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10 March 2021

Top Official Warns of Pandemic-Related Setbacks for Democracy, Human Rights in Europe, as Security Council Considers Ukraine, Georgia, Other Crises

Steer away from ‘Unbalanced Views’, Russian Federation’s Representative Tells OCSE Chair, Saying ‘Biased Remarks’ Not in Line with Mandate

While the crisis in Ukraine remains Europe’s most serious security challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic — which was declared as such a year ago this month — has occasioned worrying setbacks for democracy and human rights in the region which cannot go ignored, the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said today, during a videoconference meeting of the Security Council.

Briefing members, Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, emphasized the essential need for the United Nations and the 57-member OSCE — the world’s largest regional security organization — to cooperate closely in a Europe that requires more, not fewer, common solutions to tough challenges, ranging from long-standing inter-State rivalries to climate change and cyber security.

“One of my main priorities as Chairperson-in-Office,” she said, ”will be to seek continued engagement at the highest levels towards sustainable solutions to the crises and conflicts in the [European] region, in line with international law and with full respect for the OSCE principles and commitments.”

She said her first priority is to focus on the basic commitments and principles upon which the Vienna-based OCSE is founded — the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe.  During its turn at the helm, Sweden also aims to strengthen the organization’s unique concept of security, which makes a clear link between security and respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, she stressed.

Describing the seven-year-old crisis in Ukraine as “the most serious challenge to the European security order”, she called for intensified efforts to resolve the conflict — including by the Normandy Group and the Trilateral Contact Group — to fully implement the Minsk Agreements and a sustainable political solution, in accordance with OSCE commitments and principles.  She underlined that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission must be able to carry out its essential work unimpeded throughout Ukraine and that crossing points along the line of contact in the east must be reopened.

She went on to discuss the situations in Georgia — saying the European Union, the OSCE and the United Nations should step up their joint confidence-building measures there — and Nagorno-Karabakh, where, she stressed, a ceasefire that began in November 2020 must be followed by renewed efforts for a lasting peace deal.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s 23 March 2020 call for a global ceasefire to combat COVID-19 as it spread across the globe, she said the pandemic has added a new layer of challenges by placing strains on open societies, pointing out:  “During the last year, we have seen a backsliding of democracy and respect for human rights in the OSCE region, as we have seen elsewhere.”  During its year-long turn at the helm of the OSCE, Sweden will emphasize the right to freedom of expression and the freedom of media as well as other democratic principles which its participating States are committed to respect, she pledged.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates reiterated their support for the United Nations working more closely with the OSCE and other regional and subregional organizations.  They also welcomed the focus of the Chairperson-in-Office on the women, peace and security agenda and reasserted their respective positions on Ukraine and other hotspot issues on the OSCE’s agenda.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines expressed support for the OSCE’s intention to fully implement the women, peace and security agenda in Europe, emphasizing that women’s participation is crucial to preventing and resolving conflicts while tackling sustainable development.  She also underlined the importance of addressing the nexus between climate change and security.  “Lasting peace cannot be sustained without respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law,” she said, praising Sweden’s focus on the right to free expression and media freedom in that regard.  She went on to welcome the ongoing focus on finding a political solution to the challenges in eastern Ukraine and Crimea and acknowledged, in that regard, the vital importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.

The representative of Viet Nam said that the efforts of regional and subregional organizations not only complement but are also necessary to the work of the United Nations as a whole and to the Council in particular.  Such cooperation has become even more essential in the face of complex challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, he emphasized, encouraging the United Nations and the OSCE to deepen their synergies in such areas as the women, peace and security agenda and in combating human trafficking.  He went on to note the OSCE’s key role in promoting dialogue, building confidence, resolving conflict and enhancing development in Europe, encouraging it to continue to support all sides in seeking peace and stability on the continent.

The representative of Mexico, recognizing the OSCE’s efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, expressed support for its Trilateral Contact Group’s pursuit of an integrated and peaceful solution to the Ukraine situation.  The Special Observation Mission must enjoy full access in order to fulfil its mandate, he emphasized.  While recognizing the Minsk Group’s efforts in seeking a peaceful solution in Nagorno-Karabakh, he expressed regret over the harm caused to civilians by the use of cluster bombs, calling upon all countries that produce and use those munitions to implement a moratorium and join the related Oslo Agreement.  Meanwhile, the Security Council should explore with OSCE new means of collaboration centred on preventing conflict, taking into account the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, he said.

The representative of Tunisia, expressing support for OSCE’s efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, called upon the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to make use of multilateral mechanisms and stressed importance of rebuilding their relations on the basis of mutual respect.  Pointing out Tunisia’s location in the Afro-Mediterranean area, he called for greater strategic cooperation between the OSCE and both the African Union and the League of Arab States in areas of mutual interest, including the fight against terrorism and extremism.  He went on to welcome the OSCE’s creation of an advisory group to address issues related to women, peace and security.

The representative of China expressed support for the cooperation between the United Nations and the OSCE, while emphasizing that it must continue to adhere to the Charter of the United Nations.  Recalling the Security Council’s endorsement of the 2015 Minsk Agreement, he expressed hope for the accord’s implementation by all parties and that they will remain committed to a political solution to the conflict for the sake of peace, stability and development.  Meanwhile, settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh situation meanwhile can only be achieved through negotiations, he said, underscoring the need to respect the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Azerbaijan and Armenia should observe the ceasefire agreement and adhere to dialogue in the search for a peaceful solution, he added, expressing support for the OSCE’s continuing efforts in that situation.

The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan to end the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, and expressed support for the the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ efforts to secure lasting peace.  Spotlighting the crucial participation of women in decision-making, he/she also called attention to the OSCE’s vital role in enhancing Euro-Atlantic security in the area of conventional arms control as well as confidence- and security-building instruments.  In that regard, he urged the Russian Federation to engage constructively at the OSCE to increase military transparency and reduce military risk, including through modernization of the Vienna Document.  He went on to describe that country’s aggression against Ukraine as one of the most serious security threats in the region, calling upon Moscow to match Kyiv’s political will and fulfil its commitments.  The United Kingdom condemns efforts to destabilize regional security, he added.

The representative of Ireland said that, as a founding member, his country regards the OSCE as a vital instrument for European security whose comprehensive approach to security is as relevant as ever.  He expressed strong support for its efforts to strengthen gender equality in all aspects of its work, stressing: “Neither the OSCE nor the Security Council can successfully address peace and security challenges without the full, equal and meaningful participation of women — at all stages — in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and in peacebuilding”.  He went on to express firm support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and called for full implementation of the Minsk Peace Agreements and for the reopening of all currently closed border crossing points, while stressing the importance of Armenia and Azerbaijan engaging under the OSCE Minsk Co-Chairs to resolve issues around Nagorno-Karabakh.

The representative of Kenya, commending OSCE’s record of preventive diplomacy and multilateral cooperation, cited its efforts in Ukraine and emphasized that its Special Monitoring Mission requires unobstructed access in order to verify compliance with the Minsk accords.  Concerning Kosovo, he stressed the responsibility of all relevant parties, including OSCE as one of the largest field operations in that territory, to ensure an environment conducive to long-term peace there.  He went on to welcome the OSCE’s efforts in advancing the women, peace and security agenda and in putting a range of early-warning and conflict management tools in place, notably its network of field operations, recommending that it share its expertise with other regional organizations.

The representative of Estonia expressed regret that, for the seventh year in a row, violations of international law, the Helsinki principles as well as bilateral and multilateral agreements continue.  Spotlighting the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine, he expressed regret that restrictions imposed on the movement of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission persist and called upon the Russian Federation to stop fuelling the conflict by supporting armed groups.  He went on to express concern about Moscow’s military build-up in the occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia while calling for the fulfilment of the Russian Federation’s obligations under the 2008 Ceasefire Agreement and the withdrawal of its forces without delay.  The Russian Federation and the de facto authorities should refrain from any new provocative steps which could further escalate the already fragile situation, he stressed, reiterating Estonia’s call for access to the entirety of Georgia for the European Union Monitoring Mission.  Concerning Nagorno-Karabakh, he expressed support for the OSCE Minsk Group’s efforts while, regarding Belarus, calling for a response to the OSCE’s offer relating to dialogue.

The representative of Norway expressed support for the OSCE’s comprehensive concept of security and its focus on conflict resolution.  Noting that the situation in Ukraine continues to undermine European security, she welcomed the OSCE’s engagement.  She also applauded the visit to Ukraine by the Chairperson-in-Office in January and commended the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission for the “tremendous job” it is doing under difficult circumstances.  Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, she said a lasting solution would be best achieved through international involvement, with the OSCE being well-placed in that regard.  Turning to Georgia, she said the OSCE can play a bigger role in the search for peace and reconciliation in occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  She went on to commend the efforts of the Chairperson-in-Office to put gender equality high on the OSCE’s agenda, while urging the organization to remain focused on the pursuit of greater security as well as economic and democratic development in the Balkans.

The representative of India noted that the international order is facing multiple challenges, among them “parochial” State policies and notions of perceived existential threat.  Bilateral issues are now brought to regional and international forums, diminishing chances for direct dialogue, he said, while stressing that “bilateral agreements negotiated between the parties concerned provide the basis for a negotiated and peaceful resolution of disputes”.  He went on to express his delegation’s support for engagement between the United Nations and the OSCE based on the 1993 Framework for Cooperation and Coordination.  Recalling that the OSCE was among the first regional organizations to strongly condemn the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament in 2001, he underscored its important role in countering terrorism while welcoming its focus on women, peace and security with Sweden in the Chair.

The representative of Niger, commending the OSCE’s conflict-resolution efforts and key role in facilitating dialogue, supporting mediation and promoting initiatives to end conflict, said its efforts to strengthen gender equality are also in keeping with Council resolutions on women, peace and security.  Respect for international humanitarian law is also important, especially with regard to safe and unimpeded humanitarian access and the return of prisoners of war.  He emphasized that any dispute-resolution process must take the preservation of religious and cultural heritage into account.  Noting the OSCE’s commitment to combating terrorism, he encouraged the United Nations to extend its cooperation with regional and subregional organizations in Africa.

The representative of France said that his country and Germany are continuing their efforts to ensure full respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Expressing support for OSCE’s mediation role and welcoming the Special Monitoring Mission’s crucial role in monitoring the ceasefire, he emphasized that those tasks must be fully implemented, especially near the border with the Russian Federation.  Turning to Nagorno-Karabakh, he stressed that, as Co-Chair of the Minsk Group, France is committed to seeking a peaceful, lasting solution and will play its full role in the wake of the 2020 ceasefire.  In Belarus, where human rights have been flouted, France fully supports the OSCE’s mediation efforts, he said, calling for implementation of the recommendations by the independent expert after activation of the Moscow Mechanism.  Similarly, he expressed support for the OSCE’s role in the Geneva International Discussions to recover Georgia’s territorial integrity, and its efforts to resolve the Transnistria conflict.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that his country consistently advocates the development of cooperation between the United Nations and the OSCE, with the latter — in light of its broad geographical scope and consensus-based working methods — complementing the Organization’s efforts.  He added, however, that the biased remarks by the Chairperson-in-Office on Crimea, Ukraine, the blogger Alexei Navalny and Georgia’s border with South Ossetia do not correspond with her mandate and harm the OSCE’s credibility.  Going forward, she hopefully will adhere to consensus approaches and steer away from unbalanced views, he said.  “We are living through a time of loss of trust in regional organizations,” he noted, warning against the promotion of such non-consensual concepts as “European security order” and “gender equality”.

The OSCE must take an objective approach to the conflict in Ukraine, promote dialogue between Kyiv, Donetsk and Luhansk, and help implement the Minsk package of measures approved by the Council through resolution 2202 (2015), he emphasized.  As for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, it must carry out balanced monitoring on both sides of the line of contact, as set out in its mandate, and report on discriminatory initiatives by the Ukrainian authorities vis-à-vis the Russian language, national minorities and the Russian Orthodox Church, he said.  The Russian Federation also hopes that the OSCE can make a worthy contribution to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, give new impetus to the “5+2” talks on Transnistria and promote constructive contacts between Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said, also calling upon the Chairperson-in-Office to restart implementation of the consultation process — proposed by Moscow in 2020 — on improving the OSCE’s effectiveness.

The representative of the United States, Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity, reiterating that her country is renewing its commitment to multilateralism and transatlantic cooperation.  Welcoming Sweden’s efforts to strengthen the OSCE’s efforts in the area of women, peace and security, she declared: “We need to do more to protect women, especially women leaders, from threats of silence and violence”.  She went on to emphasize that her country will never recognize the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea and will also hold it accountable for its aggression in eastern Ukraine.  The Council, for its part, must do its utmost to ensure that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission can operate freely and without hindrance, she stressed, urging the OSCE to push the Russian Federation to end its occupation of nearly 20 per cent of Georgia’s territory and implement the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including by withdrawing its forces to pre-conflict positions.  Spotlighting other situations, she said the OSCE is well-positioned to support the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and urged the Minsk authorities to engage with the organization.  As for the Republic of Moldova, she said the “5+2” settlement process on Transnistria should be based on the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders.  She went on to emphasize that both sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should investigate all alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and engage with humanitarian actors to complete the exchange of prisoners, detainees and remains.

Ms. Linde, responding to delegates’ questions, emphasized the importance of all parties in Ukraine upholding international law, international humanitarian law and the United Nations Charter while also fully implementing the Minsk Agreements, as endorsed by the Council.  She went on to stress that the “5+2” Transnistria process must develop in the right direction and not deviate due to political issues.  One area in which progress is needed, she said, is the trolley bus line, a down-to-earth issue that makes a difference to people on the ground, so long as there is political will among the parties.

For information media. Not an official record.