STETE organised the seminar together with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs at the Institute’s premises in Katajanokka.
Remarkably, Kazakhstan was the first Central Asian, post-Soviet and non-democratic country to serve as the chairman of the OSCE. The seminar evaluated the achievements and failures of the Kazakh chairmanship in 2010. On the one hand, Kazakhstan managed to organise an OSCE summit for the first time in 11 years. One the other hand, participation of NGOs in summit-related events was restricted, and local human rights activists continued to be harassed. Did Kazakhstan’s chairmanship strengthen the OSCE or make it weaker as an organization?
Opening remarks were given by STETE´s Chair Krista Kiuru, MP (sdp)
Kazakhstan’s Scorecard- Did Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship Strengthen or Weaken the OSCE?
Kazakhstan was the first Asian, post-Soviet and non-democratic country to serve as chairman of the OSCE. 10 May 2011, STETE and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) organised together a seminar to evaluate the achievements and failures of the 2010 Kazakh Chairmanship. Kazakhstan had succeeded in organising an OSCE summit for the first time in 11 years, but received critique for restricting the participation of NGOs in the summit-related events. Also, at the time of the event, local Human Rights activists continued to be harassed.
Did Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship strengthen the OSCE or make it weaker as an organization?
Krista Kiuru, Member of Parliament and Chair of STETE welcomed the speakers and participants to the seminar. Member of STETE’s Security Council, researcher Sinikukka Saari from FIIA, chaired the event. She introduced the speakers and commented on the topic by pointing out how there was much talk about the Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship going on beforehand, yet rather little follow-up ensued afterwards. “Was the decision to allow Kazakhstan to chair the OSCE perhaps a failure like many civil society groups have claimed? Or was it in fact a success to include and give responsibility to participating states, which had previously been excluded from the Organization’s activities”, Saari reflected.
Ambassador Timo Kantola from Finland’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE gave the audience an overall picture of the Kazakhstan’s OSCE leadership and talked about the Organization as a whole. Was Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship a success or a failure? “The answer is somewhere in between”, Kantola replied. Despite being organised within a short time frame, the Astana Summit resulted in a Declaration and an Action Plan. According to Kantola, a failure to adopt the declaration would have taken the OSCE in to a crisis, so for instance in that sense the Summit was a victory. The declaration reaffirmed the earlier OSCE commitments, and this was not pointless.
A major event that took the 2010 OSCE chairman by surprise was the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiev and the violence in its neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Kantola also acknowledged the doubts, whether all OSCE’s participating States will begin, or continue, to value the Human Rights. He also contemplated whether with the Astana Summit Declaration it could be possible to further engage the Central Asian countries. Reminding how the 1975 Helsinki conference was initially met by sceptical remarks, Kantola suggested that perhaps also the results of the Astana summit and the Kazakh Chairmanship can be seen only in the years to follow – just like it was the case with Helsinki.
Kantola observed that the role of the OSCE has somewhat faded away during the years. “There has been a declining curve since the early nineties and it has been more difficult to find consensus. New dynamism could be brought by affecting the frozen conflict in Moldova”, Kantola suggested. Now the torch had been passed to the present chairman, Lithuania, to take up the challenge of steering the Organization forward.
As the only speaker at the seminar who actually had worked for the Kazakhstan Chairman-in-Office, Dr Kimmo Kiljunen shared his personal observations and intriguing insights from the field with the seminar participants, under the “Chatham House Rules”. He had been Special Representative for Central Asia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. The commission he was coordinating had also just published the Kyrgyzstan inquiry; a report which explored the 2010 violence that occurred in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. The chairmanship was a major challenge for Kazakhstan but also an opportunity to prove its credibility. From Kiljunen’s point of view, every country who participates in the OSCE can chair the organisation; otherwise it would be an invalid organisation.
Olof Kleberg, a Swedish journalist and Vice President of the Swedish OSCE Network provided a NGO-perspective to the discussion. Kleberg follows actively the work of the OSCE and participated to three Human Rights conferences in Astana just before the high-level Astana Summit in 2010. According to Kleberg, Kazakhstan had to make some concessions regarding Human Rights before the Chairmanship and made promises, but those promises were never fulfilled. For instance, the law on the right to assembly turned out to be, in fact, a law against the right to assembly, Kleberg observed in Kazakhstan. He evaluated the three civil society conferences he participated in as one “false”, one “fair” and one “real”. The false conference, dominated by the Kazakhs, had enthusiastic speakers praise the Human Rights situation in the country. The next review conference was better, as many local NGOs were able to present their views to the foreign journalists and diplomats. The so-called real conference’s atmosphere was very different according to Kleberg, as issues were dealt with more critically and a final document was adopted, which included constructive proposals.
From Kleberg’s point of view, the Astana Summit was just a confirmation of the status quo. There was no real action plan. Nevertheless, a positive development was that the “Central Asian reality” became an aspect within the OSCE. A new kind of commitment to the OSCE’s values also seemed to arise among the NGOs. Kleberg summed up, that “the Kazakhstan Chairmanship broadened the OSCE scope in Central Asian affairs, but also weakened the Human Rights scope, because Kazakhstan’s promises regarding the Human Rights were not fulfilled and the pressure on the local NGOs seemed to be increasing.”