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Statement by the Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs Sweden, at the hearing with the U.S. Helsinki Commission on 11 June 2021

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Thank you very much, Mr Chairman.

Members of the United States Helsinki Commission, Senators and Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to address you today.

When Sweden decided to take on the role of Chair of the OSCE, we did so well aware that the organisation was going through a difficult period, unlikely to improve soon. Old rivalries continue to pose challenges to international peace and security. New conflicts, crises and threats demand our attention – from the security impact of climate change to cyber security. Democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law are continuously being challenged.

We decided to take on the role of Chair because of the important part that the organisation plays regarding security, stability, democracy, human rights and the rule of law – both in our own neighbourhood and in the wider OSCE region. A well-functioning OSCE is in our own interest, but we firmly believe that it is also in the interest of all 57 participating States that make up the OSCE. We value multilateralism and international law because the problems of our time call for more – not less – common solutions. And the transatlantic cooperation is key in this regard.

The guiding principle of the Swedish Chairpersonship is to go ‘back to basics’: to return to the fundamental norms and principles on which the OSCE was founded, to which all participating States have committed and re-committed – in Helsinki in 1975, Paris in 1990, Istanbul in 1999 and Astana in 2010. Underpinning these are, of course, the UN Charter and international law.

Safeguarding these commitments, on which the European security order rests, is my first priority as Chairperson-in-Office. But it is our common task to ensure that principles such as respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force, and every country’s right to choose its own security arrangements, are respected.

My second priority is to safeguard and promote the organisation’s unique concept of comprehensive security, with human rights, democracy and the rule of law at its core. There is a clear link between freedom within States and security between States.   

My third priority is to seek continued and strong engagement at the highest levels for sustainable solutions to crises and conflicts in the region. I want us to make use of our extensive toolbox, ranging from OSCE field presences to the autonomous institutions.

At the outset of our Chairpersonship, I made a commitment to personally travel to all countries that have an OSCE field presence. I have now visited most of them. It has given me first-hand input from people in the region, including those affected by conflicts, human rights violations and abuses.

I have met civil society organisations on every visit. I have done this to ensure that their contributions inform all aspects of our efforts. I am committed to safeguarding the unique role and participation of civil society organisations in OSCE meetings.

These meetings have reinforced my conviction that there can be no security without respect for human rights. This is also why the Women, Peace and Security agenda and gender equality are guiding themes of our Chairpersonship.

No part of the OSCE region, including mature democracies, are immune to the global trend of democratic backsliding and the decline in respect for human rights and the rule of law. Inclusive democratic processes, freedom of expression and media freedom are key priorities in the human dimension. Last month, we held a conference on media freedom in the OSCE region, together with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Democracy and peace can only thrive when a plurality of views, opinions and voices are heard.

We must also continue to counter all forms of intolerance and discrimination. Our first event as Chair was to organise a meeting on combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE region. I have asked Rabbi Andrew Baker, who is my Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism, to report to the Malmö Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, which the Swedish Prime Minister is convening in October.

Let me briefly touch upon some country-specific developments in the region.

Ukraine remains the most serious challenge to the European security order, and an obvious example of violations of our common commitments and of international law in our region. The heated rhetoric, the continuous violations of the ceasefire and the Russian military build-up in April display the fragility of the situation in and around Ukraine. This is why, on my first trip as OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, I visited both Kyiv and the contact line in Donbass. This is also why I will return there in a few days’ time.

My priority as Chair is to work for 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. Militarisation and human rights abuses in Crimea are also serious and demand our continuous attention.

As Chair, I have put strong emphasis on relieving the humanitarian consequences of the conflict. I have worked actively for the opening of two new checkpoints on the contact line so that the people on both sides are able to gain access to their social benefits and see their relatives. Steps like these are important to help produce the climate necessary to achieve a politically sustainable solution to the conflict.

The renewed outbreak of hostilities in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict in the South Caucasus last year resulted in thousands of casualties and immense suffering. The recent tensions along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan demonstrate that the outstanding issues remain a serious challenge to international peace and security. The need for de-escalation and dialogue, for both sides to recommit to talks on a sustainable political solution in accordance with international law, and to address humanitarian needs as well as the human rights situation is urgent.

It is essential to get the parties engaged in a diplomatic solution to remaining challenges and to renew efforts towards a lasting peace agreement. I have clearly expressed my belief that the process led by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, including the United States, is the best vehicle to resolve these issues.  I fully support the efforts of the Co-Chairs and my Personal Representative to the conflict.

I am convinced that the OSCE’s role is crucial for the regional development of the whole of the South Caucasus, including for Georgia. Both Georgia and Moldova are clear examples of the ongoing challenges to the European security order in the OSCE area. No efforts should be spared in finding sustainable solutions to these conflicts.

I am extremely concerned by developments in Belarus. Most recently I was appalled by the Belarusian authorities’ reckless and dangerous diversion of a civilian plane for the purpose of arresting a journalist. I have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, along with all others who have been arbitrarily detained. As Chairperson of the OSCE, I continue to call on Belarus to respect its OSCE commitments and obligations under international law. I am also supporting efforts to follow up on the recommendations of the Moscow Mechanism report on Belarus presented to the OSCE Permanent Council last year. We are in contact with representatives of the Belarusian opposition and civil society.

Confidence and security building measures like the Vienna Document and the Treaty on Open Skies are important elements of the European security architecture and play a crucial role in providing transparency and predictability. We have worked hard in Vienna to resolve the issues related to implementation of the Open Skies Treaty and we had hoped that the United States would choose to re-join it. The US was an important party to the treaty, and I regretted to see you leave. Russia has now signalled that it, too, will withdraw from the treaty. Our conviction is that the OSCE region gains from more confidence and security building, not less.

I know that you share the importance that we as the Swedish Chairpersonship attach to holding the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting this year. Rest assured that we are sparing no efforts to convening the HDIM, with its unique civil society participation. Together with ODIHR and Poland, we are working on a format that would allow for maximum physical attendance while respecting COVID-19 restrictions.

I would also like to highlight the important role played by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and to all of you personally as members. Parliamentarians do so much to bring the reality of OSCE cooperation home to each participating State. Through your participation in election observation missions, you strengthen the connection between our organisation and the more than 1 billion citizens across our 57 participating States. You also contribute to the role of the OSCE when it comes to democracy and the rule of law. Thank you for your commitment and your contributions.

In the Swedish Parliament we had an OSCE debate last Wednesday. We had members from all eight political parties who were taking the floor and argued in favour of different kinds of OSCE achievements and activities. They also witnessed from their participation in election observation missions, including the one to the United States.

As Chairperson-in-Office, I will do my part to defend the commitments on which the OSCE rests. When we summarize our Chairpersonship at the Ministerial Council meeting in Stockholm in early December, I am confident that I will be able to state that our efforts made a contribution to increased dialogue, understanding and peace among the OSCE participating States.

Thank you.