Human Rights and the OSCE
The promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are the core aims of the Human Dimension of the OSCE, whose 56 participating states make it the largest regional security organisation in the world. The OSCE security concept is comprehensive and includes activities not only in the politico-military dimension but also in the economic and environmental dimension and the human dimension.
The 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) in Warsaw has been directed since the beginning of 2003 by the Austrian Christian Strohal and is concerned with the practical implementation of the aims of the Human Dimension. It carries out election monitoring missions with the regular participation of Austrian observers and numerous projects to foster human rights protection and democracy in the participating states, and 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, the current Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, was the Austrian and former Federal Minister for Women’s Affairs Helga Konrad. During her period office from 2004 to 2006, Austria financed not only the office of the Special Representative but also numerous projects. The commitment to human rights continues today.
Once a year a ten-day OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting is 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. 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.