Safeguarding security

In an Interview with SOCIETY Magazine, Ambassador Ulrika Funered, Permanent Representative and Head of the Swedish Delegation to the OSCE, spoke about Sweden’s Chairpersonship, the pillars of the European security order and the importance of equal gender rights.

Since January 1, 2021, Sweden is holding the Chairpersonship of the OSCE. What have been the key issues on your agenda so far and in which ways did the Covid-19 crisis influence your work?

For our year as Chair of the OSCE, we have established three main priorities that permeate all our work in the organisation. These priorities were presented by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, at the Permanent Council in January.

Upholding the European Security Order is our first main priority. This involves restoring respect for the principles to which all 57 OSCE participating States have subscribed and on which the European security order is based. The OSCE was created to ensure that the participating States comply with common commitments to safeguard security in Europe.

Our second priority is the OSCE’s comprehensive concept of security. This concept is the unique added value of the OSCE since security between states is explicitly linked to the extent to which democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected within each state. The starting point is a common security based on a common set of principles, commitments, norms and values.

Finally, we give priority to the OSCE’s efforts to help resolve ongoing conflicts in accordance with OSCE principles, which are also enshrined in international law. This has been reflected in the Foreign Minister’s trips as OSCE Chairperson, as she visited areas where conflicts remain unresolved. We have also made use of the OSCE’s confidence building measures including military transparency under the Vienna Document.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in a challenging seat as Chair. COVID-19 has had a major impact on the OSCE region and on the work of the organisation in many ways. On the one hand, in practical terms, and on the other, in terms of security policy. Here in Vienna, we have been particularly affected by the fact that we have not been able to hold physical meetings for several months, nor have we been able to receive physical visits from, for example, the OSCE field missions, as is usually the case.

Looking at the impact of the pandemic on the security situation in the region, we have in particular seen how the space for civil society and human rights defenders has shrunk in countries where the pandemic is being used as a cover to restrict their rights. In many countries, measures taken to curb the spread of the disease have meant stricter surveillance of society and restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly, increasing the risk of unrest and political instability, which can escalate an ongoing conflict or even trigger new conflicts.

Overall, the pandemic has led to a deterioration in the security situation in the OSCE region, placing greater responsibility on all 57 participating States to respect our common commitments.

What are, in your opinion, the core principles upon which the European security order rests? How can these “pillars” be strengthened, and which areas need specific attention at the moment?

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the Paris Charter of 1990 are the foundations of the European Security Order. The principles and commitments included in these documents have been agreed upon by all OSCE participating States.

The commitments include territorial integrity and sovereignty, inviolability of State borders, refraining from the use of force and the right of States to make their own security policy choices, as well as respect for democracy and human rights. The 1999 OSCE Summit in Istanbul stated that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are at the core of the OSCE’s comprehensive concept of security. This shows clearly that our commitments are strong. But they need to be adhered to.

Much of our work in the OSCE focuses on reviewing our commitments, helping each other to live up to them and thereby strengthening the pillars of security. In the annual review and implementation meetings of the three OSCE dimensions, participating States can assess the state of our commitments in the OSCE area, oftentimes with the help of civil society. These days the discussions tend to focus on the conflicts in the OSCE area, but also on violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. What is common for all these challenges is that they can only be solved through international cooperation. We think that the OSCE as a multilateral platform is vital in this regard.

The OSCE is explicitly emphasizing the importance of equal rights and opportunities for women and men in order to achieve peace, democracy and a sustainable economic and environmental development. What role can the OSCE play in accomplishing an equal treatment?

We are of the view that the OSCE has a major role to play in making peace processes in the region more inclusive – a prerequisite in achieving sustainable peace. Women are still heavily underrepresented in conflict prevention and resolution efforts, and the impact of conflict on women, men, girls and boys is often not fully recognised.

As Chair, we prioritise implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in the OSCE area. During her visits to OSCE field operations, the Chairperson-in-Office has paid special attention to the OSCE’s important groundwork to produce data, analysis and actions that take account of gender. She has also held many discussions with women’s rights organisations in the region.

Women’s economic empowerment is also necessary to enable and achieve full and effective participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution leading to sustainable peace. We know that gender equal societies where human rights are fully enjoyed by all, are more secure with better prospects for sustainable, resilient, and prosperous development.

OSCE decisions have to be taken by consensus – this procedure and its possible weaknesses have been discussed recently during a lively debate. What is your view on the consensus principle?

As Chair, we represent all 57 participating States. We are therefore bound to follow decisions that have been taken by consensus and use language that all 57 participating States have agreed to.

It is often difficult to overcome the deadlocks that exist between the participating States and it happens that individual states alone block a decision. Our role as Chair is to try to find constructive ways forward that all participating States can support and that respect the basic principles we have agreed upon. After all, the OSCE is an organisation for dialogue on security. I would also like to add that the fact that the OSCE is a consensus organisation is also a strength. When we agree on something, the OSCE can deliver important results for people in the region.

Photos: (c) OSCE/Micky Kröll