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OSCE Chief Dismisses Criticism, Says 'We're Working On The Long Haul'

Marc Perrin de Brichambaut: "We do not seek to please."

Marc Perrin de Brichambaut: "We do not seek to please."

In an exclusive interview, OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut talks to RFE/RL about a range of issues facing Europe's leading human-rights organization, including Kazakhstan's upcoming chairmanship, Russia's influence on the organization, and whether political upheaval in Moldova has endangered a Transdniestrian peace settlement. The secretary-general also responded to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves' criticism of the OSCE as a consensus-based organization incapable of upholding high standards of human rights and democracy. RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher spoke to de Brichambaut in Washington.

RFE/RL: Not too long ago, the OSCE seemed quite optimistic about solving the Transdniester crisis. There seemed to be a consensus that it might be the easiest of all the frozen conflicts in the region to solve. What is the status of talks and did any of that optimism disappear as a result of the recent political upheaval in Moldova?

Marc Perrin de Brichambaut:
The reason the OSCE is involved in trying to solve the crisis is that because it has a mandate to do so. This mandate has been going on for quite a few years now, through ups and downs. And the recent upheavals, I don’t think, modify this mandate, nor will they modify the efforts that will be undertaken, both by the head of mission on the slot and by the special representative of the chair, in the context of the 3+2 contacts [Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, plus the United States and the EU] which have been taking place. So it’s business as usual in terms of trying to address the conflict.

RFE/RL: On May 12, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing to look at Kazakhstan’s upcoming chairmanship of the OSCE, and some of the concerns surrounding it taking over that responsibility in 2010. The chairman in office has a responsibility to fulfill certain obligations, including carrying out necessary liberal reforms in its own country. But recently, the speaker of the Kazakh Senate, Kassymzhomart Tokaev said, "All recommendations of the OSCE cannot be taken into account by Kazakhstan because of country specifics." Are you aware of this statement, and if so, what did he mean and how does the OSCE respond?

De Brichambaut:
I am aware that following a visit by the director of ODIHR [the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights], there was a statement by the president of the Senate, [who] is a former foreign minister, who is a very senior person in the hierarchy in Kazakhstan. And the arguments he has mentioned are not entirely unfamiliar. They call for more time for the full implementation of all of Kazakhstan’s commitments, and they call for a progressive tradition. In this sense, this is an approach we have already heard. And I think it is also the responsibility of all the participating states of [the] OSCE to keep up the friendly peer pressure on Kazakhstan to live up to its commitments.

RFE/RL: Do you think that will that be enough to bring about reform, or will Kazakhstan do what it wants regardless of what the other members think?

De Brichambaut:
I think the Kazakh chairmanship is wise, experienced, and stable and knows that it has espoused a transformation toward Europe -- a route-toward-Europe plan, if I could describe it correctly -- that does require the progressive adjustment of [its] legislation and good practices within the country.

RFE/RL: There is a growing perception among OSCE member states -- especially in RFE/RL’s broadcast area -- that Russia’s influence in the organization has become disproportionately large. They say in particular, Russia’s criticism of the OSCE’s election observation efforts in the region seems to color the OSCE’s decisions and judgments. Some human rights and democracy activists now dismiss the OSCE’s postelection reports out of hand, believing they lack credibility. How does the OSCE respond?

De Brichambaut:
Look, the way the OSCE operates is on the basis of long-term commitments and mandates, and it does so in a very scrupulous and methodical way. I don’t think there has been any change of practice whatsoever in the activity of election monitoring by ODIHR, or the activity of the field missions. They continue to be undertaken on the basis of principle, but also taking into account the need to accommodate the desires of the host country.

So in a sense, the OSCE being inclusive, it always has to take into account the various components which are within the OSCE family. We have not noticed any[thing] particular, in the intention of any of the participating states to drastically change old practices in the recent period.

RFE/RL: Have you heard the criticism that Russia has become too influential in the organization?

De Brichambaut:
I’m not familiar with any specific cases where this might have had an effect or be felt.

RFE/RL: A larger question is, what is the future of organizations like the OSCE at a time when human rights and democracy development is taking a back seat to global security concerns and so forth? Critics are asking if the OSCE still has a role to play, and if yes, if it’s failing to play it adequately.

De Brichambaut:
[The] OSCE is mandated to provide the maximum amount of security by working in three dimensions: the political/military dimension, the economic/environmental [dimension], and the human dimension, which includes human rights, which includes rule of law, promotion of democracy, freedom of speech, and so on.

And it is hard to assess the impact of the aggregate work that is done on this broad front on a short-term basis. There are good [and] bad moments in each of the dimensions. Not all the stories you could tell about what’s going on in the OSCE right now are negative. Far from it. We have been quite successful in achieving progress in many areas.

So, people do notice the difficulties that have been highlighted. For instance, following the conflict in Georgia last August, clearly; the difficulties that remain in some parts of southeastern Europe. But we’re working on the long haul. We’re working with the societies which we aim to help transform, modernize, and reach higher criteria of respect for the individual rights. All this is something where I don’t think we’ve been moving backwards.

RFE/RL: Has it gotten harder in, say, the last five years to fulfill the OSCE’s mandate?

De Brichambaut:
It’s hard to identify major trends. There are different situations in each of the various contexts, in each of the various countries. One major trend [recently], which is clearly not helpful, is the economic crisis. Because the economic crisis is weakening a number of fragile societies which are missing the input from remittances, which are missing the input from capital inflows from increased markets, and therefore [they] have less drive, if I may say, to make the modernizations which are necessary.

But by and large I don’t think we can identify negative trends over the last five years. This would be very unfair.

RFE/RL: This week Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told RFE/RL that “any consensus-based organization, as the OSCE is, will lead to a common denominator and the common denominator when it comes to democracy is fairly low.” He criticized the fact that one veto can spoil an initiative or decision. He also said ODHIR, which monitors elections, has shown itself to be susceptible to pressure from countries that don’t embrace democratic values to pull back its monitoring activities. How do you respond?

De Brichambaut:
Well, I would respectively point [out] that the OSCE, when it makes its assessment, makes it in relation to a principle, not to consensus-making. The election-monitoring conclusions are an assessment of how well the standards and commitments that exist within the organization have been fulfilled and whether any progress has been achieved since previous democratic consultations.

And in this sense, sometimes people are misled [by] the comments that take place immediately after the vote, which are usually rather mild and coded, and [they] do not pay enough attention to the much more substantial reports that come out two or three months after the vote, which outline in great detail all the characteristics of the vote and the potential voting process and the state of democracy in a given country. And they point to the necessary adjustments and changes.

So on this particular issue, we do not seek to please. We seek to remind people of their commitments and how they have to do more in order to fulfill them.