Foreign and Commonwealth Office Director-General Philip Barton represented the United Kingdom at the 25th Ministerial Council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The Council was held in Milan on 6 and 7 December and hosted by Italian Foreign Minister and OSCE chairman-in-office Enzo Moavero Milanesi. The Council is the key decision-making body of the OSCE and was attended by Ministers and senior officials from across its 57 participating states. A number of new commitments were agreed at the Council, including on safety of journalists, combating violence against women, combating human trafficking (with a focus on unaccompanied children) and on control of small arms and light weapons and stockpiles of conventional ammunition. Strong focus at the Council was also maintained on the crisis in and around Ukraine.
Philip Barton’s intervention at the Ministerial Council highlighted threats to sovereignty, threats of confrontation and threats to democracy and fundamental freedoms. He reaffirmed the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United Kingdom continues to condemn Russia’s destabilising actions in eastern Ukraine and their illegal annexation of Crimea. I have stated this position clearly at previous OSCE Councils, and recent events in the sea of Azov meant it was important to strengthen this message and call on Russia to release the 24 detained crew members immediately and unconditionally. The EU, US and Canada reiterated this request, with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland directly challenging Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Russia’s violations of international law. The UK co-sponsored a side event hosted by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on the militarisation in Crimea and the sea of Azov. Barton discussed with other officials how best to promote peace and stability in Ukraine and met FM Klimkin to highlight the UK’s support for Ukraine. The UK is the second largest contributor of secondees to the OSCE special monitoring mission to Ukraine, with 68 UK citizens currently seconded, which plays a crucial role in monitoring the security situation. Following an international recruitment competition a UK secondee joined the mission this autumn as deputy-chief monitor.
The UK national statement also highlighted the need to work through the OSCE to resolve protracted conflicts. In Milan, Barton and other “Friends of Georgia” met Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani to express support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Philip Barton also expressed strong support for the OSCE “Human Dimension”, underlining the importance of implementation of OSCE commitments on protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms for security and stability across the OSCE region.
In the Human Dimension there was significant progress at the Council on media freedom, with a consensus decision of all 57 countries addressing the role of the OSCE with respect to safety of journalists. The decision reaffirms the importance of free media and of protecting the safety of journalists, recognises the increased and evolving risks to which journalists are exposed and calls on all OSCE states to condemn unequivocally attacks and violence against journalists and take effective measures to end impunity for such crimes. This is the first new OSCE human rights commitment since 2014 and negotiations were led by the UK ambassador as chair of the OSCE Human Dimension Committee. OSCE representative on freedom of the media Harlem Desir welcomed the decision as a strong signal of support to journalists exposed to difficult conditions in the OSCE region and praised the UK role in helping to deliver it. The result is both timely and in line with the Foreign Secretary’s decision to raise the profile of media freedom as a UK policy priority.
In the OSCE’s political-military dimension, the UK, along with NATO allies, repeated calls for modernisation of the Vienna document, an instrument increasing transparency of military activities. Barton underscored the value of the structured dialogue as a confidence building process aimed at reducing risk and rebuilding trust. He regretted the Ministerial Council’s failure to agree a decision on risk reduction.
The OSCE is an important regional organisation charged with enhancing security and co-operation from Vancouver to Vladivostok, with a network of field operations in western Balkans, central Asia and the Caucasus. An important element in the international rules-based order, the OSCE’s substantial body of commitments extends across its comprehensive security remit. The UK welcomes the progress made in Milan to reaffirm the role played by the OSCE in this regard.