Some 270 members of parliament from the OSCE’s 56 member states are meeting in Astana, the Kazakh capital, to discuss an array of issues vital to the future of Europe’s leading human rights organization.
The annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly kicked off on June 29 and runs through July 3.
Topics being debated include democratic reform, water management, human trafficking, migration, Afghanistan, and “frozen conflicts” involving Georgia, Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
But Kazakhstan, the host, was the initial focus. Astana is struggling to implement democratic reforms despite promises to do so as part of its obligations to take over the chairmanship of the Vienna-based OSCE in 2010.
'In Good Faith'
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker voiced concerns about the Kazakh chairmanship in his opening speech on June 29.
"At the last meeting among the ministers in Madrid, Kazakhstan made some statements regarding planned domestic legislative reforms," Lennmarker said. "We are confident that Kazakhstan will continue to work towards meeting these commitments outlined by Kazakhstan in Madrid in good faith and in a transparent and inclusive manner."
“Transparency in the OSCE” is the main theme of this year’s meeting, which is supposed to build on last year’s session hosted by Ukraine. But transparency is precisely what has been lacking in many countries in the OSCE, particularly with regard to the democratic process.
Lennmarker said the OSCE is contributing "fresh ideas" and encouraging "lively debates" with Kazakhstan on issues such as transparency.
OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut also reminded Astana of its obligations, but suggested progress is being made.
"I feel confident that the government and the parliament of Kazakhstan will fulfill its commitments," he said.
At an OSCE gathering last year in Madrid, Kazakhstan pledged to push ahead with democratic reforms and create the conditions for a free media as a part of a deal giving Astana the rotating OSCE chairmanship in 2010. But so far, no reforms have been undertaken in Kazakhstan, where the OSCE has never recognized an election, including last year’s disputed parliamentary polls that left the ruling party as the only political force in the legislature.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told the assembly on June 29 that Astana is focusing on security, interreligious and intercultural cooperation.
While also noting that democracy should respect the "cultural principles of nations,” Nazarbaev used his speech to outline his government's priorities in an effort to show Astana’s willingness to pass democratic reforms.
"First, the creation of a legislative mechanism that allows for the formation of a parliament with no fewer than two parties," Nazarbaev said. "Second, the creation of favorable conditions for the registration of political parties. At the same time, we emphasize, and it should be clearly understood, the creation of a political party and its activities must adhere strictly to the constitution. Third is the development of the procedure for the electoral process. Fourth, the need for the removal of any unneeded bureaucratic barriers that regulate the functioning of the media. But in this the government insists that the activities of the media cannot become a reason for the violation of human rights, social, and religious tolerance or the security of the society of our country."
'Engaged' On Nagorno-Karabakh
On other issues, De Brichambaut said the OSCE remains "fully engaged" in trying to resolve the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
He also clarified the limits of the OSCE’s involvement in Georgia's territorial disputes.
"If you remember that when it comes to Abkhazia, the OSCE is not the organization. It is the United Nations that has a responsibility when it comes to trying to find a solution on Abkhazia," he said. "But the OSCE has a responsibility when it comes to South Ossetia, and there, of course, we want to focus from the Parliamentary Assembly to see a process to find a eaceful solution to the conflict."
The main task of the OSCE parliamentary assembly is to facilitate interparliamentary dialogue as part of seeking democratic reform throughout the OSCE area.
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report