RFE/RL OSCE: Countries Supervised And Not (and comment)


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Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 11:07:49 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: RFE/RL OSCE: Countries Supervised And Not (and comment)

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RFE/RL OSCE: Countries Supervised And Not (and comment)


RFE/RL OSCE: Analysis From Washington - Countries Supervised And Not
 
By Paul Goble
 
Washington, 20 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - George Orwell's famous observation
in his totalitarian fantasy "Animal Farm" that "all animals are equal
but that some are more equal than others" appears to have come true in
yet another area: international monitoring of human rights.
 
In the post-Cold War environment, smaller and weaker countries have
been the subject of intense and continuing scrutiny and criticism by
various international organizations in order to improve the status of
ethnic and other minorities there.
 
Larger and more powerful countries, in contrast, generally have been
able to escape this kind of examination regardless of their human
rights records.  Even more, at least some of them have concluded that
they can use a human rights cover to promote their own political
goals.
 
Long the source of complaints by various private human rights
organizations, this pattern was reflected in remarks earlier this
month by Max van der Stoel, the High Commissioner on National
Minorities for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe.
 
Speaking to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on
July 9, van der Stoel outlined his efforts since 1992 to prevent
interethnic conflict in Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet states.
There he described what he and his office have done to prevent or
ameliorate ethnic conflict in a wide variety of countries from the
Baltic states to Ukraine, from Central Asia to the Caucasus, and
across southeastern Europe.
 
But in his wide-ranging speech, the high commissioner said nothing
about preventing or ameliorating ethnic conflicts in large states and
great powers such as the Russian Federation and the major countries of
Europe and North America, all of whom are members of the OSCE as well.

On the one hand, this focus on smaller and weaker states is hardly
surprising. Powerful countries typically have been able to deflect
efforts by international organizations to hold them to account, and
many of the smaller countries have clearly benefited from OSCE
attention.
 
But on the other, such an approach has three major drawbacks in the
supervised countries, each of which appears likely to become more
significant and potentially explosive in the future.
 
First, many in the countries now under OSCE supervision increasingly
resent the obvious double standard that it represents. As they
complain, the OSCE is telling them to meet human rights standards that
it is not requiring of other, more powerful countries.
 
For example, van der Stoel has told Kyiv that it should maintain
Russian-language schools for Russian speakers in Ukraine, but he has
avoided suggesting to Moscow that it should open Ukrainian-language
schools for Ukrainian speakers in the Russian Federation.
 
Second, many in the supervised countries are becoming even more angry
at what they see as a kind of interference that is making it more
difficult rather than less for them to treat minorities on their
territories fairly.
 
>From the point of view of many in the Baltic countries, for instance,
the existing OSCE system encourages some minority members to make ever
greater demands on the political system rather than to work together
to improve the situation.
 
In some cases, most observers acknowledge, minorities need such OSCE
support in order to defend their human rights. But in others, some
minority members appear - at least to the majority group - to be
exploiting the OSCE to pursue broader political goals as well.
 
And third, many in those supervised countries which have complied with
OSCE requirements are increasingly upset that the international
organization does not appear willing to end its tutelage of their
activities.
 
Estonia, for example, made all 29 of the legal changes that van der
Stoel had said were necessary to bring that country into conformity
with OSCE standards - only to discover that the high commissioner was
asking for more and was unprepared to end his mission there.
 
All three of these factors in the OSCE's approach are unintentionally
generating a backlash among some in the supervised countries against
such monitoring by the international community, a backlash some
populist politicians have been quick to exploit - as the ongoing
debates in Latvia over language legislation show.
 
And that in turn could set the stage for an outcome no one is likely
to want, one in which an office of an organization created to promote
human rights for all and security across Europe might in fact
contribute to a process that could undermine both.
-----------------


>From the moderator: The problem raised  by Mr Goble's is so serious
that I can't resist temptation to add some comments. Indeed, since the
minority rights are a part of human rights, the standards must be
universal, and double standards should not be tolerated. However, the
way the problem is formulated causes some doubts. 

I believe one must be very concrete when speaking about the issue -
meanwhile, particular examples mentioned by Mr Goble might appear
dubious. In particular, is this the case indeed that Estonia complied
with all the OSCE HCNM recommendations - what about eg the latest
amendments to the language legislation which were strongly criticised
by Mr van der Stoel? Did they take effect or not? (Maybe list members
from Estonia could clarify the current state of affairs). Also the
question about Russian-language schools in Ukraine and Ukrainian
schools in Russia. To my knowledge, there are some Ukrainian schools
in Russia. Yet, real demand is the crucial question. The basic
European instrument, i.e. the Framework Convention, contains many
conditions like "if there is sufficient demand", "if there is a real
need", etc. Thus, the problem arises: to what extent the minority
rights (eg the right to education in their mothertongue) are connected
to claims for these rights? In other words, what should be considered
a genuine violation: lack of eg Ukrainian schools in Russia as such -
or refusal to open these schools when there is a sufficient demand for
them?   

It is not completely clear to me what is meant with the wording like
"the existing OSCE system encourages some minority members to make
ever greater demands on the political system rather than to work
together to improve the situation" or "some minority members appear -
at least to the majority group - to be exploiting the OSCE to pursue
broader political goals as well". Unfortunately, we know many examples
in post-communist Europe when "minority members" use violent and
terrorist methods to achieve their "political goals". In this view, I
believe that if minorities rely on the OSCE and human rights
monitoring procedures, this should only be appreciated and encouraged.
On the other hand, if legitimate minorities' claims are not supported
by the OSCE, this can make minorities use violent methods.   

Finally, the idea that if the OSCE does not interfere, the policies
towards minorities would be more liberal, sounds rather doubtful. In
fact, pressure on the part of the international organisations is the
main if not the only factor behind some occasional liberalisation of
policies towards minorities in Central Eastern Europe (eg of the
citizenship legislation in the Baltic states). In my view, widespread
ethno-nationalism is much bigger threat to the countries of the region
than any drawbacks of the monitoring procedures. Criticising OSCE in
the above manner can only encourage nationalist politicians of the
region in their attempts to elude fair implementation of the minority
rights standards. 

Boris  

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