Briefing by H.E. Ms. Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office to the Council of Europe
28 April 2021
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Distinguished members of the Committee of Ministers,
It is an honour for me to address the Council of Europe today as Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. With mandates and memberships that partly overlap, our two organizations mirror some of the finest human aspirations and achievements: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
These ideas - the need to respect human rights and the rule of law and to promote peace, democracy and human equality - are at the heart of Sweden’s OSCE Chairpersonship priorities.
I commend the German presidency of the Council of Europe for putting such strong emphasis on these issues, including the rights of those who are suffering the most under the pandemic. And I look forward to engaging with youth representatives of both our organizations this afternoon on these and other important topics.
We have a situation in our part of the world that calls for more, not less, common solutions. The vision of “a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe” is under pressure. Old rivalries continue to fuel conflicts and pose challenges to international peace and security. And new conflicts, crises and threats demand our attention – from climate change to cyber security.
We are in the midst of a pandemic which has brought devastating human costs, new strains on open society, and disruption to economic activity around the world. Our vulnerabilities have been exposed. Democracy, respect for human rights and economic development have suffered during the pandemic, in Europe and elsewhere.
Sweden’s task as OSCE Chair is to seek a common response to these and other challenges before us. Our general approach is to “go back to basics”, to the fundamental norms and principles on which the OSCE was founded and on which the European security order rests.
In the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the Charter of Paris in 1991, the OSCE participating states committed to fundamental principles which still form the basis of the European security order, such as the respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Underpinning them are, of course the UN Charter and international law. Safeguarding these principles is my first priority as Chairperson-in-Office. Our common task is to implement them.
My second priority is to strengthen the OSCE’s capacity for conflict resolution and crisis management, based on the concept of comprehensive security and the organization’s principles and commitments. In the human dimension, the work of the OSCE and the Council of Europe is mutually reinforcing. The European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights remain the most impressive system of international justice anywhere in the world.
My third priority is to seek continued engagement at the highest levels towards sustainable solutions to crises and conflicts in the region, in line with international law and with full respect for the OSCE principles and commitments.
As Chair, it is important for me to visit countries struggling with conflict throughout the OSCE region, to gain first-hand input from people affected by these conflicts and by human rights violations and abuses. And to learn from the people who work there.
Those meetings have reinforced my conviction that there can be no security without human rights. We know that societies where human rights are fully enjoyed by all are more secure and with better prospects for sustainable, resilient and prosperous development. This is why the Women, Peace and Security agenda and gender equality are guiding themes of our chairpersonship. Our efforts will be measured by how we improve the lives and well-being of people in the most vulnerable situations.
The last few weeks have again displayed the fragility of the situation in and around Ukraine. This remains the most serious challenge to the European security order, one which requires us to use the conflict-related toolbox at the disposal of the OSCE. This is why, on my first trip as OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in January, I visited both Kyiv and the contact line in Donbass. Seven years into the crisis, we now see new tensions building up. In my contacts with Kyiv and Moscow, I have underlined the need to deescalate the situation, consolidate the ceasefire and intensify efforts towards a sustainable political solution in line with OSCE commitments and principles respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. Recent developments with regards to restrictions of access to parts of the Black Sea must be resolved in accordance with international law.
In February, I visited Georgia and met with President Zourabichvili and then-Prime Minister Gakharia to reiterate the OSCE’s full support for the Geneva International Discussions and related Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism formats.
In my talks with President Sandu and other leaders in Moldova, the prospects to move forward with talks in the 5+2 format and to continue building on the “Berlin plus” package were discussed. I also confirmed our readiness to hold 5+2 talks in Stockholm during the year. This message was reiterated in my discussions with the representative from Transdniestria and was generally well received. Although we remain realistic, I hope it will be possible to make progress on the Settlement Process during the year. But to make progress – the full support of all parties to the conflict is needed.
The unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains a serious challenge to international peace and security. Last autumn, we witnessed a renewed outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabach conflict, resulting in thousands of casualties and immense suffering. The cease-fire achieved in November with the assistance of Russia brough about a necessary stop to hostilities. The challenge now is to renew efforts towards lasting peace. The OSCE has been given the international mandate to lead this process, under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. As Chairperson-in-Office, I visited Baku and Yerevan in March and expressed my expectation that the sides recommit to talks on a sustainable political solution and to address humanitarian needs.
In situations where trust between States has eroded, confidence and security building measures play an important role to support transparency and predictability. The Vienna Document and the Treaty on Open Skies enable measures that are at the heart of confidence building in our region. These measures must be kept up to date and fully complied with and comprise as many States as possible to ensure their continued functioning and relevance. This is essential also in the context of current developments in and around Ukraine.
When crises erupt despite our efforts to prevent them, we remain ready to engage directly with the stakeholders involved to offer the OSCE’s good offices to facilitate solutions. In line with this, the offer that Albania’s Prime Minister Rama and I extended last year to facilitate a genuine dialogue between the government and opposition in Belarus still stands.
This is a crucial time to ensure that the norms and principles that are fundamental to the Council of Europe and OSCE are respected. The global trend of democratic backsliding and decline in the respect for human rights and the rule of law is seen also in our part of the world. It has been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting and protecting human rights also in times of crisis. This includes the right to the freedom of expression and media freedom. We should mobilize around these issues in the period ahead. The virtual Stockholm conference on media freedom in the OSCE Region in May and the Council of Europe’s high-level conference on artificial intelligence, media and democracy in June provide two such opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected the full enjoyment of human rights of persons belonging to minority groups. It has a negative impact on the rights of women and girls. Gender-based violence has increased during the pandemic and women’s economic situation has suffered.
The Swedish OSCE Chairpersonship will follow-up on the OSCE Vilnius decision from 2011 on promoting equal opportunity for women in the economic sphere. And the Council of Europe conference in Berlin in May will mark the tenth anniversary of the Istanbul Convention: it provides an important occasion to address the issue of men’s violence against women and girls.
As OSCE Chair, our efforts are carried out in support of, and complementary to, the work done by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the High Commissioner on National Minorities. These autonomous institutions all have clear and strong mandates. Together with them, we will do what we can to ensure that the OSCE can prevent conflicts and safeguard human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Council of Europe is a key partner to us on all aspects of this agenda. And we have an excellent basis for cooperation through the 2005 Warsaw Joint Declaration. The mechanisms for day-to-day collaboration are in place, driven by contacts between the secretariats. You can also count on Sweden’s OSCE Chairpersonship to take concrete steps on the issues that have been identified as common priorities for the OSCE and the Council on Europe. Activities such as the OSCE expert meeting in February on “Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE region” and the annual OSCE conference on counterterrorism last week provide input also to our cooperation with the Council of Europe.
I welcome the efforts of the German presidency to bring the Council of Europe close to the people. This is in line with what Sweden seeks to achieve in the OSCE context.
As OSCE Chair, I have met with civil society organisations from across the OSCE region, including from countries affected by unresolved conflicts, to ensure that their contributions inform all aspects of our efforts. I strongly believe in supporting these networks. It is through them that the ideals embodied in the OSCE are maintained and advanced also on the people-to-people level.
I have also appointed an advisory group of experts on the women, peace and security agenda. With their support, I hope that our work to mainstream the agenda will gain further momentum and continue long after we have passed the baton to Poland and successive OSCE Chairs.
Because we also need to keep an eye on the longer term. When we seek to lift our societies and economies after the pandemic, we need to build back better for a more equal and gender equal society. And we need to do it in ways that have positive and lasting effects on the autonomy, resilience, and opportunities of women and girls.
And I fully share the German presidency’s view that we need to engage young people in our work. We can only build a sustainable future if all generations are included. Inspiring and involving our young people is an investment in our common future.
I speak from personal experience. One of the things that inspired me as a young person was my participation here, in Strasbourg, as a member of the steering group of both the European Youth Foundation and the European Youth Centre. When I then started as a civil servant in the Government Offices, I continued my engagement in the Council of Europe, but changed my hat to representative of the Swedish Government.
The Council of Europe was born from the ruins of World War II. The OSCE in the Cold War. Europe has come a long way since then, but important challenges remain. The pandemic reminds us that progress on security, prosperity, democracy and human rights cannot be taken for granted. It must be cultivated and maintained.
Here, we can learn from the men and women who had the courage and vision to seek common ground at those previous historical junctures. We owe it to them, to our citizens and to future generations to defend and nurture the ideals and values embodied in these two organizations.
Earlier this morning, I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Council of Europe Secretary-General. I thank her for her leadership and commitment.
As Chairperson-in-Office, I will do my part to defend the commitments on which the OSCE rests. When we reach the end of this year, I hope we can say that our efforts made a contribution to dialogue, understanding and peace among the OSCE nations. And to the justice and dignity of the people of our region.