Understanding the OSCE means understanding the freedoms and stability we now take for granted. The principles agreed in 1975 have shaped our political culture in ways considered truly pioneering at the time.
The Helsinki Final Act was a settlement on the territorial integrity of European states during the Cold War. But more than that, it linked the security of the international system with environmental sustainability, economic opportunity and human rights. Agreement was forged on the “freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,” and provided for equality for national minorities.
The boldness of this gesture encouraged a wave of grassroots activism across Europe, with citizens taking control of their responsibility to hold their governments true to their promises. Some of these Helsinki groups are still around today, and many of the others joined together to form what is now known as Human Rights Watch, an internationally-renowned NGO.
This framework became the primary way for the participating States to address security concerns within its region, based on principles of the peaceful settlement of disputes and the equality of sovereign states. This commitment to consensus, to politically-binding agreement, set the stage for an expansion of the notion of what security really means.
It was in the early 1990s, in Copenhagen, and at summits in Paris and Budapest, that the Organization was established as a permanent feature of Europe’s security regime, with a secretariat and an office dedicated to ensuring security by holding states accountable to their promise to free and fair elections.
As time has passed further commitments have been made, international co-operation has deepened and the Organization has developed. Time and again the participating States of the OSCE have reaffirmed their commitments to peace and prosperity, to democracy and co-operation, and in doing so, have ensured the security of their peoples.