The High Commissioner's mandate tasks him/her to provide early warning and early action "in regard to tensions involving national minority issues which have not yet developed beyond an early warning stage, but, in the judgment of the High Commissioner, have the potential to develop into a conflict within the OSCE area".
The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) has a twofold mission: first and foremost, to try to contain and de-escalate tensions and, second, to alert OSCE participating States whenever such tensions threaten to develop to a level which cannot be contained with the means available to the HCNM.
The High Commissioner is expected to assess situations and give advice to governments and other actors in confidence - through quiet diplomacy rather than through public exposure. The condition of confidentiality:
Operating in confidence and independently of all parties involved, the High Commissioner frequently travels to countries, engaging in preventive diplomacy at the earliest sign of tension. The HCNM travels not only to the capital cities and seats of government, but also to the regions where minorities reside - meeting with government officials and authorities, national minority representatives and members of civil society - to assess the situation first-hand.
The High Commissioner reports directly to the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on these visits, submitting confidential reports that provide an assessment of the situation at hand and may draw the Chairman's attention to issues requiring further action.
To keep participating States informed on activities, the High Commissioner regularly addresses the OSCE Permanent Council with general statements that do not reveal specific details.
In addition, the High Commissioner maintains regular bilateral contact with the governments of participating States to stay informed about their positions and assessments and, in turn, to inform them about activities of the HCNM's office and issues meriting attention. For the High Commissioner to be effective, political support from OSCE participating States is essential.
The High Commissioner can draw attention to worrying signs and developments that may require the attention of the international community. Only twice has the HCNM invoked article 13ff of the mandate and issued an early warning to the Chairperson-in-Office. On 12 May 1999, the alarm was raised about the possible repercussions on inter-ethnic relations from the large influx of Kosovo Albanian refugees into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. On 12 June 2010, the High Commissioner warned that the inter-ethnic situation in Kyrgyzstan would deteriorate further unless effective and immediate action was taken.
- Early warning - no action? by Sabine Machl in: Security and Human Rights, Vol. 21(3), 2010 (p.170).