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OSCE should come back to Georgia and stay
16:40 11.06.2012
Day News

by Matteo Mecacci

Over the last weekend the OSCE held its first political meeting in Georgia since the break out of the conflict with Russia and the dramatic political developments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008.

Following the invitation of the Georgian Parliament, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly organized its economic conference in the coastal city of Batumi at the presence of hundreds of delegates coming from its 56 participating states.

While most of the discussions focused on economic cooperation and energy security in the OSCE area, with a specific focus on the results achieved by Georgia over the last few years, an underlying issue was very much present in the room: the need to make concrete progress on the re-establishment of an OSCE Mission in Georgia.

Since 1992 and for 17 years, the OSCE was present in Georgia with a full mandate that stretched from conflict resolution (both on the 1992 Georgian-Ossetian conflict and the 1993 Georgian-Abkhazian conflict in support to the UN Mission that was also later shut down) to the implementation of human rights committments (including in South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions), to the destruction of stockpiles of weapons and to police reform. A key element of the mission’s work was its inavaluable monitoring activity, which helped shed light on developments in the country for the benefit of all OSCE participating States and the international community.

With the eruption of the war in 2008, in what was one of the most difficult moments of Georgia’s recent history, which was followed by the negotiation of a ceasefire, the explicit opposition of the Russian Federation in OSCE’s concensus-based decision-making system led to the closure of the OSCE Field Mission when it was probably most needed: when dozens of thousands of Georgians were forced to flee and are still today Internally displaced persons not allowed to go back to their homes.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated episode, and two years later the Belarusian Government refused to extend the mandate of the OSCE Office in Minsk - just days after a key election - right after the representatives of civil society, independent media and almost  the entire opposition was rounded up in Government Square, imprisoned and given harsh sentences.  Some of the key opposition figures in Belarus are still in prison just for stating what the OSCE confirmed at its international press conference in Minsk the day after the 19 December 2010 election: that the elections were clearly rigged  by the authorities in favour of President Lukashenko.

These episodes show the dilemma that the OSCE has to face and solve soon if it wants to continue to be relevant in the international scene.  The dilemma being that, while the rule of consensus can be a guarantee on certain issues among different countries, it cannot become what it is now: a veto power in the hands of any member State who wishes to question the OSCE role, potentially on any issue, from the budget to the mandate of the OSCE field Missions and so on.

This is particularly true, and will be very dangerous for the future of the security and co-operation in the region, and for the future of this relevant Organization. Particularly, if the political leadership necessary to overcome these obstacles, will continue to be missing.

On a positive note it must be mentioned the recent successful OSCE operation thanks to which Serbian citizens living in Kosovo were allowed to vote in the Serbian Parliamentary and Presidential elections, which were held under OSCE supervision to guarantee both security and the exercize of the citizens' fundamental political rights; an effort that was possible due to the general trust that the OSCE usually enjoys from both the citizens and the authorities of the places were it operates, and that will be replicated during the next weekend in the second round of the Serbian Presidential elections.

To conclude, while it is clear that today’s Georgia has dramatically changed since the ’90s and that any new OSCE Field Mission will need to be adapted to this reality, it is also an indisputabile reality that this country still faces great challenges that the internationally sponsored Geneva discussions have not yet been able to overcome, such as a clear and firm committment of the Russian Federation to the non use of force.

This means that the call from the Georgian authorities to the OSCE to restablish a significant presence in the country and with a mandate that includes South Ossetia and Abkhazia, should be clearly supported by European leaders who should challenge the motives of the Russian Federation. The OSCE was born to strengthen peace and cooperation and not to take sides in a conflict, and its exclusion from Georgia is a contraditction that cannot continue without consequences.

Peace cannot be invoked only when war has already erupted. It is our responsibility and duty, as elected representatives of the people, to build and strengthen peace, cooperation and safeguards especially when the guns are silent. Our hope, as Parliamentarians, is that our democratic governments will all fully assume these responsibilities as soon as possible exercizing the political leadership needed to overcome these challenges.

*Matteo Mecacci is a member of the Italian Parliament and chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions.

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