The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published the report of her visit to Armenia carried out in September 2018. The report focuses on women’s rights, gender equality and domestic violence; the human rights of disadvantaged or vulnerable groups; and accountability for past human rights violations. For more information, visit the following link. The Armenian version of the report here.
Representatives of the leading civil society organizations gathered at the Parallel Civil Society Conference (PC) in Milano on 5 December. Here are the highlights of the event: The opening session of the OSCE PC this year started with a moment of silence for our colleague Vitali Safarov, who was tragically murdered by neo-Nazi group members in his home town Tbilisi.We miss you Vitali!
During the sessions speakers reflected on what has been done during the Italian Chairmanship, raised their concerns and discussed priorities for the upcoming Slovakian Chairmanship. Rising security concerns in the OSCE Region, shrinking space for the civil society - both nationally and internationally, rise of authoritarian regimes and threats to democratic institutions, rule of law and freedom of media, as well as gender equality, and migration were among the major topics that were discussed by the CSO representatives.
One more important aspect discussed during the event was a necessity of reframing narratives and using innovative communication tools to deliver human rights messages.
This short video provides short overview of the conference: https://youtu.be/cZ_AWSc36rU: The PC also included a solidarity action for political prisoners, which included such actions as:
Update on the situation with political prisoners and the necessity of global diversified multilevel actions aimed at their release, which was accompanied by the video-presentation of some of the prominent political prisoners
Signing post cards to political prisoners by the conference participants,
Joint photo-sessions: global one, devoted to all political prisoners around the OSCE region, and one, related to the case of Azimjon Askarov.
We, members of the Coordination Committee of the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP) and other civil society representatives, are shocked by the exclusion of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from attending the opening and closing sessions of the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting (MC) in the plenary hall as well as not being provided with an opportunity to follow the live broadcast of proceedings or to hold side events in Milano on 6 and 7 December 2018.
For the first time ever, civil society representatives were refused physical access to the opening and closing sessions of the OSCE MC in the plenary hall, in break with previous practice and in contradiction to the Rules of Procedure of the OSCE which say that “[o]nly the opening and closing sessions shall be open to the press and the public, unless the meeting decides to make other sessions open.” While media representatives had access to the opening and closing sessions in the plenary hall, NGO representatives did not.
Although NGOs were provided with their own working and meeting space, the space was without visual and audio equipment to allow them to follow the MC proceedings, also in direct contradiction to the OSCE Rules of Procedure.  The space provided for NGOs was secluded and therefore did not allow for any meaningful exchange with MC participants.
Furthermore, after inquiring of the Italian OSCE Chairmanship weeks ago about the possibility of organising and/ or contributing to side events, the Civic Solidarity Platform was informed that this year there would be no side events, only to learn once in Milano that many side events were in fact scheduled without NGO participation. This clearly shows that NGOs are welcome as long as they are invisible and silent.
To our great regret, the decision to exclude NGOs from the MC plenary hall for the opening and closing session was not communicated to NGO partners by the Italian OSCE Chairmanship, nor was the change in modalities indicated in Circular Note 6 (MC.INF/8/18 of 12 November 2018), which reiterated the OSCE Rules regarding NGO physical access to the opening and closing sessions and a live broadcast of MC proceedings in the NGO centre. Only on the evening of 5 December did NGOs learn from the technical staff that they would not be allowed to physically attend the MC meeting, by which time it was too late for them to address and resolve the matter with the OSCE leadership. The absence of timely communication from the Italian OSCE Chairmanship thus resulted in the accredited NGO representatives spending their scarce financial resources in vain by staying for two extra days after the OSCE Parallel Civil SocietyConference on 5 December 2018 without achieving any level of meaningful debate or interaction with the MC participants. To our dismay, this lack of information and access for NGOs has unfortunately been a recurrent problem during the Italian Chairmanship.
We note that in a statement made by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy Enzo Moavero Milanesi at the closing press conference of the MC meeting he noted that he had not been aware of the problem of exclusion of NGOs and that this was a mistake and a “negative experience that should not be repeated in the future”. We also note with satisfaction the words of the incoming OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia Miroslav Lajčák at the press conference who stated that Slovakia is strongly committed to cooperation with civil society and will guarantee access by NGOs to the MC in Bratislava in 2019 in full accordance with OSCE rules.
We hope that all parties concerned will draw lessons from the negative experience in Milano. We reiterate our call to all OSCE actors, including the Chairmanships, executive bodies, autonomous institutions, and participating States, to protect and expand civil society space and ensure unhindered and meaningful NGO participation in OSCE events.
In particular, we call on the incoming Slovak OSCE Chairmanship to:
appoint an NGO liaison within the Chairmanship Task Force to serve as a focal point for civil society and regularly provide NGOs with information on dates and themes of upcoming OSCE events, modalities of events, and relevant Chairmanship’s decisions;
ensure meaningful NGO participation in relevant OSCE events of all three dimensions, in the spirit of the comprehensive security approach;
appoint a Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office on Civil Society, to indicate a strong political position of the Slovak Chairmanship in respect of the problem of shrinking civil society space across the OSCE region and at the multilateral level;
ensure unhindered access for NGOs to the opening and closing sessions of the MC meeting in Bratislava and live broadcast of MC proceedings to the NGO centre there, in accordance with OSCE Rules, as well as conditions for holding side events by NGOs in the mixed zone and timely provision of any relevant information to NGOs;
ensure that the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office mentions the receipt of the outcome documents of the OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference and the importance of cooperation with civil society in his speeches (in particular his opening speech) at the OSCE MC;
ensure distribution of the outcome documents of the OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference to all OSCE actors, including the Troika, executive bodies, autonomous institutions, and participating States;
exercise leadership and adopt a strong stance on protecting and expanding civil society space in the course of ongoing negotiations on NGO access to OSCE events.
2 “Unless otherwise decided, all sessions, except for those taking up agenda items which are subject to discussion and possible decision, shall be broadcast live in all the working languages to the media centre and NGO centre by closed-circuit television. “ Ibid.
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