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OSCE Warsaw: Early Recommendations :: Liberties Alliance

OSCE Warsaw: Early Recommendations

By • on October 4, 2013

Group Photo OSCE 400

The following was first published at Gates of Vienna:

As reported here over the past few days, the International Civil Liberties Alliance and allied groups (including Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa, the Center for Security Policy, the Stresemann Foundation, Women for Freedom, ACT! for America, and ACT! for Canada) descended on Warsaw last week to speak out at the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting on topics related to Shariah and Islamization.

“But why the OSCE?” you might ask. “Why bother with a little talk-fest like that? It’s of no importance in the larger scheme of things.”

And in a way, you’d be right. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has no formal power over the “participating states” (as its members are called). Its recommendations are not binding.

However, like the UN, it’s a place where fashionable trans-national political and social programs are hatched, discussed, and disseminated. It is a reputable venue where non-governmental organizations can publish papers and materials, which thereby gain a sheen of respectability and substance. They may be cited later in other bodies and within the participating states as effectively having the imprimatur of the OSCE.

A relevant example is the “Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims: Addressing Islamophobia through Education”, which was mentioned here earlier and figured prominently in the ICLA paper “The Problematic Definition of ‘Islamophobia’” [pdf]. The “Guidelines” booklet was published jointly [pdf] by OSCE/ODIHR, the Council of Europe, and UNESCO in 2011. Without even a working definition of “Islamophobia” — its authors admitted at this year’s side events that they have none — the booklet is being used a training document for educators within the OSCE region, helping teachers and day care workers combat Islamophobia among their young charges.

So the OSCE matters; it has an effect, even though it flies mostly under the radar.

It has another important advantage: any NGOs that are registered as non-profit organizations in one or more of the participating states may register and speak at OSCE conferences. Unlike the UN, the OSCE is open to ordinary people who belong to non-profit organizations. If they want to become a part of the proceedings, they may simply register at the OSCE website and pay their way to Warsaw or Vienna. There is no charge to participate in the conference itself.

This offers an opportunity for Counterjihad-minded citizens to make their own contribution, however small, in resistance to the tide of Islamization that is flowing over Europe and North America. If enough like-minded people take part, their influence can make a difference.

One measure of effectiveness is whether an NGO’s recommendations appear in the official reports on the conference. It’s too early for the final document with its list of recommendations — the conference just closed its doors this afternoon — but the preliminary summaries, each known as a “Rapporteur’s Report”, have been published at the OSCE website.

The initial indicators are auspicious: recommendations derived in whole or in part from the work of ICLA, BPE, CSP, ACT!, WFF, the Stresemann Foundation, etc. are showing up in the rapporteur’s summaries. Below are some excerpts from the reports published so far. The red text represents recommendations made by one or more of the above groups; blue text indicates results that will be of interest to our movement.

Many thanks to Chris Knowles of ICLA for compiling these excerpts:

Working session 1: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination I

Some participants described a negative trend in parts of the OSCE region when it came to the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, and warned against a rise of aggressive nationalism, Nazism, extreme xenophobia and chauvinism. Refuting this criticism, other participants outlined measures taken to ensure respect, protection and promotion of rights of persons belonging to minorities in their respective countries and efforts to counter extremist ideologies. Concerns were raised that some of the criticism was politically motivated, rather than based on the assessment of implementation of commitments.

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Working Session 2: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination II

A number of participants highlighted the challenge in ensuring that both freedom of speech and freedom of religion or belief are respected, including in relation to the use of the Internet. Two participants called for the withdrawal of ODIHR’s Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims on the basis that they hinder free speech, while a number of participants saw the Guidelines as a useful tool that should be further used by participating States…

Recommendations to the participating States:

Fully utilize the ODIHR’s education tools and guidelines;

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Notice here the contradictory recommendations: that the “Guidelines” be withdrawn, and that they be promoted. The former is a result of interventions by ICLA, while the latter is presumably due to EMISCO and other Islamic groups as well as their Progressive allies.

Recommendations to the OSCE, its Institutions and Field Offices:

For ODIHR to withdraw from distribution the Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims;

For the OSCE to promote the Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims across the OSCE region;

For the OSCE and ODIHR to avoid using contentious terms and instead use agreed-upon terms from the documents;

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Working Session 3: Tolerance and non-discrimination II (continued)

Many speakers stressed the importance of combating violence against women and children. A number of participants referred to the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention in this respect… Furthermore, several speakers stressed the importance of combating practices that harm women and girls, including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and honour killings. One delegation expressed concern about the abuse, sale and trafficking of children after adoption.

Working Session 4: Fundamental freedoms I

Ms. Mijatović continued to remind participating States that the obligation to protect the freedom of expression extends beyond merely the editorial office and includes online media and open journalism. The increasingly common practice of filtering and blocking websites in parts of the OSCE, often aimed at silencing critical voices under the pretext of national security, represents another major challenge to the participating States in living up to the commonly agreed standards of open societies. Ms. Mijatović concluded by calling on all participating States to muster up the political will and courage to jointly counter these worrisome trends…

Numerous speakers called attention to the potentially conflicting relation between the freedom of expression on the one hand and efforts to combat intolerance and non-discrimination on the other. Some organizations expressed concern over the presumably restricting effect of hate crime legislation on the freedom of expression, in particular due to the often imprecise and controversial scope of application of such legislation.”…

Recommendations to the participating States:

To repeal provisions criminalizing and restricting the exercise of the freedom of expression both online and offline;

To reform hate speech legislation with the aim of rendering it consistent with freedom of expression;

Working Session 5: Fundamental Freedoms II

In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Janez Lanarčič, Director of ODIHR, noted that freedom of movement was a pre-requisite to ensure the free exercise of other fundamental freedoms. He highlighted the importance of human contact across borders and drew attention to the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on this topic earlier in 2013. He also stressed the vital role of NHRIs and civil society andnoted the risks and challenges that many civil society representatives and human rights defenders faced as a result of their work. In this context, he noted that ODIHR is currently preparing recommendations or the protection of human rights defenders. He also drew attention to ODIHR’s ongoing activities in the field of human rights education.

Participants who spoke on the issue of civil society stressed the vital importance of them being able to operate freely and without hindrance. A number of participants expressed concern at restrictions being imposed on human rights defenders and civil society organizations (CSOs) in some participating States, ranging from outright harassment to damaging administrative, financial and fiscal measures and the use of overly burdensome registration systems to undermine certain CSOs or their activities. Some participants shared concerns about perceived undue restrictions on some CSOs resulting from the receipt of foreign financing. Several speakers commented favourably on ODIHR’s work to develop recommendations for the protection of human rights defenders.

Recommendations to the participating States:

Create a safe and enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders to operate in, without undue interference;

Working Session 6: Freedom of religion or belief

One NGO touched upon the question of some anti-extremism laws, which broad definition of extremism led to persecution of religious minorities…

Other issues that were raised by the speakers include the right to conscientious objection, the negative impact of anti-blasphemy laws, propagating beliefs unduly considered as incitement to hatred, harassment of LGBTI people in connection with some beliefs, and the need to return the confiscated holy sites and not to transform them into museums…

Recommendations to the participating States:

Abolish blasphemy laws, as well as any ban on apostasy;

Focus on FoRB as an individual right and not a collective right;

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Recommendations to the OSCE, its institutions and field operations:

Focus on FoRB as an individual right and not a collective right;

Abandon the use of the term “Islamophobia” in ODIHR guidelines;

Review OSCE standards to take into account cultural values and in view of intolerance against Christians;

Working session 7: Freedom of religion or belief

Many NGOs highlighted the problems for Christian communities in some countries. Despite laws guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), there were practical obstacles to exercising this freedom. Registration is often mandatory for practising one’s faith in community with others…

Some delegations stressed the link between FoRB and other rights, as freedom of expression, assembly and association. Religion must never be used to restrict the enjoyment of other rights, as women’s rights.

One delegation stated that freedom for one group must never interfere with the freedom of others. Freedom for some must not threaten traditional moral values. Traditional religions must not be discredited. A balance must be found…

“It was stated that it should be legitimate to discuss the norms and practise of all religions and this should not be met with accusations of intolerance (as Islamophobia).”

Some speakers regretted the negative descriptions of one religion (Islam) by a few speakers.

Working Session 8: Freedom of Assembly and Association (specifically selected topic)

While in a networked society, Dr. Hamilton pointed out, there are today numerous channels and opportunities to voice opinions and messages, free assembly is more than that: individuals physically present are constituting “the people”, an essential element of thriving democracies. He also stressed that the law and practise of OSCE participating States should not treat assemblies as a ‘public order problem’ but should facilitate peaceful assemblies as a fundamental human right. This means, he explained, providing access to public space, and protecting peaceful protestersespecially when conveying controversial messages (positive obligation). It also means that States refrain from interfering with peaceful assemblies unless absolutely necessary and based on law (negative obligation). The imposition of burdensome and extensively interpreted notification procedures which do not allow for spontaneous or untraditional forms of assemblies today presents one of the main challenges to free assembly in the OSCE region, according to Dr. Hamilton…

Authorities would also often cite public order or safety for denying assemblies, particularly those with controversial messages, in highly frequented and thus prominent spaces. Moreover, authorities would often judge the purpose or message of an assembly, and deny or restrict its taking place, by openly referring to the protection of ‘traditional or moral values’ to be protected, or giving more opaque reasons…

Recommendations to the OSCE participating States:

Ensure that the notification process for the holding of assemblies is not cumbersome;any restrictions on the time, place, or manner of an assembly should be content-neutral and reasonable; the substance of speech or other expressive content should not be restricted or banned without compelling reason;

Protect peaceful assemblies from counter-assemblies;

Reaffirm that cultural, traditional or religious values cannot be used as a reason for restricting or denying the right to peaceful assembly or association

Working session 9: Freedom of assembly and association

18 speakers took the floor during the session. They highlighted the following: fundamental character of FAA in any democracy; using different mechanisms for increasing the role of civil society in the decision-making process, including referendums; existing problems in the registration of NGOs; restrictions for some of the groups, including national minorities and LGBT; lack of notions of national minorities in the legislation and the prohibition of the use of certain words, which create problems in the registration of NGOs; limitations in conducting peaceful assemblies; disproportional use of force by police; persecution of organizers of rallies, imprisonment of demonstrators.

“Participants also stressed lengthy, bureaucratic or financially restrictive character of the registration process, some cases of imprisonment of activists for exercising their rights to assemble and associate, several unreasonable refusals to organize an assembly on the pretext of the risk of counter demonstration conducted by anti-fascist movements.”

Recommendations to the OSCE participating States:

Ensure that peaceful assemblies take place without undue interference;

Take into account the difference between violent and peaceful demonstrators. If intervention is legitimate, restrict the use of force to those participants that are violent and train police officers.