Faced with numerous crises, let us meet the expectations of our peoples

By Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

Margareta Cederfelt speaks at the OSCE PA Autumn Meeting on 4 October 2014. Photo courtesy of the Swiss Parliament/Fabio Chironi

It was with deep gratitude and a profound sense of responsibility that I was elected President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly last month. Even in “usual” times, it would be a great challenge to chair an international assembly of more than 300 parliamentarians from countries ranging from North America to Europe to Central Asia. But as we all know, these are unusual times and therefore presiding over and effectively guiding debates will require a highly measured and tactful approach. I look forward to working with all colleagues and partners to contribute in building a strong organization that can meet our many challenges.

As someone who came of age during the Cold War, my sincere hope is to reinvigorate the spirit of Helsinki that gave rise to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe nearly a half-century ago — a spirit that we are in dire need of today. Living in a time marked by deep-seated divisions and distrust, armed conflicts, a deteriorating and potentially catastrophic situation in Afghanistan, mass migration, rising violent extremism, climate change and a pandemic, we in the international community owe it to the people we represent to use every tool at our disposal, including the OSCE and its many institutions and mechanisms, to build a better world.

For this tool to be effective, however, political will and high-level attention are needed. Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen a declining level of political commitment to the OSCE. To rebuild the necessary trust and political commitment for an effective organization, I will work for principles of accountability, inclusion, and respect for every country. I will co-operate with all good-faith actors to help build support for this unique security organization, reminding everyone that the comprehensive approach to peacebuilding is a strength for all of us.

In this spirit, I have held meetings in recent days to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and implications for neighboring OSCE countries with the heads of OSCE PA delegations and representatives of OSCE field offices in Central Asia, the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre, the OSCE PA Special Representative on Central Asia, the OSCE PA Secretary General, and other OSCE officials. Talks have focused on border security, possible refugee flows, radicalization and domestic security concerns.

The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is a reminder of the urgent need to redouble our efforts to resolve conflicts throughout the OSCE area. We simply cannot afford to ignore protracted conflicts and hope that they disappear. A case in point is Ukraine. For more than seven years, war has rocked the eastern part of the country and unfortunately there is little sign of resolution. We therefore must work together for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, for the Russian Federation to reverse its illegal occupation of Crimea and ensure respect for Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. I strongly support all OSCE tools and processes, in particular the Special Monitoring Mission, that are working towards resolution of this conflict, and urge a renewed international commitment to these tools as well. As we have seen in Moldova with the Transdniestrian settlement process, progress can be made in these situations through consistent dialogue and engagement.

In the South Caucasus, protracted conflicts over Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh continue to have profound impacts on regional security. We saw last year the results of failure to achieve meaningful conflict resolution when war broke out over Nagorno-Karabakh. This was just the latest escalation of a decades-old unresolved conflict, and a reminder of the constant need to focus international attention on pursuing diplomatic solutions for these situations. Without political settlement, the threat of war is ever-present. When it comes to Georgia, we must ensure its territorial integrity.

Other top priorities for my presidency will be working for democracy and human rights in Belarus, including by ensuring the release of political prisoners and promoting respect for fundamental freedoms. The imprisonment of opposition figures cannot be accepted. Democracy in the Russian Federation is also one of my primary concerns, and in this regard we will be watching this September’s parliamentary elections in the country with particular interest. We hope to see a vibrant and fair election in which voters are given a meaningful choice. Yet, we are saddened by the decision of the Russian government to only allow a restricted number of observers to assist this long-awaited election.

Central Asia and the current developments in Afghanistan also must be at the top of our agenda. I hope to visit Central Asia as one of my first trips as President to demonstrate the commitment of the OSCE to this vital region and ensure that Central Asian governments increase their involvement in OSCE activities, including election observation.

Margareta Cederfelt and Ditmir Bushati (centre) observe Belarusian elections at a polling station in Minsk on 17 November 2019. Photo by Nat Parry/OSCE PA

Election observation, of course, is one of the OSCE’s most visible activities and is something that should be valued and respected. As an experienced election observer, I feel that it is very important work and I will strive to ensure that the OSCE PA continues to co-operate effectively with our partners at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for the highest standards in this essential endeavour. Part of this co-operation must be to more effectively follow up on our missions to ensure that recommendations are implemented.

Other issues that we must focus on include climate change as a growing security challenge, the Arctic region as a concrete example of the importance of a broad view on security, promoting gender equality, fighting corruption, and ensuring respect for human rights and upholding their fundamental value. For all of these challenges we need strong transatlantic co-operation and renewed commitment to OSCE documents such as the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter. These are not just historic documents, but fundamental pillars of the European security order.

We must achieve greater respect for all ten Helsinki principles by the participating States themselves. As parliamentarians, we have an obligation to embody the views of the people we represent as well as their aspiration to a free and secure exercise of their individual rights and to live in a world where both environment and an equal opportunity for advancement are protected.

As stated more than 30 years ago in the Charter of Paris, “Ours is a time for fulfilling the hopes and expectations our peoples have cherished for decades: steadfast commitment to democracy based on human rights and fundamental freedoms; prosperity through economic liberty and social justice; and equal security for all our countries.”

These words are no less relevant today than they were in 1990, and as President of the OSCE PA, I will work to ensure that these hopes are fulfilled.

323 parliamentarians from 56 countries focused on upholding OSCE commitments in human rights, security, economic & environmental cooperation — www.oscepa.org