Opening statement by CiO Linde at ODIHR anniversary

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Opening statement by the Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs Sweden, at the 30-year anniversary for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw on 14 October 2021.

Ann Linde speaking at podium.
Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, Ann Linde, speaking at the 30-year anniversary for the ODIHR in Warsaw on 14 October 2021. Piotr Markowski

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Your excellencies, Ambassadors, representatives from civil society, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today, and to see that so many of us are able to attend this meeting in person here in Warsaw. I would like to start by thanking you for coming here, in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights - ODIHR. I thank you Director Mecacci and your staff for planning this event, and Poland and Minister Rau for hosting us. I believe those of us who are here in person today understand how important it is. But I would also like to thank all of you who are attending this meeting virtually. We can look forward to two intense days of engaging discussions and active participation.

Today and tomorrow, we are celebrating three decades of ODIHR achievements throughout the OSCE region thanks to this institution’s crucial work. The OSCE participating States have unanimously agreed that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are central to the OSCE’s concept of comprehensive security. The different strands of work within ODIHR’s mandate all contribute to a free and democratic society where the human rights of all individuals are respected. This, in turn, contributes to a more secure OSCE region.

Initially established as the Office for Free Elections in 1991, the focus of this institution was on elections. With this focus and the mandate of the participating States, ODIHR developed the gold standard in election observation, which is also widely used outside of the OSCE space.

ODIHR’s unique election observation methodology recognises that a genuinely democratic election takes place long before and after the actual polling day. This is crucial to monitoring the welfare and state of democracy, where fully democratic elections are but one critical component. In 2006, at the Brussels Ministerial Council, the OSCE participating States formally recognised ODIHR’s election observation methodology and encouraged its continued development.  It has undergone constant improvement ever since. As a centre of excellence, ODIHR remains at the vanguard of election observation, advising and assisting States.

We have all committed to follow up promptly on ODIHR’s election assessment and recommendations. Sweden benefited from ODIHR’s election observation most recently in our election in 2018. The recommendations from ODIHR led to the initiation of an all-party commission of inquiry to examine the need to amend the election legislation to explicitly provide for the presence of observers. This to ensure full compliance with Paragraph 8 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document. We continue to improve our democracy, and ODIHR offers excellent support in this endeavour.

Over time, ODIHR’s work has broadened. Expertise and support capacity have been bolstered with innovative and cutting-edge tools in many areas. These include human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law, promoting gender equality, tolerance and non-discrimination, Roma and Sinti Issues, and combatting trafficking in human beings, to name a few.

I travelled here from the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. There I had the opportunity to highlight the important work by ODIHR in supporting participating States’ work to combat racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. As the discussions in Malmö showed – there is no alternative to tireless work to combat these phenomena, which threaten the very fabric of our societies.

ODIHR’s assistance over the last three decades has made a major impact throughout the OSCE region. Elections have been observed and made more democratic, democratic institutions have been strengthened and civil society has been heard and included. During my visits as CiO, I have seen the impact of the work of ODIHR and the other two autonomous institutions throughout the region. This has been mentioned by both participating States and by civil society representatives with whom I have met on these visits. ODIHR has been invaluable in the shared commitment to becoming a more democratic and secure region. That being said, the responsibility to implement these commitments rests solely with the participating States themselves.

As important as ODIHR is for governments, it is equally important for civil society. I am very happy to see so many representatives from civil society – from all parts of the OSCE region – attending this event physically and virtually. Civil society’s unique role in the OSCE has been reiterated time and again, including in Astana 2010. ODIHR’s important work is amplified through effective partnerships, close contact and exchanges with civil society.

As many of you are aware, ODIHR traditionally hosts the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting around this time of year. This mandated conference is of paramount importance not only to the participating States, but also to civil society. It is very disappointing that the HDIM could not take place as planned between 27 September and 8 October this year due to the failure to reach a consensus among the participating States. This is a loss for the OSCE, for the participating States and for civil society. We, the participating States, must continue to hold each other accountable for how we implement our commitments, and civil society must be able to hold us to account. The HDIM must continue to provide this opportunity, as our heads of state and government agreed in Helsinki in 1992. 

When the Swedish Chairpersonship began in January, I highlighted the importance of the autonomous institutions in supporting participating States in living up to our joint commitments. ODIHR, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the High Commissioner on National Minorities each have clear and strong mandates. They are the bedrock of this organisation. The work of our Chairpersonship is carried out in support of, and complementary to, the work of these institutions. Against the background of continuing democratic backsliding in parts of the OSCE space, the need to continue to safeguard the mandate of ODIHR and the other two autonomous institutions is obvious.

ODIHR has played a significant role over the past 30 years, and will continue to do so. Major gaps between the strong and clear commitments that participating States have agreed to in the human dimension, and their actual implementation, regrettably remain. We continue to witness harassment and arbitrary detentions of ordinary citizens for voicing their opinions. We continue to see human rights defenders and journalists being threatened for carrying out their important work. The failure to follow through on our commitments is a threat to the security of the OSCE region and beyond. All participating States will continue to need the support of ODIHR and the other two autonomous institutions in implementing their commitments and in protecting and promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This we owe to all individuals of this region.

Thank you.