I CARE - Special Report - shdm

Live reporting from the OSCE calendar Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting: The Role of National Institutions against Discrimination in Combating Racism and Xenophobia with Special Focus on Persons belonging to National Minorities and Migrants,


Quotes of the day - From the editor - Civil Society Round Table - bits from the Plenary sessions - A Crickley Reality check - Christian Strohal, a hard act to follow - A good old Holy See remark - The Vienna Grapevine

Quotes of the day

'I could not even do my daily work without ICARE'

'Is ICARE's reporting about yesterday online already?' (eager beaver)

'What I would like to see in a new ODIHR director is that he stands behind AND next to the NGOs, sees the importance of Civil Society for ODIHR, and that he is accessable for NGOs. We don't need an ivory tower diplomat. Really, I want another Strohal'

From the editor

Caught by a big fat bug

First of all, our apologies for publishing this report so late. Flying back from Vienna a bug caught us and would not let us out of its clutches for days. While lying in bed being ill, many a good line or great op-ed was lost. Plus, knowing that our fans were waiting made us even more miserable and the shame of not publishing on time drove the fever to great heights. Now, one week later, I'm looking at my notes and wonder who wrote them or what the hell I meant at the time; 'Central freedom and the lack of religions.' Who said that? Another gem; 'Compacting interest, long distance yet to ignore'.
Well, here it is. Read it and weep. Better yet, don't weep but first read the official stuff here. In general, there was not a lot to report. The overall feeling was that hammering-out guidelines and discussing the best way for Partcipating States to found (or improve on) National Institutions Against Discrimination was a somewhat tedious exercise. The mood was tepid, not many new ideas were heard and everybody was happy that the Civil Society roundable had produced a firm set of reccomendations. The Crickley reality check woke people up somewhat, blanket gone, no coffee, no breakfast :-). See further.

Ronald Eissens for ICARE news.

Civil Society Round Table

The Civil Society Round Table started somewhat late but attracted more than 40 NGO representatives from within the OSCE region. After opening remarks by a quite heavy delegation (Ambassador Christian Strohal, Director of the ODIHR, Ambassador Antti Turunen, Head of the Permanent Mission of Finland to the OSCE and by Jo-Anne Bishop, director of the Tolerance and non-Discrimination Programme of ODIHR) Mr. Don Flynn, Chair, Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants took over to lead the NGOs through the process of drafting recommendations for National Institutions Against Discrimination (NIADs). Ms. Pascale Charhon, Director of ENAR introduced the issues surrounding NIADs and after this the meeting spent the rest of the morning drafting a document. All in all this was a rather smooth process. One of the main concerns of NGOs was that NIADs don't become a thing in itself that does not communicate, cooperate or listen to NGOs and that creating and funding a NIAD could not be an excuse for governments to stop support for Civil Society. These concerns, and others, are addressed in the recommendations.

It is good to note that a recommendation in the preamble deals with civil society preparatory meetings in general; 'We recommend that this initiative be institutionalized in future OSCE human dimension meetings'. Civil Society preparatory meetings are originally an idea of the Tolerance and non-Discrimination Programme and have been held a few times in the past: at the 2005 Cordoba conference and at the 2007 Bucharest conference and have shown to be an excellent instrument to channel, streamline and focus NGO recommendations. However, there are pitfalls. Civil Society preparatory meetings resulting in joint recommendations to the OSCE participating states should not replace the right of every NGO to do an intervention. Both joint recommendations and single NGO interventions have their uses. Voices coming out of certain delegations suggest that NGO participation at the OSCE should be 'regulated' which is, looking at those who peddle that idea, a way of controlling and minimizing NGO input and impact. We should all be very weary of those kinds of ideas, which erode the purpose and workings of the OSCE.

ICARE Newsteam, Vienna

Bits from the plenary sessions

The first official session had as speakers Ms. Johanna Suurpää, Ombudsman for Minorities of Finland and representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Ambassador Christian Strohal, director of the ODIHR, Conressman Alcee L. Hastings, President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Mr. Morten Kjærum, the executive Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights and Designated Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

Mr. Hastings underlined the need for National Institutions Against Discrimination by giving examples of the current situation in the USA and mentioned a point that had also come up during the Civil Society meeting in the morning: 'We must also note the very real problem of racial profiling that has increasingly become a problem for Muslim and recent migrant populations in the wake of 9/11'. He also mentioned the worrisome situation for Roma in Italy and reminded everybody of the fact that if you walk into government buildings, racial and ethnic minorities are often domestic workers or secretaries, not managers, a pattern which is similarly reflected in the private sector. It is not suprising that here in the European part of the OSCE region we see exactly the same. Discrimination and exclusion work the same the world over.

Mr. Michael McClintock, Advisor to the Fighting Discrimination Programme, Human Rights First, gave an overview of the recommendations made by the Civil Society roundtable in the morning. Here is the complete document.

During the Friday session, Ms. Pascale Charhon, director of the European Network Against Racism outlined on what in her view National Institutions should be based. Here are some relevant parts of her speech:

Looking at the situation of NIADs within the European Union, it is worth recognising the importance of the UN Paris principles on national institutions protecting human rights which have set the key norms for equality bodies to operate in international law. These principles include:

  1. Independence guaranteed by statute and or constitution
  2. Autonomy from government
  3. Pluralism including in membership
  4. A broad member based on universal human rights standards
  5. Adequate resources and adequate power of investigation

The 1997 COE ECRI Recommendation on specialised bodies to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance has also provided a series of principles for setting the frame of operation of specialised national bodies.

  • Equality bodies should work towards the elimination of the various forms of discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and also have a role in monitoring the content and effect of legislation with respect to their relevance to the aim of combating racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance.
  • They are to provide aid and assistance to victims, including legal aid, in order to secure their rights before institutions and the courts. They should hear and consider complaints and petitions concerning specific cases and seek settlements. In this context, they should also have appropriate powers to obtain evidence and information.
  • They should provide information and advice to relevant bodies and institutions, including State bodies and institutions and issue advice on standards of anti-discriminatory practice in specific areas. They also have a role in promoting the awareness of the general public to issues of discrimination and to produce and publish pertinent information and documents.
  • With regard to their independence, specialised bodies should be provided with sufficient funds to carry out their functions and responsibilities effectively. In setting up specialised bodies, Member States should ensure that they have appropriate access to governments, are provided by governments with sufficient information to enable them to carry out their functions and are fully consulted on matters which concern them.

The complete text can be read here.

A Crickley Reality check

In her closing Remarks, Ms. Anastasia Crickley, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chair in Office on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions (Gee, it gets longer every time) first made a few practical remarks, like 'if we want to manage things, you need to measure them'. She thanked and commended Civil Society for their useful contributions and said that on the matter of definitions we 'should not fight too much where the comma goes'. She then looked at the room and said: 'to the participating Sates I would like to say, discrimination is a reality. A reality which was made very clear during the WCAR'. She also stressed that States should not confuse good practice with compliance and mentioned, like others had before, the need for independency of National Institutions Against Discrimination. It was a quite forceful speech, in a tone of voice that most diplomats are not used to. Her speech seemed to say: now get real. You can sit here in this cozy room and talk a mile a minute, but out there are real problems. This speech got her the uncommon honor of a loud ovation (by NGOs). Well done, Anastasia!


Lastly, Ambassador Christian Strohal, director of the ODIHR took the floor to close the conference and he seemed to be infected by the same mood as Ms. Crickley. He stated that this meeting would be his last shdm, and that he had chaired 16 shdms and 5 HDIMs since he took office in 2003. He further said that 'without Civil Society we would not be here' and that he was 'happy with reality checks in this hermetically closed Hofburg'. Strohal, who will be leaving the ODIHR next month, said that he had enjoyed working together with both the NGOs and the diplomats, and that although 'the message is not always pleasant, making it pleasant would not take the reality away and would make us respond less effectively'. 'I feel priviledged that I was allowed to lead ODIHR and I will continue to be useful and helpful wherever I will be'. After this he thanked everybody, with a special mention for Jo-Anne Bishop and her team, Nasreen, Floriane, Daniel.

Of course there were lots more speeches and contributions during the 2-day meeting. Those will be online soon here.

Christian Strohal, a hard act to follow.

Since ICARE has been coming to the OSCE (from 2002/2003 on) Ambassador Christian Strohal was the face of the ODIHR. Now he's on his way out, going to Geneva as ambassador of Austria, where he will also be part of the permanent mission to the UN. It is inevitable that he will miss the OSCE, but he seemed to be very jolly at the closing session when he told us that this would be his last shdm. At any other intergovernmental institution or body, when someone starts to blab about NGO access and participation and how very very important all of this is, you can be sure it is mostly lip service. When Christian Strohal says it at the OSCE, you know he means it and if need be he will personally enforce it. Really. We've seen him do it. Already for that it is a real pity he's leaving. Christian Strohal will be a hard act to follow. Will the new director (a Slovenian diplomat, it seems) possess the same qualities of impartiality, a strong sense for both diplomacy and Civil Society relations and management? Let's hope he does. Anyway, since ICARE also tries to meddle at the UN, we will meet Ambassador Strohal again at the Palais des Nations and of course he can stay 'in the loop' by reading the ICARE OSCE reporting. Good luck Christain Strohal, and thanks for all your great work!

Here's the official blurb on Strohal.

All his OSCE speeches (107!) can be found here.

A good old Holy See remark (opinion)

During the closing session, the Holy See delegate stated that 'we spend too much time on other issues, we need to go back to the original mandate'. Those who are familiar with the ODIHR/TnD programme will understand what is meant here. The Tolerance and non-Discrimination Programme is tasked with a number of issues , and discrimination of GLBT is not one of them. Every time the 'gay issue' (shriek!) is mentioned at a meeting (or the Holy See thinks it is mentioned or fears it will be mentioned) they come with remarks like above. Or worse. Pushing all the time to include discrimination of Christians in the ODIHR Tolerance agenda, but at every opportunity slipping in insidious and often obfuscated little remarks about GLBT. That's the Holy See at work at the OSCE. Always happy to want the OSCE to 'ensure and facilitate the freedom of the individual to profess and practice a religion or belief, alone or in community with others', not so hot on the rights of individuals to profess and practice their gay or lesbian nature. They are by no means unique in this (some delegates like to call GLBT 'a lifestyle' (like sexual nature is a choice for playing football or riding a hummer) but they are by far the most outspoken.

The Catholic Church is the only religion that is a participating state of the OSCE (since 1973), probably because Christianity was (and still is) the predominant religion of the OSCE region, and despite the fact that most OSCE participating states know a strict division of religion and state in their constitutions. As far as I'm concerned, either no religion should be part of the OSCE, or all of them, including Princess Whatshername of the Raelean movement (UFOs, Swastika's in a star of David, cloning, mother ships and other drivel) and ' The Church of Scientology', who have both recently'discovered' the OSCE. Preferably we should have no religions at all as OSCE Participating states. A religion is not a state, not even the quaint historical legal construct called 'Vatican' and having a religion as full blown participating states leads to problems. Certainly respect and tolerance towards religions is a good thing, but I don't think we should tolerate intolerant behavior by religions.

Ronald Eissens for ICARE news.

The Vienna Grapevine…

was doing overtime at the shdm! Let's start with a confirmed rumor. There will be a follow-up next year (probably summer) of the 2007 Bucharest High-Level Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding. Word is that it will be held in Paris but the French are not commenting on that (which is as much as a 'yes', of course). Gossips told us that a high-ranking TnD official has started a relationship with a Dutch guy who also works at ODIHR and last but not least there was the nasty rumor about ICARE 'trading favors' (don't we all). Well, it's true! Here's proof, a photo of us bribing the lovely ladies of the Conference Services department with chocolate!

Post Scriptum: The Bucharest follow-up conference story is a total crock. Yes, some countries want this and a lot of countries don't want this. If it is officially proposed, the Ministerial in December will have to decide on it. The person who fed us this story as a fact seems to want to use ICARE to put pressure on OSCE desicion making - or wants to pull our leg. Well, the former is really reaching - we're not influential, we're just ICARE. The latter is stupid, it's not like this does not come out. More fun are those diplomats that would neither confirm or deny - they're playing things very close to their chest, but that's understandable. All in a day's work.

ICARE Newsteam, Vienna