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Kyrgyzstan-based NGO Spravedlivost named winner of 2014 Max van der Stoel Award

THE HAGUE, 10 July 2014 – Spravedlivost, a non-governmental organization based in Jalal-Abad in southern Kyrgyzstan, has been named as the 2014 winner of the Max van der Stoel Award, for its outstanding work in improving the position of national minorities in the OSCE area.

The international jury, led by OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors, said: “Spravedlivost is widely respected for its activities to promote human rights in Kyrgyzstan. It has worked for many years on issues related to the protection of the most vulnerable groups, including national minorities.

“The organization has developed a network of like-minded NGOs to monitor serious human rights violations and provide legal support for victims of torture. It has for many years proved to be making a considerable contribution to the protection of ethnic Uzbek and other communities, and to reconciliation between communities in Kyrgyzstan.

“During the 2010 events in Osh and in the region, and their aftermath, it took a vocal and active lead in supporting the victims, and provided free legal assistance to ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks accused of involvement in inter-ethnic violence. Its multi-ethnic staff has proved to be courageous, especially when facing threats and harassment due to the NGO’s efforts to promote impartial justice in the tense environment of southern Kyrgyzstan.”

Spravedlivost, which was established in 1994, has also worked to monitor conditions and counter torture and ill-treatment in places of detention – police custody, pre-trial detention facilities and prisons – in Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken, supported by the Centre in Bishkek through its Osh Field Office. Through its network, it provides medical doctors who assist detainees and detect torture at an early stage.

The Max van der Stoel Award will be presented to the winner on 2 October during a ceremony in The Hague by the Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.

10 July 2014
THE HAGUE, 10 July 2014 – Spravedlivost, a non-governmental organization based in Jalal-Abad in southern Kyrgyzstan, has been named as the 2014 winner of the Max van der Stoel Award, for its outstanding work in improving the position of national minorities in the OSCE area...
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The first OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max van der Stoel (seen here in Vukovar, Croatia), is often referred to as the "silent diplomat" for his work to resolve ethnic conflicts.
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OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities calls on political leaders in Skopje to unite and act to preserve stability

THE HAGUE, 17 June 2014 - On a visit to Skopje, Kumanovo and Tetovo from 10-13 June 2014, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors expressed serious concern with regard to recurring outbreaks of inter-ethnic incidents in the country. She noted that of immediate concern is the verdict in the 2012 Smiljkovci Lake murder case, which is expected to be delivered tomorrow, 18 June, and pointed out that it could lead to intensified inter-ethnic tensions.

“I continue to urge the political leadership to make a joint call for restraint and calm to avoid any disturbances,” Thors said. “ Unfortunately, the public discussion so far around the criminal proceedings has increased the risk of tensions.”

Thors was on her second visit to the country as High Commissioner, and during her trip examined both the short- and long-term stability in the country as well as structural measures to be taken to further integrate society and improve inter-ethnic relations.

The implementation of the integrated education strategy, which the High Commissioner has assisted with, was one of the main topics discussed. In Kumanovo, she visited schools, and in Tetovo, she paid a visit to the South East European University.Thors welcomed the government’s plans to prioritize education, emphasizing that the growing separation between the two main communities also needs to be addressed in the educational system and at all levels of governance.  The High Commissioner said she was inspired by the results achieved by the Nansen Dialogue Center Skopje, a previous winner of the Max van der Stoel award. “This experience demonstrates that there is a great deal of interest among teachers, parents and pupils to learn each other’s languages by using modern innovative methods of teaching. This is very encouraging, and such efforts should be supported by the government as well,” Thors said.

During her visit, the High Commissioner met with President Gjorge Ivanov, Prime Minister-elect Nikola Gruevski, other key ministers and leaders of political parties, as well as civil society and ethnic community representatives.

17 June 2014
THE HAGUE, 17 June 2014 - On a visit to Skopje, Kumanovo and Tetovo from 10-13 June 2014, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors expressed serious concern with regard to recurring outbreaks of inter-ethnic incidents in the country. She noted that of immediate concern is the verdict in the 2012 Smiljkovci Lake murder case, which is expected to be delivered tomorrow, 18 June, and pointed out that it could lead to intensified inter-ethnic tensions...
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OSCE/ODIHR and HCNM release report by Human Rights Assessment Mission in Ukraine

WARSAW / THE HAGUE, 12 May 2014 – The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) today released the report from the joint Human Rights Assessment Mission the two institutions sent to Ukraine in early March 2014.

The assessment and recommendations are presented in two separate sections in the report, with those in the first part based on the information gathered by 19 human rights experts deployed by ODIHR from 6 March to 1 April, and the second on information from several HCNM delegations of minority rights experts who visited Ukraine between 8 March and 17 April.

The ODIHR section of the report identifies a significant number of serious human rights violations, including murder and physical assaults, as well as cases of intimidation and enforced disappearances. The victims of these were primarily pro-Maidan activists and journalists, and those in Crimea also included Ukrainian military personnel and members of the Crimean Tatar community.

The HCNM found that the events in Ukraine are having a serious effect on the situation of national minorities, especially in Crimea. In Crimea, the Crimean Tatars are in a particularly precarious position, and ethnic Ukrainians have become a new focus of concern. The HCNM also found that hasty decisions on sensitive issues, such as language and other matters of direct concern to national minorities, without consultations with them, are creating an atmosphere in which inter-community relations and trust in the authorities are strained and tensions are heightened.

The Human Rights Assessment Mission was deployed following a request by the Government of Ukraine on 3 March.

12 May 2014
WARSAW / THE HAGUE, 12 May 2014 – The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) today released the report from the joint Human Rights Assessment Mission the two institutions sent to Ukraine in early March 2014...
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OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities visits Bosnia and Herzegovina

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors visited Bosnia and Herzegovina from 5 to 7 May 2014. She met key actors to gain a more comprehensive picture of the situation of persons belonging to national minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Among others, Thors had meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Trišić-Babić and key members of the international community.

She also held discussions with representatives of the State Council for National Minorities and the Republika Srpska’s Council on National Minorities. She encouraged the Councils for National Minorities to continue their involvement in the drafting of the Minority Rights Strategy. Thors commended the efforts made and the results achieved by Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Decade for Roma Inclusion. “I hope a similar positive outcome will be reached with the preparation and implementation of the Minority Rights Strategy,” Thors said.

She stated that it was important for Bosnia and Herzegovina to have a legal framework ensuring equal rights and opportunities, as well as effective participation, for all citizens. Thors added that an agreement to implement the Sejdić and Finci ruling must be reached as soon as possible and that the census data should not be politicized once released.  

9 May 2014
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors visited Bosnia and Herzegovina from 5 to 7 May 2014. She met key actors to gain a more comprehensive picture of the situation of persons belonging to national minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina...
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Statement by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities on her recent visits to Ukraine

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has been closely following developments in Ukraine since the office was established in 1993 to act as an instrument of conflict prevention at the earliest stage. The successive High Commissioners have paid particular attention to the inter-ethnic situation in Crimea, legislation regulating minority rights and language use, and the education of national minorities.

The High Commissioner’s mandate requires that she works behind the scenes and in confidence. She therefore issues few public statements. This statement provides an update on her most recent visits. Currently, High Commissioner Astrid Thors’ main concerns are language policy and the situation in Crimea.

Thors visited Kyiv, Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa from 23 to 28 March 2014, and Kyiv from 1 to 3 April. She made an earlier visit, which also included a trip to Crimea, on 4 to 6 March as part of a high-level OSCE delegation together with Ambassador Tim Guldimann, the Special Envoy of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. Her office is also contributing to a Human Rights Assessment Mission, in co-operation with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

During her most recent two visits, Thors was pleased to hear that the interim Government does not intend to make any hasty decisions regarding language policy. “There can be no doubt that the 2012 Law on the ‘Principles of the State Language Policy’ remains in force, and, legally, nothing has changed regarding the status of languages,” she said. “Therefore, there is no need for the Ukrainian Parliament to rush to make any new decisions. I hope that all political forces can adhere to this opinion.”

She reiterated her comments made in her public statement of 24 February that, to avoid increasing tensions, the authorities should ensure that the concerns of all ethnic and linguistic groups are taken into account and that consultations also encompass international organizations to ensure that any new language legislation meets European standards. She added that time is also needed to evaluate the merits and shortcomings of the 2012 Language Law, as well as its implementation in practice.

The High Commissioner has been able to speak to a wide range of interlocutors to assess the situation on the ground. She expressed particular concern that she heard a lot of conflicting impressions that are contributing to a climate of fear and confusion. Contradictory information leads to an “information war”. Any measures taken to restrict access to cross-border transmission of media should strictly comply with international standards, as stated by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. In addition, many people told her they are concerned about security and the presence of militarized groups with an unclear status. Thors commended the interim Government’s efforts to address the security issues in the country, including the disarmament of armed groups that exist outside of the legal framework, in order to combat such perceptions.

Thors also remains concerned about the situation in Crimea. Following her statement on 6 March, the High Commissioner reminded the authorities in effective control of Crimea that they remain responsible for the human rights, including minority rights, of all persons residing on the peninsula. “The people in Crimea, in particular the Crimean Tatars and the Ukrainian community, are in a precarious position. I urge the authorities in effective control to refrain from actions that exclude people from employment in the public and private sectors or force them to give up their property.”

She again drew particular attention to The Bolzano/Bozen Recommendations on National Minorities in Inter-State Relations, which state that while a State might have an interest in supporting persons belonging to national minorities in other States, “no State may exercise jurisdiction over the population or part of the population of another State within the territory of that State without its consent” because “the respect for and protection of minority rights is primarily the responsibility of the State where the minority resides.”

Astrid Thors
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities
The Hague, 4 April 2014

4 April 2014
The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has been closely following developments in Ukraine since the office was established in 1993 to act as an instrument of conflict prevention at the earliest stage. The successive High Commissioners have paid particular attention to the inter-ethnic situation in Crimea, legislation regulating minority rights and language use, and the education of national minorities...
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Deadline for Max van der Stoel Award nominations extended

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors announced today that the deadline for making nominations for the Max van der Stoel Award will be extended to 20 April 2014. The original deadline was 1 April.

The 50,000 EUR Award recognizes extraordinary and outstanding achievements in improving the position of national minorities in OSCE participating States.

Although nominations can only be formally submitted by OSCE field operations, institutions, and delegations of OSCE participating States, Thors encouraged other interested people to forward names of individuals, groups or institutions to an OSCE field operation, institution or delegation, which can subsequently choose to nominate such candidates on their behalf.            

Nominations must be submitted to the HCNM by 20 April 2014. They can be made to the office of the HCNM, by email to mvds@hcnm.org or through the online nomination form at www.maxvanderstoelaward.com/nominate. Please include the name of the candidate, relevant contact information and the reason for the nomination (100–200 words).

The Award will be presented by Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans in a ceremony in The Hague on 16 October 2014.

Established in 2001 by the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands, the Max van der Stoel Award honours the prominent Dutch statesman who was the first OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, while also highlighting issues related to national minorities.

25 March 2014
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors announced today that the deadline for making nominations for the Max van der Stoel Award will be extended to 20 April 2014. The original deadline was 1 April...
files/images/web/6/5/1908.jpg
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The first OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max van der Stoel (seen here in Vukovar, Croatia), is often referred to as the "silent diplomat" for his work to resolve ethnic conflicts.
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OSCE launches National Dialogue project in Ukraine

VIENNA, 20 March 2014 – The OSCE today started to deploy  a team of 15 international experts to Ukraine as part of a National Dialogue project to identify areas for further OSCE activities to support confidence-building between different parts of Ukrainian society.

The project team will be deployed for four weeks in selected locations agreed with the Ukrainian government to gather information about issues of concern, in particular political, humanitarian and minority issues.

The project aims to contribute to a peaceful and sustainable political transition in the country and to immediately address problematic issues through supporting a national, inclusive and impartial dialogue throughout Ukraine.

The team is being deployed following a request by Ukraine. The project will be carried out by the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine.

The 15-person expert team is headed by a Team Leader, Ambassador Hidajet Biščević of Croatia, and supported by ten locally-recruited administrative staff, interpreters and drivers.

The team will submit a final report with concrete recommendations on how the OSCE can support dialogue and restore confidence in Ukraine on the local, regional and national levels.

Note to editors:

This National Dialogue project is different from other initiatives taken by OSCE and its participating States, such as

  • the visit by military and civilian personnel from OSCE participating States to Ukraine under the Vienna Document 2011 to dispel concerns of unusual military activity; or
  • the election observation mission for the early presidential elections in Ukraine scheduled for 25 May 2014;
  • a possible future monitoring mission, which will go ahead if agreed by consensus of the 57 participating States.
20 March 2014
VIENNA, 20 March 2014 – The OSCE today started to deploy a team of 15 international experts to Ukraine as part of a National Dialogue project to identify areas for further OSCE activities to support confidence-building between different parts of Ukrainian society...
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Ambassador of Switzerland to Ukraine Christian Schoenenberger, Personal Envoy of CiO on Ukraine Tim Guldimann, OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine Madina Jarbussynova announce launch of National Dialogue Project at a press-conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, 20 March 2014
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OSCE Mission to Skopje promotes democratic values in youth party branches ahead of elections

Raising awareness among the youth branches of political parties on the importance of democratic values in an election process was the aim of a conference organized by the OSCE Mission to Skopje and the MOST non-governmental organization on 14 to 16 March 2014.

More than 55 representatives of 19 youth branches from different political parties came together to discuss their role within their organizations during election time, as well as lessons learned from political practice.

“Through direct and sincere discussion, the youth branches successfully challenge a trend towards polarization of the political landscape in the country,” said the Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, Ambassador Ralf Breth.

Ahead of the campaigns for the presidential and parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for 13 and 27 April, the conference sent a positive message with clear proposals to encourage dialogue between young activists of different political orientations and ethnic backgrounds.

MOST is a non-governmental organization promoting democratic culture and the main domestic organization observing the elections.

17 March 2014
Raising awareness among the youth branches of political parties on the importance of democratic values in an election process was the aim of a conference organized by the OSCE Mission to Skopje and the MOST non-governmental organization on 14 to 16 March 2014...
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Young members of several parties engaged in discussion during an OSCE-supported conference, Ohrid, 15 March 2014.
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OSCE Mission to Skopje supports launch of NGO network on inter-ethnic relations

An NGO network aiming to enhance inter-communal relations in the municipality of Struga was launched on 14 March 2014, with the support of the OSCE Mission to Skopje.

The launch event, organized by ten regional NGOs with diverse cultural, religious and social backgrounds, brought together more than 40 representatives from civil society, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and local institutions to discuss the development of a public-police partnership in the area.

“The inclusion of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups represented by their own community-based NGOs is a key element in providing equitable access to criminal justice and supporting crime prevention,” said Ismail Fert, Chief of the Police Development Unit at the OSCE Mission to Skopje.

A public pledge to “support the police in providing citizens of all ethnic, religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds with safety from any ethnic, cultural and religious exclusion; and to increase awareness of their rights and responsibilities” was signed by representatives of the NGO network and the Ministry.

14 March 2014
An NGO network aiming to enhance inter-communal relations in the municipality of Struga was launched on 14 March 2014, with the support of the OSCE Mission to Skopje...
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An NGO representative signing a public pledge on inter-ethnic relations, Struga, 14 March 2014.
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Developing situation in Crimea alarming, says OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

KYIV, 6 March 2014 – OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors is alarmed about the situation in Crimea.

On her return to Kyiv today, she said: “I am alarmed about the risk of violent conflict on the Crimean peninsula and the effects this could have on all communities, particularly the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar groups.”

Thors said the situation remains precarious. “Rash decisions on the future status of Crimea are a major source of tension and expose divisions between the peninsula’s communities that have been left unaddressed for decades. Like the Ukrainian community, Crimean Tatars have taken a different position to the majority population, which increases their vulnerability. Relations between ethnic groups on the peninsula are characterized by a growing climate of fear,” she said.

“I remind the authorities in effective control of the Crimean peninsula that they are obliged to ensure security and respect for human rights, including minority rights, for all those present on the territory, regardless of whether they are of Russian, Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar or other origin.”

“There is a real risk of bloodshed. All decisions on essential issues, such as the status of Crimea, language policy or national minority policy, must be taken in dialogue with all parties and be consistent with international law,” said Thors. During her visit to Kyiv and Crimea, the High Commissioner found no evidence of violations or threats to the rights of Russian speakers.

6 March 2014
KYIV, 6 March 2014 – OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors is alarmed about the situation in Crimea...
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Astrid Thors, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, The Hague, 27 August 2013.
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