest and practice their religions. The referendum process to ban the building of minarets in Switzerland and the recent law adopted for the same purpose in the Carinthia province of Austria are two examples of this worrying situation. Muslims are also concerned about intervention of their internal religious affairs, especially when they were not allowed to choose their own imams or muftis.

We would like to also recommend that ODIHR’s Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom should have a more balanced approach towards to all regions of OSCE and all religious groups and believers and non-believers. For this purpose, we would like to propose to ODIHR to include at least one expert with a Muslim minority background.

Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association (Iceland):

Repeal blasphemy laws.

Muzaffar Olimov (Tajikistan):

The ban on hijabs limits the ability of women to get education and employment and indirectly discriminates against women. In Tajikistan, where the economic status of women is lower than that of men, the ban on hijabs should be lifted.

Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians (Austria):

Radical political correctness and hate speech legislation may lead to a restriction of the freedom of religion as well as of the freedom of expression. We urge not to promote a claimed right not to feel offended which ends up in restricting the freedom of expression of individuals and groups, including religious individuals and groups.

Observatory for Religious Tolerance and Freedom (Italy):

The ODIHR should not consider violations of religious freedom against majority religions less serious than those against minority religions because such violations are serious per se and OSCE commitments are referred to majority religions as well.

The European Union is also represented in the OSCE, both by the current presidency (Sweden) and ECRI, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. What follows are the most destructive passages from ECRI’s paper submitted to the OSCE (emphasis added):

  • ECRI considers that religious intolerance is a form of racism.
  • ECRI has taken issue with various forms of intolerance: harassment by the police and local authorities vis-à-vis, among others, “non-traditional” groups; violence against persons and properties perpetrated by non-state actors; and inflammatory speech by extremist politicians and media.
  • ECRI has also commented on the spreading of stereotypes and prejudice (on, for example, the limited possibilities of some religious groups to integrate); and even the contribution to the negative climate of the exploitation by mainstream politicians of issues such as forced marriages and female genital mutilation.
  • For ECRI there is no real dilemma between protecting freedom of speech and the fight against religious intolerance. There are cases where the demands of the latter will take precedence over the former. It should be noted in this respect that the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention takes to some extent the same position.
  • In its General Policy Recommendation on combating racism and racial discrimination in and through school education, ECRI has highlighted the need for an instruction which “complies with the scientific neutrality essential in any educational approach”.
  • ECRI has had to deal with religious discrimination in employment and housing. This targets, among others, women with headscarves.
  • Dialogue between the authorities and the representatives of religious groups but also between the different groups is essential in a multicultural society; also essential is the monitoring of the situation by the authorities, through a process of data collection that respects the principles of data protection and self-identification. However, multiculturalism should not be seen as an end in itself. What ECRI strives for is integrated societies. For us, successful integration is a two-way process, a process of mutual recognition, which has nothing to do with assimilation. An “integrated society” in ECRI’s conception is equally inclusive of majority and minority groups.

Just how dangerous the discussion on religious freedom can be becomes obvious if one goes back six years to a roundtable on Religious Freedom and Democracy, which took place in Rome in 2003, during the OSCE Fall Conference on Religious Freedom:

Ambassador Babacar Ba spoke on behalf of the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference, Abdelouahed Belkeziz, emphasizing the significance of Islam in the history of humanity and the values of tolerance and freedom it has always promoted, whilst denouncing the link between Islam and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Ambassador Ba stressed the positive relations between Islam and other religions, recalling how, historically, Islam had harmoniously integrated certain elements of previous civilizations. He made a link with the Mediterranean aspect of the Rome Conference by underlining the crucial role of the Mediterranean area in the symbiotic relationship between Europe and Islam. Quoting two verses of the Koran, Ambassador Ba underscored the openness of Islam. According to him, Islam has always been a good example of tolerance towards the Jews, the Christians and also nonbelievers throughout history, whilst discouraging forced conversion.

Ambassador Ba went on clarify the alleged misunderstandings pertaining to the debate on the compatibility of religion with democracy. According to him, Islam is not less compatible with democracy than other religions, pointing to the notion that the West did not inherit its democratic principles from any religion, but rather from its great philosophers. Moreover, he argued that the Islamic world is following the same path as the West by striving to institutionalize the same separation of religious institutions from the state. He emphasized the OIC’s commitment to the dialogue between cultures and civilizations in all its relations with international organizations, mentioning an initiative called the “civilization dialogue”.

We must, under all circumstances, continue what was started in July 2009. We need to shake up and wake up those willing to wake up.

Perhaps one day we will be able to say: The CSCE brought down communism; the OSCE brought down Islamic supremacism.

What is the OSCE?

(Original pdf here)

The OSCE works for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation. The Organization comprises 56 participating States that span the globe, encompassing three continents — North America, Europe and Asia — and more than a billion people.

Forum for dialogue — platform for action

Europe faces new threats and challenges. The OSCE, with its multi-faceted approach to security, offers the region a forum for political dialogue and negotiations and a platform for multilateral partnerships that pursue practical work on the ground.

Dialogue is in the OSCE’s genetic code. To maintain security throughout its region, the OSCE relies on political dialogue about shared values and develops partnerships with governments, civil society and the private sector. The OSCE often works away from the headlines to foster discussion to defuse tensions and head off potential conflict.

The OSCE’s 19 field operations enable the Organization to tackle crises should they arise, and can also play a critical post-conflict role, helping to reinforce confidence- and security-building measures. They foster the administrative capacity of the host countries through concrete projects that respond to people and their needs. These include initiatives to support community policing, minority rights, legislative reform, rule of law, press freedom and border management. Increasingly, the OSCE is building networks of professionals to work more efficiently against terrorism, smuggling of small arms and light weapons, and trafficking in human beings.

From the Cold War to new security challenges

The Organization traces its origins to the early 1970s, to the Helsinki Final Act and the creation of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which at the height of the Cold War served as an important multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between East and West. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 heralded the start of a new era for a “Europe whole and free”, and the participating States called upon the CSCE to respond to the emerging challenges. The CSCE acquired its first permanent structures, including a Secretariat and institutions, and established the first field missions. In 1994 the CSCE, more than a conference, was renamed the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The complex security challenges of the 21st century — from climate change to the spectre of terrorism — have made it clear that the co-operation fostered by the OSCE is needed more than ever.

These combine with the challenges inherited from the past — resolving conflicts in the former Soviet Union, embedding stability in the Balkans, promoting military transparency — to make the OSCE agenda ambitious and full.

Participating States

1 Albania
2 Andorra
3 Armenia
4 Austria
5 Azerbaijan
6 Belarus
7 Belgium
8 Bosnia And Herzegovina
9 Bulgaria
10 Canada
11 Croatia
12 Cyprus
13 Czech Republic
14 Denmark
15 Estonia
16 Finland
17 France
18 Georgia
19 Germany
20 Greece
21 Holy See
22 Hungary
23 Iceland
24 Ireland
25 Italy
26 Kazakhstan
27 Kyrgyzstan
28 Latvia
29 Liechtenstein
30 Lithuania
31 Luxembourg
32 The Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia
33 Malta
34 Moldova
35 Monaco
36 Montenegro
37 Netherlands
38 Norway
39 Poland
40 Portugal
41 Romania
42 Russian Federation
43 San Marino
44 Serbia
45 Slovakia
46 Slovenia
47 Spain
48 Sweden
49 Switzerland
50 Tajikistan
51 Turkey
52 Turkmenistan
53 Ukraine
54 United Kingdom
55 United States Of America
56 Uzbekistan

Asian Partners for Co-Operation

A1 Afghanistan
A2 Japan
A3 Republic Of Korea
A4 Mongolia
A5 Thailand

Mediterranean Partners for Co-Operation

M1 Algeria
M2 Egypt
M3 Israel
M4 Jordan
M5 Morocco
M6 Tunisia


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