I represented the United Kingdom at the 20th ministerial Council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held in Kiev on 5 and 6 December 2013, hosted by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara. The Council is the key decision-making body of the OSCE and was attended by Ministers from across its 57 participating states.
The Council welcomed two ministerial decisions in the human dimension, after two years without agreement. The decision on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is particularly welcome as a human rights priority for the United Kingdom and the first ever self-standing OSCE decision on a fundamental freedom. We also joined consensus on a decision to update the OSCE’s existing Roma and Sinti action plan. It was, however, disappointing that a decision on the safety of journalists was not able to gain consensus, despite our and like-minded partners’ strong support. The events unfolding in Ukraine serve as a vivid reminder that journalists’ safety and freedom to do their job remains a concern in a number of OSCE countries. It is also disappointing that some states remain unwilling to acknowledge that freedom of expression and media freedom protections should apply equally online as they do offline.
I also strongly welcome the adoption at Kiev of the first internationally recognised confidence-building measures on cyber security, a long standing UK priority. Further agreements were reached across the OSCE’s three dimensions, including on combating the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons, and on combating trafficking in human beings. I regret it was not possible to reach consensus on a ministerial declaration on Afghanistan and we will continue to look for ways to underscore the OSCE’s capacity to act on issues such as border security in the central Asian region. A further declaration was agreed on the Helsinki +40 process, continuing the initiative launched last year in Dublin to reinvigorate the OSCE as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act in 2015.
I look forward to supporting the incoming Swiss and Serbian chairmanships on both this and their wider agenda for the OSCE when they take the reins in 2014-15.
As I recalled in my intervention at the Ministerial Council (www.osce.org/mc/109248), the OSCE remains the world’s largest security organisation, and the United Kingdom remains committed to working with all its participating states to strengthen security across our region. The notion of security goes far beyond the absence of war, but extends to creating a framework for peace and stability with democracy and human rights at its core. To ensure that all its participating states live up to and fully implement the commitments they have all agreed to, they must demonstrate the political will to make this happen. No country is perfect, but some participating states appear determined not just to ignore these commitments, but to allow narrow national interest to undermine and weaken them.
The Council took place in Kiev at a time of heightened tensions in Ukraine following the Ukraine’s decision to postpone signature of the EU-Ukraine association agreement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I have taken every opportunity to express concern at the reports of violence being used to break up a peaceful demonstration and I underlined this again at the OSCE Council, drawing particular attention to the number of practising journalists who had been injured by law enforcement officers. I welcomed the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to a thorough investigation, making it clear that the investigation must be rigorous, transparent and fair. I urged all parties to remain calm and avoid actions that could lead to an escalation of the situation or the restriction of personal freedoms.
In addition to attending the Ministerial Council, I had a lively discussion with Ukrainian thinkers and activists some of whom had just come from the protests. I was also able to talk to Yulia Tymoshenko’s daughter Yevhenia. I took the chance to visit the Maidan, or Independence Square, and observe for myself the genuine and peaceful nature of the protests. In my meeting with the opposition leaders, I described our efforts, including through clear and public statements in the context of the OSCE ministerial, to insist on the scrupulous adherence to fundamental civil and human rights and that those responsible for police brutality are held to account through rigorous, fair and transparent trials. I encouraged the opposition leaders to engage seriously with ideas to identify ways to help defuse the situation and map out a peaceful route forward.
I will place a copy of my statement to the plenary Session and all ministerial decisions agreed in Kiev in the Library of the House.