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OSCE: Role Of Human Rights Field Missions Growing

Warsaw, 3 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded a conference in Warsaw on Friday (April 30) on the role of its field missions in defending and extending human rights.

The conference heard from officials of the OSCE's 54 member states that the role of such field missions is dramatically growing. At the same time, some speakers expressed concern about manpower shortages and the amount of influence the monitoring missions actually have on human rights.

Norway's deputy foreign minister, Janne Haaland Matlary, summed up the discussions saying that the situation in Serbia's province of Kosovo is the "main challenge" for her country's chairmanship of the OSCE.

She said the Kosovo crisis showed "there is no security and no long-term stability without respect for human rights."

Matlary said that despite the fact that an OSCE verification mission had to leave Kosovo earlier this year as tensions increased, the number of OSCE missions has grown recently.

She also complained of the shortage of funds which, she said, "stretch the manpower resources and capacity of the organization to its very limits." Matlary called for establishment of a permanent structure within the OSCE Secretariat in Vienna to facilitate rapid planning and start-up of new OSCE field operations.

Matlary praised the quality of staff on the missions but said there is a need to train more people within a minimum of time to cut costs.

The head of the U.S. delegation, Norman Anderson, said the missions are chiefly monitoring violation of human rights. But he lamented the fact that violators are not facing punishment.

"Missions will be more effective in their human rights work if those violating human rights know that the missions do not operate in a vacuum but rather recognize that their violations will have repercussions. In this vein, all of us need to consider seriously how we can more effectively influence the sinister calculus of some violators who demonstrate no compunction whatsoever about committing egregious human rights violations if they believe such policies are conducive to maintaining their grip on political power."

Anderson did not propose solutions on how to punish the violators. But he struck an optimistic tone despite what he called the "shadow" hanging over the international community because of events in Kosovo.

"We can, however, leave (the conference hall) with a renewed sense of hope that the OSCE will help reverse the effects of Belgrade's barbaric ethnic cleansing campaign, and more ably promote human rights and fundamental freedoms whenever and wherever they may be threatened."

A Belarusian activist for the human rights monitor group Helsinki Committee in Minsk, Oleg Hulak, told RFE/RL the human rights situation in his country is deteriorating and the seminar is of great significance for the independent opposition. Representatives of Belarusian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called on the gathering yesterday to use "all possible measures in order to prevent the banning in Belarus of the activity of human rights organizations, trade unions and other NGOs and political parties".

A statement by the Helsinki Committee note that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has passed a decree requiring the registration of NGOs, labor unions and political parties before July 1.

The committee statement said that "the established procedures and regulations for re-registration are actually aimed at liquidating any organization independent of the regime."