Good and effective legislation is the foundation of every functioning state based on the rule of law.
Laws can only be followed if they are clear and concise, and they should be adopted following proper democratic procedures. At the same time, laws adopted by OSCE participating States need to be in compliance with relevant OSCE commitments, as well as with international human rights instruments ratified by individual states.
In order to ensure the quality and effectiveness of legislation related to the human dimension in the OSCE region, ODIHR provides support to OSCE participating States by reviewing both their lawmaking systems and relevant draft and existing legislation. In providing such support, ODIHR draws on legislative guidelines on specific human dimension areas, such as freedom of assembly and political party legislation, as well as www.legislationline.org, ODIHR’s online legislative database.
ODIHR assesses lawmaking systems in OSCE participating States in an effort to make them more efficient and more transparent and ultimately improve the quality of legislation.
These comprehensive legislative assessments examine the regulatory framework, structure, methods, and levels of interaction of lawmaking bodies, as well as the mechanisms and procedures in place for preparing, drafting, adopting, assessing, publishing, and monitoring the implementation of legislation. The overall objective of these assessments is to provide an accurate account of the legislative process in the country in question, together with an analysis leading to recommendations to improve the efficiency and transparency of the lawmaking procedure. Using such written assessments as the starting point, ODIHR, in close co-operation with the respective OSCE participating State, organizes seminars and workshops aimed at sharing information about lawmaking issues with high-ranking government and parliamentary officials.
An example is the assessment conducted in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2009-2010, where follow-up events were organized to provide a forum to debate an array of topics, such as transparency and public participation, techniques in lawmaking, and monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of laws.
Ideally, assessment, and follow-up events lead to recommendations for parliament, government, and other relevant actors on how to improve the legislative process and thus, in the long run, the quality of legislation.
All democracies, whether established or developing, undertake legal reforms on a regular basis. In the case of OSCE participating States, such reforms may be undertaken for a variety of reasons, whether to ensure that their legislation is in line with OSCE commitments and other international human rights standards or to respond to domestic or international challenges.
Upon official requests from OSCE participating States or OSCE field operations, ODIHR assesses the compliance of draft or existing legislation with international standards and practice. Such legal reviews include recommendations on how the legislation under review may be improved in order to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected.
Legal reviews can be prepared with respect to any of the human dimension topics falling within ODIHR’s mandate. Following the submission of a commentary, ODIHR experts and representatives often travel to the state in question to discuss their comments and recommendations with relevant officials directly.
ODIHR assists legislators by developing guidelines on specific and often complex legislative issues. These guidelines offer advice and expertise on the regulation of specific subjects, and are based on universal and regional treaties relating to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms – all recognized by OSCE participating States in their human dimension commitments – and on evolving state practice (as reflected, for example, in the judgements of national and international courts and the commitments of intergovernmental bodies), and the general principles of law.
In most cases, these sets of guidelines were drafted through an extensive consultative process involving expert discussions and thematic roundtables with participants from various OSCE participating States. Recognizing the great diversity of legal traditions in various OSCE participating States, the guidelines do not provide blanket solutions or aid in the development of a single model law for use in all OSCE states. Rather, they are intended to clarify key issues related to the respective subject matter and provide examples of potential good practices for states.
ODIHR, jointly with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, has published Guidelines for Review of Legislation pertaining to Religion or Belief (2004), Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly (2006, second revised edition 2010), and Guidelines on Political Party Regulation (2010).
Legislators often operate in a narrow legal space, and their work is sometimes impeded by the scarcity of legal resources available locally. These constraints are compounded by the fact that most governments in the OSCE region now face challenges that require new legislation in interdisciplinary or cross-cutting areas of law where there are no, or only poor, precedents and where they have little or no experience.
In order to facilitate better access to laws and to share good practices and precedents from other jurisdictions, ODIHR created an online legal database called Legislationline, which provides direct access to international norms and standards relating to specific human dimension issues, as well as to the domestic legislation of OSCE participating States and other relevant documentation.
Legislationline includes more than 7,000 pieces of legislation, and the website is available in both English and Russian. Domestic legislation from OSCE participating States is available in all six OSCE official languages.