Human Rights and the OSCE

The promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are the core objectives of the Human Dimension pillar of the OSCE, whose 56 participating states make it the largest regional security organisation in the world. The OSCE security concept is comprehensive one and includes activities not only in the politico-military dimension but also in the economic and environmental dimension and the human dimension.

These security dimensions were established initially in the Helsinki Final Act of 1 August 1975, the founding document of the OSCE, as it was to become. It particularly emphasises respect for and protection of human rights as a precondition for security and stability. Since then the CSCE – and later OSCE – participating states have adopted a comprehensive catalogue of commitments in the field of human rights, democracy, rule of law, protection of minorities and tolerance. These human dimension commitments are politically if not legally binding. Thus every OSCE participating state has the right to raise questions about observance of human rights commitments by other participating states. The Final Document of the OSCE Summit in Istanbul (1999) states: “Participating States are accountable to their citizens and responsible to each other for their implementation of their OSCE commitments. We regard these commitments as our common achievement and therefore consider them to be matters of immediate and legitimate concern to all participating States.”

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has its seat in Warsaw (in July 2014 the German Michael Link will take over the Chairmanship as Director from the Slovenian Janez Lenarcic) and deals with the practical implementation of the objectives of the Human Dimension. It carries out election monitoring missions with the regular participation of Austrian observers as well as numerous projects to foster human rights protection and democracy in the participating states. It also supports and monitors the observance of human rights in the participating states. Thematic focuses of the ODIHR include combating trafficking in human beings, anti-discrimination, promotion of the rights of Roma and Sinti, gender mainstreaming and human rights education.

Apart from the ODIHR, the High Commissioner for National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings also promote human rights. The predecessor of Eva Biaudet, who ended her term as Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings beginning of 2014, was the Austrian and former Federal Minister for Women’s Affairs Helga Konrad. During her term of office, which lasted from 2004 to 2006, Austria financed not only but also numerous projects. The Austrian commitment to combatting trafficking continues until today, among others through a National Action Plan on Human Trafficking, which is being implemented under the guidance on the Austrian Foreign Ministry.

Once a year, a ten-day OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting is being held, usually in Warsaw, to review the implementation of commitments by all participating states in the fields of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Representatives of government, civil society and international organisations take part. The last meeting took place from 23 September until 4 October 2013. Apart from this major conference, Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings take place three times a year, along with seminars on the Human Dimension organised by the ODIHR, which deal with topical themes of particular interest.