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Volume 645: debated on Thursday 19 July 2018

I represented the United Kingdom at the 24th Ministerial Council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held in Vienna on 7 and 8 December 2017, hosted by Austrian chair-in-office, Sebastian Kurz. The Council is the top decision making body of the OSCE and was attended by Ministers from across its 57 participating states. A number of new commitments were agreed, including on combating trafficking in human beings, on small arms and light weapons, and on reducing the risk of conflict stemming from the use of information and communication technologies.

In my intervention at the Ministerial Council, I reaffirmed the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. I condemned Russia’s destabilising actions in eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea, and we co-sponsored an event in the margins of the Ministerial Council for Crimean Tatar leaders. The United Kingdom is the second largest contributor of secondees to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), which plays a crucial role in monitoring the ceasefire and events on the ground. I paid tribute during my intervention to SMM paramedic Joseph Stone, who tragically lost his life on patrol in April 2017. The United Kingdom continues to call on all parties to ensure the safety both of our monitors and of civilians in Eastern Ukraine.

The 2017 Ministerial Council discussed the continuation of the structured dialogue launched in 2016, aimed at reducing risk of military conflict. We welcome the dialogue as an opportunity to rebuild trust among all stakeholders of European security in the OSCE area. The process will take time, but we value the work done so far, including discussions on threat perceptions, challenges to the rules-based order, military-to-military contact, and trends in military force postures and exercises. At the Ministerial Council, the United Kingdom delivered a statement on behalf of 29 allies restating the importance of enhancing military transparency, and of full implementation and updating of relevant commitments.

The OSCE is a vital forum for addressing the “protracted conflicts” which remain a threat to European security, and during the Ministerial Council I reiterated our firm support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Government welcome progress on confidence-building measures relating to the conflict in Moldova agreed in the 5+2 format meetings in Vienna in 2017 and in Rome in 2018. We also continue to support the Minsk co-chairs in their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Government remain committed to the security and stability of the Western Balkans. We provide over 5 million euros per annum to OSCE’s extensive field presence in the Western Balkans through assessed contributions and also give extra budgetary funding to support work on media freedom, electoral reform, safe storage of small arms and light weapons, strengthening the rule of law, and processing of war crimes cases. The office of the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media chaired a discussion on media freedom at the Western Balkans summit in London on 9 and 10 July. The Government also support security and stability in Central Asia through our assessed contributions and through extra-budgetary funding to OSCE field missions, supporting work in areas such as judicial independence, rule of law, border controls, counter-terrorism, cyber-security, and freedom of religion or belief.

The United Kingdom is using its second year chairing the OSCE human dimension committee to support the 2017 Italian chairmanship and promote discussion of issues relevant to everyday lives across the OSCE area in the field of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy. 2018 meetings have covered issues such as human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and Roma and Sinti girls’ education. The committee has also addressed cross-dimensional issues such as human trafficking and violence against women. The Prime Minister’s special envoy on post-holocaust issues, Lord Pickles, spoke at an OSCE chairmanship conference on anti-Semitism in Rome in January and a UK-led event on racism in Vienna in May. Throughout this period, the United Kingdom, with EU partners, has continued to raise human rights concerns at the OSCE. At the Ministerial Council, the UK joined a declaration by 44 states expressing concern at deteriorating respect for human rights and space for civil society in parts of the OSCE region.

OSCE work on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, along with counter-terrorism and cyber-security, plays an important role in pursuit of our security objectives. We continue to promote efforts in the OSCE to strengthen and modernise conventional arms control in Europe, based on principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, reciprocity, transparency, and host nation consent. We welcome the OSCE Ministerial Council decision to reinforce and expand efforts to reduce the threat posed by small arms and light weapons and stockpiles of conventional ammunition.

I was able to underline the UK’s commitment to European security, the OSCE and to multilateral co-operation when I met the new OSCE secretary-general, Thomas Greminger, during his visit to London in May.

Slovakia has begun preparations for its OSCE chairmanship, which starts in January 2019. We look forward to working with them to promote shared priorities, uphold shared principles and commitments and to increase security and co-operation in Europe.