I am pleased to welcome the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, no stranger to many of us from his leadership on the Lithuanian delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. My responsibilities as the PA President brought me to the far corners of the expansive OSCE region from the five Central Asian countries and from the Balkans to the Baltic counties and just about every place in between. It has been my privilege of heading a handful of international election observation missions on behalf of the OSCE. I have also visited most of the OSCE field missions and appreciate the Minister’s commitment to do the same – to get out into the field where the real work of the OSCE is accomplished.
The Western Balkans continue to be the primary focus of the OSCE field resources. As the situation in the region improves, the organization should look for ways to streamline and downsize its activities, freeing resources that perhaps could be directed elsewhere. At the same time, other international actors like the United Nations are also moving their missions and personnel from the Balkans to other areas around the globe, and the OSCE might be considered a useful last presence until stability, democracy and integration are assured. We also know of lingering problems in the region such as the political turmoil in Albania, to which the Lithuanian Chairmanship effectively responded to discourage further violence but which may continue as critical local elections approach. The situation in Kosovo and Bosnia also remain particular concerns, and official corruption and organized crime both plague all the countries of the region. I hope today we can get an assessment of the OSCE’s potential to deal with these regional issues during the course of your chairmanship.
As the Assembly’s Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, I have pursued extensive engagement with the countries of the broader Middle East region. Against this backdrop, I will be especially interested in the CiO’s assessment of the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt and their implications for security in the Mediterranean region and beyond.
Finally, while I commend the ongoing work of the OSCE in promoting tolerance and combating anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and racism too often commitments on paper have yet to be translated into action. I would note that 2011 has been designated the International Year for People of African Descent by the United Nations. I recall the important Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism that produced specific measures to be undertaken by the participating States, such as collecting data on related hate crimes. Our work here at the Helsinki Commission is to get countries to live up to their commitments – our shared commitments.
Thank you, Chairman Smith.