OSCE parallel conference: Russia is brutal towards Ukraine, the role of the civil society is extremely important

Russia has significantly increased its attacks on citizen activists, journalists and political opponents. The Kremlin's goal is to silence the opposition, and that made a huge gap in the functioning of the civil society and independent media. These are just a part of the conclusions of tonight's OSCE side conference on civil society, which was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia


From the address of Pia Kauma, the president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Photo: Meta.mk

Democracy is declining in countries where there is no room for civil society activism. We are witnessing an alarming number of armed conflicts, in the last year we have been witnessing how Russia has been brutal towards Ukraine and destroyed European values. It should be accountable, it should be held to responsibility for this war. Russia has significantly increased its attacks on citizen activists, journalists, and political opponents. The Kremlin’s goal is to silence the opposition, which has created a huge gap in the functioning of civil society and independent media.

These were the main conclusions of tonight’s OSCE parallel conference on civil society, which was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia.

The leaders of the trio of OSCE chairmen or OSCE Troika, as well as officials of the organization, spoke about media freedom, the destruction of the European democratic values, as well as the importance of civil society organizations.

Bujar Osmani, Foreign Minister of North Macedonia and OSCE Chairman-in-office said that this year’s motto is that all this is done for the people and that N. Macedonia knows well how important the role of civil society is in respect of international law and democracy.

There is an important correlation between the diverse civil society and the rule of law. In the countries where the space for civil society is shrinking, the democracy is declining. This has also been documented in the latest reports on the Russian Federation, there has been more repression in this country. At the last conference, last year in Poland, I stated the important role of civil society in the OECD countries. I am happy that we have opened a special office for civil society in the OSCE. At the moment, I see that our basic pillars must be stronger, and it is important to find a way to unblock the potential of the OECD because it is most important for the interest of more than one billion people, Osmani said in his address.

Wojciech Gerwel, Under Secretary of State at Poland’s Foreign Ministry, assessed Macedonia’s international position as strengthened and thanked Osmani for the chairmanship of OSCE.

Poland is concerned about the declining freedom of the civil societies in Russia, and this is especially evident during its aggression against Ukraine. Russia has significantly increased its attacks on citizen activists, journalists, and political opponents. The Kremlin’s goal is to silence the opposition. It created a huge gap in the civil society and independent media. We decided to support them. All of us OECD countries are trying to encourage tolerance and non-discrimination, Gerwel said.

Matteo Mecacci, the director of the OSCE/ODIHR, said that the war in Ukraine is a priority and that a fourth report on the violation of International Criminal Law will be published in a few weeks.

The Skopje Declaration is a link between the fragile security situation and the respect for human rights, and the OSCE and ODIHR work precisely on these principles. This is not only a privilege of the developed societies, this is important for collective security and we will continue to work on this, he said.

Speaking about the erosion of democracy and media freedom resulting from the war in Ukraine, Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative for media freedom, said the war had caused great trauma and suffering.

I believe that we need actions and active work and they should be directed in such a way that a broad commitment to human rights and the strengthening of institutions and the rule of law and media freedoms are achieved, which will celebrate the fifth Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of expression is an investment in a resilient and well-informed society. We have developed new resources, these are a set of tools for the safety of journalists, as well as instruments for monitoring violations of the right to freedom of expression. Despite all the uncertainties of this age, I think that the future is bright and the future of media freedom is bright, Ribeiro said.

Pia Kauma, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said that they had created a group in the Parliamentary Assembly to support Ukraine and assessed that it was extremely important.

One thing I see as an important tool for the OECD as a whole and the Parliamentary Assembly is election monitoring. We cooperate with ODIHR experts and other humanitarian organizations and I think it is very important that election monitoring continues to be independent. It should not be a question of political decisions but should be based on the work of experts and observers who monitor the election process. Without monitoring, there will be a danger of disrupting the election process, Kauma told the audience.

Helga Maria Schmid, OSCE Secretary General, stressed that a special declaration has been made to stop sexual violence and that it contains means to support women.

The war on Ukraine is our priority. We are concerned about the constant level of threats against women and girls, and now we are in the campaign “16 days of activism for violence against women”, so we should recognize them as agents of change, Schmid said.

Elina Valtonen, the Foreign Minister of Finland, the country that will be the next chairman of the OSCE in 2025, said that in the last year, Russia has been brutal towards Ukraine and that it is destroying European values.

It should be accountable and be brought to responsibility for this war. There is great repression of international freedoms, which are included in the Skopje Declaration, so we need to give space to civil society. Finland has created a portal for tools and instruments that will provide all the opportunities available to the OECD and all institutions, she added.

From today to Friday, the 30th OSCE Ministerial Council takes place in Skopje, with delegations from 57 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

About 1,000 participants arrived in Skopje, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, EU High Representative Josep Borrell, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

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