National Minorities  |  Religious Communities  |  Torture
Vulnerable Groups  |  Legal Aid  |  Reports  |  Antisemitism

INFO   :::  Human Rights > Ministerial Council in Belgrade: Talking Nevertheless


Ministerial Council in Belgrade: Talking Nevertheless

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe



Only one decision was taken at the Ministerial Council in Belgrade on 3 and 4 December 2015 – to meet again in Hamburg the next year. Documents that would have allowed the OSCE to move forward on issues like migration, gender, sustainable development, water management and preventing torture failed to reach the consensus that is required for all OSCE decisions.

However, the 2015 Ministerial Council actively used to confer on difficult and pressing matters. Forty-two foreign ministers attended and availed themselves of the opportunity to conduct a multitude of bilateral and multilateral meetings. The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers met for the first time after the downing of the Russian fighter jet near the Syrian-Turkish border. At an informal lunch hosted by the Chairperson-in-Office, heads of delegation brainstormed about ways to move forward on reconsolidating European security.

This Ministerial Council brought to the fore what many have been saying for years: the success of the meeting that culminates the work of the annually rotating Chairmanship each December should not be measured by the number of new documents that are adopted. The OSCE has a large corpus of decisions, commonly called commitments, which guide and will continue to guide the Organization’s work on a wide range of issues. Yes, it would have been helpful to receive fresh guidance on account of the many new developments. Equally, a more tangible outcome could have provided additional motivation to OSCE experts working in the different thematic fields and given impetus to the Organization’s work. But there is already a lot of work to be done to support implementation of existing commitments without adding new ones.

The Ministerial Council, first and foremost, is about participating States coming together at a high political level to grapple with the serious security issues facing the region. That is why some participants came out of the 2015 OSCE Ministerial Council more optimistic than when they went in. Below is a sampling of expectations and reflections voiced during the meeting.


“The Organization faces difficult crisis – all of us know that – but the good message that we have heard during these two days here in Belgrade is that everybody realizes the importance of the OSCE and the importance of restarting the dialogue. This is an important element, and we will see how we are able to develop that. On the crisis in and around Ukraine, we have heard particularly the idea of really sticking, all of us, to the Minsk Agreements, having them complied with by all the parties. So this is the positive side. Another important element of the meeting has been that many delegations, almost all of them, have acknowledged that to face the many challenges affecting the region – they have been speaking about terrorism, but also about migration – we need unity among ourselves. If you put these elements together: the situation in Ukraine, the perspective that we have with the Minsk Agreements, and the great concern of everybody that we need to work together, then this is what, looking to the future, allows us to be a little more optimistic now than when we arrived here in Belgrade.”

Ignacio Ybáñez, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Spain


“This Ministerial Council is taking place in a very complex environment, which, as you know, is marked by the terrorist phenomenon. In addition to this we have this huge flow of migration, of refugees, the ongoing crisis in and around Ukraine and, of course, the persistence of the protracted conflicts in the Black Sea area. Our expectations briefly are the following: Romania, in its capacity as the chair of the OSCE Security Committee, has been doing its best to facilitate adopting a decision by this Ministerial Meeting on combating violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism. We also hope the Ministerial Meeting will adopt a document on the OSCE’s role in Ukraine, which should emphasize the importance of restoring respect for the fundamental principles of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Definitely we hope that this Ministerial Meeting would mark tangible progress towards the resolution of protracted conflicts, like the one in the Republic of Moldova, and we do hope that on this specific conflict will be adopted a Ministerial Statement on the negotiations in the Transdniestrian settlement process in the “5+2” format.”

Lazăr Comănescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania


“This is a serious and complicated time, not only in Europe but everywhere in the world. This Ministerial Council is showing that the OSCE has the value and credibility. It is the main organization for security dialogue in Europe. Mongolia is an OSCE participating State located in Asia. We believe that European and Asian security is indivisible. Today, the OSCE is not only a security organization for Europe, it is also a security organization for Eurasia, including Mongolia. It is very important to continue to address common security challenges among the Eurasian countries. Therefore, we very much value the discussions taking place here, also the achievements. I am not referring only to final documents, but also to the contacts being made and the talks being held. Also in the future, the OSCE will be for us the main forum for international talks on security issues.”

Lundeg Purevsuren, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia


Reinforcing efforts to counter terrorism


Two Declarations on countering terrorism were adopted at the Ministerial Council in Belgrade: Reinforcing OSCE Efforts to Counter Terrorism in the Wake of Recent Terrorist Attacks (MC.DOC/3/15) and Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism (VERLT) (MC.DOC/4/15). These Declarations underscore the commitment of participating States to remain united in combating terrorism and to take resolute action in this regard. Both Declarations reaffirm the UN’s leading role in international efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism.

To reinforce the OSCE’s efforts to counter terrorism participating States have agreed to continue to fully implement their commitments in this area, including those related to the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, to preventing and suppressing terrorism financing and recruitment of members of terrorist groups, eliminating the supply of weapons to terrorists, as well as comply with their obligations under international law. These include the UN Charter, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2170 condemning the abuse of human rights by extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, UNSCR 2178 on foreign terrorist fighters, UNSCR 2199 on the illicit financing of terrorist organizations, UNSCR 2249 on preventing and suppressing terrorist acts and other obligations under international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law.

Countering VERLT following a multi-dimensional approach is now a strengthened strategic focus area for OSCE counter-terrorism efforts. Participating States have recognized that the OSCE's comprehensive and co-operative approach to security provides comparative advantages in combating terrorism by identifying and addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism, including violent extremism, through all relevant OSCE instruments and structures. In particular, this consensus ensures a visible profile of the OSCE following the high level discussion on countering violent extremism in the margins of the UN General Assembly and the expected adoption of a UN Action Plan on preventing violent extremism in 2016.




Tackling the World Drug Problem


The Ministerial Council Declaration on the OSCE Activities in Support of Global Efforts in Tackling the World Drug Problem (MC.DOC/2/15) underscores the OSCE participating States’ broad consensus to continue working together in addressing threats to their security and stability posed by illicit drugs. The Declaration reconfirms the OSCE Concept for Combating the Threat of Illicit Drugs and the Diversion of Chemical Precursors (PC.DEC/1048) and sends an important political message on the OSCE’s role in complementing the UN in preparation for the forthcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem. It reaffirms the role of implementation of the three UN International Drug Control Conventions (1961, 1971 and 1988) and the willingness of participating States to achieve targets and goals set out in the UN Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem, adopted in Vienna in 2009.

In 2016 the OSCE executive structures will continue to facilitate strengthening further international co-operation to achieve the goals set out in these Declarations, as well as to provide necessary assistance to interested participating States.




Youth and Security


The members of the Ministerial Council took note of the efforts of the current and previous OSCE Chairmanships and stressed the importance of promoting the implementation of the OSCE commitments on youth, particularly in the area of education and the role young people can play to support participating States in implementing OSCE commitments.




For a New Start on Resolving the Transdniestrian Conflict


Talks to resolve the conflict between Moldova and the breakaway region Transdniestria were first held in the “5+2” format in 2005. The format includes the sides (Transdniestria and Moldova) as well as the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine as mediators and the European Union and the United States as observers. The OSCE chairs the negotiations.

Despite the best efforts of the Chairmanship and the Mission to Moldova, no “5+2” meeting could be organized in 2015. The Ministerial Statement on the Negotiations on the Transdniestrian Settlement Process in the "5+2" Format, however, marks a reconfirmation of the willingness to engage in further meaningful dialogue aimed at the ultimate resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict. As such, it provides a solid basis for the German Chairmanship and the Special Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office, Cord Meier-Klodt, to continue these efforts in 2016.




OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference

Chairmanship Self-Evaluation, a New Tradition


The OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference that meets annually on the eve of the Ministerial Council to hold up a mirror to participating States’ implementation of human dimension commitments has become a tradition. The first one was held in 2010 on the occasion of the OSCE Summit in Astana. Meeting again in Vilnius the following year, a core group of civil society organizations (CSOs) formed the Civic Solidarity Platform, which since has grown to 80 CSOs and conducts not only the annual meetings but also other events and campaigns throughout the year.

Unfortunately, this time round in Belgrade, the list of alarming trends was again long. Activists discussed the shrinking space for civil society, the challenges posed by migration, preventing torture and enforced disappearances, and freedom of expression – with OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović joining as a guest speaker. They presented their recommendations, including the “Belgrade Declaration: Freedom of Expression under Threat” to representatives of the OSCE Troika for consideration by the Ministerial Council.

Another tradition began in 2014 under the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship. In 2014, Switzerland was the first to act upon the Civic Solidarity Platform’s proposal that the Chairmanship conduct a self-evaluation of its own performance in the area of human rights. Serbia agreed to follow suit when it took on the leadership of the Organization in 2015.

According to the methodology applied by Switzerland and followed by Serbia, the process of self-evaluation consists of three parts: reports by independent institutions, comments by CSOs and responses by the relevant ministries and government offices. At the Belgrade meeting, the coalition of Serbian CSOs responsible for monitoring of Serbia’s Chairmanship, led by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, presented its written comments, completing the second step of the process.

The Serbian Foreign Ministry used the same criterion as Switzerland for determining in which areas the self-evaluation was to be conducted: they should be topics on which OSCE reports had been published in the last five years. The Ministry chose gender equality, elections, freedom of assembly and the status of Roma. The CSO coalition added another three topics it deemed important: freedom of expression, the situation of national minorities and the protection of human rights defenders.

The assessments and recommendations to the Serbian government in the 131-page CSO report are detailed and many. To name just a few: changes in the election law to enable members of ethnic minorities to represent their interests and, in general, a comprehensive minority integration policy; a law on freedom of assembly (currently Serbia has none); new measures for social inclusion of Roma using the effective health mediation mechanism as a model; a media scene free from pressures on media owners, editors and journalists; and an environment in which human rights defenders can act without fear of reprisals.

The CSO coalition also comments on the self-evaluation process itself. It recommends not to limit topics to those covered by OSCE reports, as others may be more urgent. And it suggests completing the CSO feedback already at the start of a Chairmanship, so that the year of the mandate can be used to implement recommendations and begin monitoring them. Responses from the relevant government ministries are to come.




Read more:


Outcome documents of the 2015 OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference, including Feedback by the CSO Coalition for the Monitoring of Serbia’s OSCE Chairmanship:

More information on the Civic Solidarity Platform:




Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project

Rebooting European Security


It was at the Ministerial Council in Basel in December 2014 that the then Chairperson-in-Office, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, in the name of the OSCE Troika, called into being the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project. A year later, the final report of the deliberations by the group of seasoned statespersons and experts from across the OSCE region, entitled “Back to Diplomacy”, attracted strong interest at the Ministerial Council hosted by the Serbian Chairmanship in Belgrade. Launched on the first day of the meeting, it was discussed at the traditional Ministerial luncheon and the subject of a special side event and press conference. Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, who chaired the panel, summarized the main takeaways of the report:

“Every single panel member agreed that the current situation is actually the most serious and dangerous challenge to European security we have seen since the disintegration of the Soviet Union over the last 25 years. Our first, short-term recommendation is that we should try to make the situation as it stands less dangerous. We feel very strongly that measures to avoid misunderstanding, misinterpretation or accidental escalation need urgently to be concluded between all concerned parties. One particular aspect of this refers to updating the Vienna Document [the OSCE's major document on military confidence- and security-building measures].

Secondly, we found in our discussions that the narratives which we have on the western side are so diametrically opposed to the narrative in Russia that these narratives in and of themselves aggravate the situation. They make rapprochement, they make trust building an even bigger challenge. This is why we set out in such detail in our report three different narratives.

Thirdly, any fundamental effort to reconsolidate European security needs to be built on the basis of more progress in the negotiations in Minsk to resolve the crisis in and around Ukraine. Our report stresses the importance of this and we even suggest, as we move forward, an enlargement of the so-called Normandy format (which brings together Russia, Ukraine France and Germany), to include, for example, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Finally, in the larger strategic dimension, we propose that a robust, long-term diplomatic process be started to bring the parties to the table again. We need to figure out a way to talk to each other again; we need to set in motion a diplomatic machine, based on the Helsinki principles – not intending to change or soften or weaken Helsinki but to strengthen and to reaffirm these principles. I will conclude by suggesting that if such a diplomatic process is set in motion, beginning hopefully with the German OSCE Chairmanship this coming year, we would like to consider this a long-term process, the ultimate aim of which should be a summit meeting. Such a summit, if it is to be successful, to lead to strengthening European security, needs careful preparation, bilateral consultations in small groups, confidential discussions. Sitting at a table together, working out diplomatic solutions based on Helsinki is better than fighting in Donbas. This is why I hope our report will make a difference. I hope it will be taken up, as the OSCE, as the countries involved, move forward.”




Read more:


Back to Diplomacy: Final Report and Recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project:

Lessons Learned for the OSCE from its Engagement in Ukraine: Interim Report and Recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project:

Reviving Co-operative Security in Europe through the OSCE Contribution of the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions to the Panel of Eminent Persons 2015:

“Rethinking the OSCE and Security in Europe” by Fred Tanner in Security Community, Issue 1, 2015:

More information at:











Copyright * Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia - 2008

Web Design * Eksperiment