The OSCE has a comprehensive approach to security that encompasses politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects. It therefore addresses a wide range of security-related concerns, including arms control, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, national minorities, democratization, policing strategies, counter-terrorism and economic and environmental activities. All 57 participating States enjoy equal status, and decisions are taken by consensus on a politically, but not legally binding basis.
With 57 participating States in North America, Europe and Asia, the OSCE – the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe – is the world’s largest regional security organization. The OSCE works for stability, peace and democracy for more than a billion people, through political dialogue about shared values and through practical work that aims to make a lasting difference.
The OSCE is a forum for political dialogue on a wide range of security issues and a platform for joint action to improve the lives of individuals and communities. The organization uses a comprehensive approach to security that encompasses the politico-military, economic and environmental, and human dimensions. Through this approach, and with its inclusive membership, the OSCE helps bridge differences and build trust between states by co-operating on conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation.
With its Institutions, expert units and network of field operations, the OSCE addresses issues that have an impact on our common security, including arms control, terrorism, good governance, energy security, human trafficking, democratization, media freedom and national minorities.
Within the politico-military dimension, the OSCE seeks to create greater openness, transparency and co-operation and has developed the world’s most advanced regime of arms control and confidence-building measures. Areas of work include reforms in the security sector and the safe storage and destruction of small arms, light weapons and conventional ammunition.
Economic and environmental dimension
Economic and environmental factors can pose threats and challenges to security and stability. Within the economic and environmental dimension, the OSCE supports its participating States in promoting good governance and environmental awareness, tackling corruption, sharing natural resources and in the sound management of environmental waste.
All OSCE participating States agree that lasting security cannot be achieved without respect for human rights and functioning democratic institutions. The OSCE helps its participating States strengthen democratic institutions; hold genuine and transparent democratic elections; promote gender equality; ensure respect for human rights, media freedom, the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and the rule of law; and promote tolerance and non-discrimination.
The OSCE addresses security challenges that pose a threat across borders, such as climate change, terrorism, radicalization and violent extremism, organized crime, cybercrime and trafficking in drugs, arms and human beings. The organization promotes stronger ties and co-operation between states, creating partnerships between the private and public sectors, and engaging civil society.
Most of the OSCE’s staff and resources are deployed in the OSCE’s field operations in South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia. These operations have tailor-made mandates, which are agreed by consensus of the participating States. Field operations are only established with the agreement of the host country. In addition to their headquarters, some field operations also have field offices, regional centres, and/or training centres in their host countries.
The OSCE’s field operations assist host countries in putting their OSCE commitments into practice and fostering local capacities through concrete projects that respond to their needs. These include initiatives to support law enforcement, minority rights, legislative reform, the rule of law and media freedom, promote tolerance and non-discrimination, as well as many other areas. A number of field operations contribute to early warning and conflict prevention. In accordance with their respective mandates, some field operations also monitor and report on developments on the ground. A number of field operations, enabling them to manage crises and to play a critical post-conflict role.
Field operations create and maintain many partnerships with local and national authorities, agencies and institutions, civil society, as well as with international organizations. Such partnerships support the co-ordination of efforts, ensure complementarity, and mutually reinforce their impact in areas of shared engagement.
The OSCE’s Conflict Prevention Centre (CPC) is responsible for planning the establishment, restructuring and closure of field operations. The CPC plays a key role in supporting and co-ordinating the OSCE’s activities in the field, providing analysis and policy advice, as well as serving as liaison between the field operations, the Secretariat and the OSCE Chairmanship.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is comprised of 323 parliamentarians spanning the geographical area from Vancouver to Vladivostok. It provides a forum for parliamentary diplomacy and debate, leads election observation missions and strengthens international co-operation to uphold commitments on political, security, economic, environmental and human rights issues. The Assembly also develops and promotes mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflicts, supports the development of democratic institutions in participating States and provides transparency and accountability to the OSCE. Its Annual Sessions offer extensive policy recommendations to the governmental side of the Organization. The Assembly’s Special Representatives focus on issues ranging from border co-operation to national minorities and areas ranging from Afghanistan to the South Caucasus. The Assembly also dispatches parliamentary field visits and fact-finding missions and maintains close ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Inter-Parliamentary Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Its International Secretariat is based in Copenhagen.
The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) gets involved in a situation if, in his judgement, there are tensions involving national minorities which could develop into a conflict. Much of the day-to-day work is in identifying and addressing causes of ethnic tensions and conflicts. The High Commissioner addresses the short-term triggers of inter-ethnic tension or conflict and long-term structural concerns. If a participating State is not meeting its political commitments or international norms, the High Commissioner will assist by providing analysis and recommendations. Based on experience, the HCNM publishes thematic Recommendations and Guidelines that give advice on common challenges and best practice. The HCNM also provides structural support through small collaborative projects that aim to achieve sustainability through increasing local ownership.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) provides support, assistance and expertise to participating States and civil society to promote democracy, rule of law, human rights and tolerance and non-discrimination. ODIHR observes elections, reviews legislation and advises governments on how to develop and sustain democratic institutions. The Office conducts training programmes for government and law-enforcement officials and non-governmental organizations on how to uphold, promote and monitor human rights.
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
The Representative’s activities can be divided into two groups: observing media developments as part of an early warning function and helping participating States abide by their commitments to freedom of expression and free media. This includes efforts to ensure the safety of journalists; assist with the development of media pluralism; promote decriminalization of defamation; combat hate speech while preserving freedom of expression; provide expert opinions on media regulation and legislation; promote Internet freedom; and assist with the process of switching from analogue to digital broadcasting. The Representative also holds annual regional media conferences, bringing together journalists, representatives of civil society and government, as well as academics, to discuss current media freedom issues.
The Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, which is based in Geneva, provides a mechanism for the peaceful settlement of disputes between States. The Court was established by the Convention on Conciliation and Arbitration within the OSCE. This mechanism can be activated unilaterally by any State party to the Convention for a dispute between it and one or more other States parties. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the conciliation commission presents a report and recommendations to the Parties. The Parties then have thirty days to decide whether they accept those or not. If there is no agreement within that period, and if the parties have agreed to submit to arbitration, an ad hoc arbitral tribunal may be set up whose ruling will be legally binding on the Parties. Arbitral proceedings may also be initiated by agreement between States parties concerned.
The Minsk Group, the activities of which have become known as the Minsk Process, spearheads the OSCE’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation, and the United States.
Under the direction of the Secretary General, the Secretariat provides operational support to the Organization. Based in Vienna, it also comprises the OSCE Documentation Centre in Prague.