OSCE is not only community of values but also community of responsibility


Rizvana Sadykova

OSCE is not only community of values but also community of responsibilityOSCE is not only community of values but also community of responsibility – Larry Olomofe, Deputy Head of OSCE-ODIHR Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department.

The International conference entitled OSCE Human Dimension: General and Topical Priorities in 2010 was held in Astana yesterday. One of the speakers was Larry Olomofe, Deputy Head, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination department, OSCE ODIHR, Warsaw.  Since 2002, Larry Olomofe has been working as the Human Rights Trainer at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Budapest.

During his time there,  Mr. Olomofe  conducted a number of ERRC Advocacy and Outreach initiatives in the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and domestically. Since 2003 onwards Mr. Olomofe has been an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology of the San Francisco University offering a course on Nationalism, Race, and Ethnicity, an undergraduate program based in Budapest at the Pazmany Peter Catholic University. Prior to this position he was Associate Professor at a number of other Hungarian universities (Budapest, Pecs, and Szombathely) from 1999 to 2003.

In your speech you said  that while it is important to discuss specific thematic priorities it is equally important to keep the broader, general priority in mind – enhancing implementation of all the political commitments in the human dimension. What do you mean by this?

First of all, I would like to say that the topic of the Conference is very ambitious, reflecting the breadth and the depth of the OSCE commitments adopted by the participating States since the inception of the OSCE with the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.   Over this time span, the OSCE has continually and consistently proven to be a useful forum for participating States to engage in fruitful discussion  as well as a platform for addressing the various contemporary challenges and it is my hope that the meeting here today will continue in this vein.

In the OSCE, the notion “human dimension” refers to the interconnected corpus of norms and activities within the sphere of human rights and democracy that are regarded within the OSCE as one of three dimensions of security, together with the politico-military and the economic and environmental dimensions. The term also indicates that the OSCE norms in this field cover a wider area than traditional human-rights law.

The comprehensive body of commitments adopted voluntarily by the participating States since the inception of the organization include, inter-alia, the holding of free and democratic elections, ensuring that the right to a fair trial is respected in practice, respecting the right to freedom of association and assembly, and respecting freedom of the media as well as the right of individuals to freedom of opinion and expression.

This commitment by participating States means that States can no longer invoke the principle of “non-intervention” as a means to proscribe or  avoid discussions about internal human-rights problems within their countries and helps explain why the OSCE is not only a community of values but also a community of responsibility.  Stressing this point, however, it should also be borne in mind that  this responsibility does not only focus on participating States’  mutual right to criticize each other concerning violations of human dimension commitments but also on the duty to assist each other in solving specific problems.

And what specially is important for you at the beginning of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the OSCE?

I think the most important thing is that the Government can use its position as chair  of the OSCE to reinforce the principles of the OSCE, of human dimension. So it’s a more organic understanding of the country’s duty in international human rights standards which will foster respect between the nations. If the Government expresses its wish to embody the OSCE commitments within the human dimension then I think the next thing that should happen as chair is to use its influence locally, domestically to encourage the development of pluralism.  I think it is important for the government to encourage this development since as it was mentioned a number of times today some speakers expressed their  frustration because of lack of plurality.

I repeat, that OSCE is not only a community of principles; it is also the community of values. Therefore, this places significant emphasis and focus on the state which is the chair of the Organization. So I will say to you that a  compelling  element of this chairmanship is the opportunity for Kazakh authorities to continue the democratization process of the society and allow opposition to have their own voices, it is absolutely imperative. As I mentioned in my speech earlier today, the Moscow document from 1991 that states cannot claim that is simply an internal matter because, because the OSCE is an organization based on consensus of opinions. If one country has a bad reputation regarding human rights, all OSCE participating States tarnished by this. Because, you know, the concept of freedom of association, freedom of belief and expression are intrinsic to individual human rights.

We know that, the OSCE does not create legally binding norms and principles. How do you comment on this?

Yes, it is true. Unlike many other international human-rights documents, OSCE human dimension commitments are politically, rather than legally, binding. This is an important distinction, since it limits the legal enforceability of OSCE standards which means that OSCE commitments cannot be enforced in a court of law. However, this should not be mistaken as indicating that the commitments lack binding force since the distinction is between legal and political and not between binding and non-binding.  This means that the various OSCE commitments are more than a simple declaration of will or good intention; they are a political promise to comply with these standards.

Since its inception, the OSCE has adopted a process-oriented approach. This is embedded in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 which provides for regular follow-up conferences and meetings. This is axiomatic for comprehending the unique value of the OSCE as well as for developing a clearer understanding of the OSCE human-rights framework. By adopting this particular approach, participating States are provided with a regular platform to meet and engage one another, discussing implementation of standards agreed in previous meetings as well as developing  a set of successive OSCE documents specifying and elaborating the human dimension commitments adopted in past documents. As a result of this, the OSCE has developed a very flexible and dynamic norm-creating process in the human-rights field, a process that is ongoing and working towards incremental progress and review.

Could you to briefly outline the role of the ODIHR within the broader OSCE context.

The ODIHR assists directly through a wide variety of programs in the areas of elections, democratization and the rule of law, human rights, and tolerance and non-discrimination. The ODIHR aassists the OSCE participating States in the implementation of their human dimension commitments by providing expertise and practical support in strengthening democratic institutions through longer-term programs to strengthen the rule of law, civil society, and democratic governance. ODIHR also assists OSCE field missions in implementing their human dimension activities, including through training, exchange of experiences, and regional co-ordination, and contributes to early warning and conflict prevention by monitoring the implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments by participating States.

Additionally, our office has developed a wide array of tools to support States and civil society across the OSCE region in their efforts to prevent and combat hate crimes and other forms of intolerance. These include guidelines for legislators, training seminars for law enforcement and civil society as well as resource guides on specific communities such as the teaching materials on anti-Semitism which we have developed for 10 States, each version tailored to their specific histories and on contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism. The ODIHR can also respond flexibly to emerging events. The ODIHR has issued reports on such issues as the Andijan events in Uzbekistan, the post-election violence in Armenia in March 2008 and the human rights situation in the war-affected areas in Georgia in the aftermath of the August 2008 conflict there.. This can be a vital tool in fluid situations where reliable information may be difficult to come by.

The fight with trafficking – the heinous practice of modern-day slavery – has been a priority for our office since 1999. Since then, our office has worked hard to raise awareness that preventive and protective action is needed also in destination countries, where trafficked persons are exploited. Marginalized groups, including regular and irregular migrants, among them women and minorities, are often exposed or vulnerable to exploitation – which makes this topic highly relevant for one of the major themes of the conference today in Astana.

Can you tell about your educational background and professional career?

I was educated in Great Britain where I   studied social and political sciences (Oxford and Cambridge Universities respectively). Upon completion of my studies there, I conducted my post-graduate work in  America focusing on  social theory, cultural studies, philosophy, and politics.  Some time later  I moved to Budapest to start teaching at the University of Budapest,  a course for MA students funded by UNESCO. After that I started working with an academic NGO, the Civic Education Project, (CEP), Hungary which was funded by George Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI)  where I participated as a visiting associate professor. During this time. I developed an outreach program working in refugee camps which was a pilot project at the  time in Hungary. I have run this project for one year and after review the project was implemented in all the refugee Reception Centers in the country.  It was whilst I was doing this work that international NGO, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) which is based in Budapest heard about my work and asked if I could do similar work for them working with Roma Rights running their human rights education department. I decided to join them and worked with them for seven years. Even though the organization was based in Budapest however we worked across Europe, training and consulting various government officials with differing portfolios as well as lawyers and judges on international, European and domestic anti-discrimination law. Since October last year I have been the Deputy Head of the OSCE-ODIHR Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department.