Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss with members of the Permanent Council about my work as the Personal Envoy of the CiO for Central Asia. I very much apologise that I had to cancel my planned address here in June and I am glad that we could find this new opportunity.
As you know, the Chairman in Office of the OSCE, the Foreign Minister of Netherlands, earlier this year appointed me as his personal envoy for the Central Asia region. My task is to maintain contacts at the highest political levels with all the countries concerned. I am consulting on current OSCE issues with the view of strengthening long-term relationships between the Central Asian states and the OSCE. There is very good work done and important projects carried out in all the Central Asian countries by the OSCE Centres and Institutions and the centres are ready to assist more.
As representatives of the participating States you are aware of the growing engagement of the Central Asian participating States in the OSCE and the OSCE participating States and institutions in Central Asia over the past years. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of the OSCE as a platform where participating States interact. This benefits the countries in Central Asia, as well as those outside Central Asia. The OSCE is the only forum, which provides for a regular contact between governments from the former Soviet Union, Europe, and northern America. It is the only Euro-Atlantic security structure where the Central Asian countries are represented as full members.
All participating States made a promise when they joined this organisation. The commitments they entered in are universal in nature. The reform agenda is inherent to the membership itself and it is to be driven from inside the countries. The OSCE's role is helping the participating States in carrying out the reforms they have initiated.
The transition from the Soviet system to market economy and democracy in Central Asia has proved to be a longer and more difficult process than expected. It has been wrong to assume that once the Soviet system fell, democracy and market economy would be constructed overnight. Building democracy in the West also took centuries. We have to realise that the reform process is a slow process. But at the same time we have to make sure that the reform process is actually going forward, how ever slow it might be.
I have no illusions that the democratisation process and institutional reforms would be easy or results rapidly attainable. However, without a solid institutional framework for the exercise of public power, free and fair elections will not lead to representative or accountable government. Without effective institutions to implement the rule of law, states will not be able to provide protection of human rights and minority rights.
Economic development and everyday survival of the citizens are vital for stability. Without stable economic regulatory structures to establish a climate favourable to business enterprise, neither privatisation nor trade liberalisation will generate sustainable economic growth. Fragile institutions are extremely vulnerable to corruption that further endangers the fair and equal treatment of citizens.
I emphasised insitutional reform in transition and development, because it is extremely important. But it is not enough. I think that we often have a too technical and mechanical approach to development. We tend to assume that elections, institution building and new management models will be sufficient. Change in the society requires a change in people’s attitudes and values concerning power, work ethics and society as a whole. This can only be achieved through citizens’ participation and education. Democracy is a culture, not merely an election or institutions.
The Central Asian countries have not been on the agenda of the OSCE for too long. They became members in 1992, following independence in late 1991. Developments in these countries only appeared regularly on the political agenda of the organisation in the second half of the 1990s, although the civil war in Tajikistan caught OSCE's interest already in 1993. In 1995, a regional center was opened in Tashkent, followed with OSCE Centres in 1999 in all countries.
International attention towards Central Asia significantly increased since 11 September 2001. There was a recognition that external security threats, emanating mainly from Afghanistan, did have an impact on the developments in Central Asian countries. Two years later, with an increased attention by the international community for Central Asia, there is awareness of the problems, but also the recognition of the need for engagement.
The impact of the developments in Afghanistan to Central Asia and to the wider region is better acknowledged by the other participating States now. Afghanistan has recently become a Partner for Cooperation of the OSCE, which can open further avenues for cross border cooperation. Three participating States - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - share a border with Afghanistan and therefore obviously have mutual security interests with the new Partner.
The OSCE acts strongly in the human dimension area, in fields such as capacity- and institution building, strengthening the rule of law and in promoting good governance. Especially recently, the OSCE in Central Asia has increased activities and projects also in the political-military dimension and in the economic and environmental dimension. Increased attention to the other two dimensions does not mean decreased attention to the human dimension, but a balanced approach to all the three. We can also not isolate the three dimensions from each other. The basis of economic development lies in respecting the rule of law.
In March and May I visited four of the five Central Asian participating States, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. I made two visits to Tajikistan and one to each of the other three. I have not yet been able to travel to Kazakhstan, but have made a commitment to travel to Kazakhstan during this autumn.
During my visit to the region, I met with the political leaderships - in Kyrgyzstan with the President, First Deputy Prime Minister and others; in Tajikistan with the President, Vice Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament; in Uzbekistan with the Vice Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament; and in Turkmenistan with the Foreign Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament - as well as with representatives of the civil society, with journalists and with international organisations and ambassadors of the participating States. In Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan I also met with Governors of different regions to get acquainted with the situation outside of the capital cities.
Many issues were discussed during my visit. These include the cooperation with the OSCE in different spheres, the role of the non-governmental organisations, pluralism in political life, and regional cooperation.
In Kyrgyzstan, the main topics included good governance, the importance of an independent media and the institution of ombudsman, which had started to work a few months ago in Kyrgyzstan. I was very pleased to hear for example about the strong commitment of the Kyrgyz authorities to support the police reform project of the OSCE. We also discussed issues such as drug trafficking and regional cooperation, especially in the Ferghana valley.
In Uzbekistan, the main issues discussed were the importance of dialogue between the government and the opposition, the situation of the NGOs, human rights concerns such as torture, and regional cooperation. I was pleased with the Government's expressed commitment to implement the democratisation process. My interlocutors emphasised that this is because the country itself needs the reforms, not because the outside actors are pushing for them.
In Tajikistan we discussed at length for example the issue of a moratorium on death penalty. Demining, drug trafficking and regional cooperation were also on the agenda. There had been positive developments since my first visit to the country two months before. These included the progress in the mine action programme and increased pluralism in the political life when the possibilities of the opposition party to work in all the regions of the country had been enhanced.
In Turkmenistan the possibility of the ICRC to visit detainees was among the issues I especially emphasised. We discussed among other things the entry and exit visas. While on these issues visible improvements are still to be seen, I noted with satisfaction that even when the Government had faced a difficult period following the attempt at the President's life, reintroducing the death penalty had not been implemented.
Of the issues discussed during my visit, I would like especially to draw your attention to three things: the strengthening of the civil society, the quality of education, and functioning regional cooperation.
In all my meetings I emphasised the importance of dialogue between the authorities and civil society. The need to support civil society in Central Asia through the creation of non-governmental organisations is obvious. NGOs are a necessary underpinning of a democratic society. NGOs provide a means for organised citizen participation in the changing legal and economic systems and they promote pluralism by channeling the interests of varying cultural and ethnic identities. The continued formation, growth and survival of these organisations is essential if the citizens of countries in transition are to continue to accept the changing role of the state, their own new roles as participants in democratic societies, and the fluctuations of the market.
We need to support the development of a civil society based on local circumstances, not as it exists in our own countries. Every country has its own traditions, culture and history, and the civil society has to be based on these conditions. This can of course not be an excuse for not supporting the independent civil society. We need to help the NGOs to get meaningfully involved and recognised as a partner by the Government. At the same time we must have long-term commitment. We must also guarantee sustainability of projects, which we have found deserving of support. Progress is not secured through only supporting programmes and projects that are short-lived. Instead, progress can be achieved by creating means for self-sufficiency, and by creating true social capital.
One of the challenges I would especially like to take up is that of education. One of the most important things for the countries would be to maintain the fairly good level of the education system that they inherited from the Soviet time. This is the only recipe for success in the future. Unfortunately at the moment the level of education, both in qualitative as well as quantitative terms, is declining. I think that a greater emphasis on the education sector by the participating States and the international community at large would be beneficial. The hope that the many problems of the area can be solved in the future lies in the human resources of the countries themselves. If people who are capable of managing the society - in governmental structures, NGOs as well as in business - are lacking, the reform process will become even more difficult than it is now.
The importance of good relations between neighbourly countries is obvious all around the world. The OSCE has a long tradition in promoting good neighbourly relations. Trade contacts, investment opportunities and every day people-to-people relations are seriously hampered by decreased number of border crossings, difficulty in obtaining visas etc.
I have emphasised in all my meetings during the visit, that if the countries themselves want the reform process to go further, the OSCE is there to help. The OSCE stands ready to assist in strengthening institution building in areas in which it has particular expertise or can provide added value, such as the rule of law, elections, media, police, and combating trafficking. But the initiative and the political will for the reforms can only be done by the leaderships of the countries themselves, the outside actors can only provide support in the process.
The OSCE is only a small organisation. At the moment it is present with Centres in all five countries, but the overall amount of resources involved is quite limited. But the presence of the Centres in the host countries and also field offices in some of them, is of great importance. The Centres and field offices are in the countries to be supportive and to provide assistance to the governments as well as the civil society institutions. The presence on the ground should be seen as an asset by the countries hosting the Centres.
What is perhaps needed, is more ownership of the Central Asian participating States to the organisation. More involvement in the activities of the organisation, in the Secretariat as well as other structures by all the participating States is called for as well as active participation of Central Asian countries in the OSCE discussions in Vienna. One thing I would especially like to mention, which I also stressed in my meetings with the authorities of the countries I visited, is participation to international - OSCE and other - meetings. The international gatherings such as the Prague Economic Forum or the Almaty OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting would have provided good opportunities for all the participating States to present their points of views and to be listened to by others.
Allow me a few general comments on the OSCE's role in conflict prevention and crisis management. As OSCE's work in Central Asia has demonstrated, the organisation's strength lies in its wide field presence and flexibility in adapting its agenda to suit continually changing security challenges.
But in order for the OSCE to be able to perform and meet the challenges also in the future it needs to review constantly how it manages its operations and resources. I see your organisation being a pioneer among international organisations in realising the need to standardise and streamline the approach of the international community to crisis management. To do this requires clear responsibility and accountability, better coordination of the work of the international players and better interoperability among the organisations.
To this effect, the use of modern technologies will allow faster and more effective involvement of the international community in supporting the rehabilitation and ultimately the establishment of a functioning administration in a post-conflict area. The OSCE management reform of identifying clear accountability and responsibility providing transparency and flexibility while at the same time streamlining and automating processes in partnership with the IT industry is very much what is required at the international level.
As my final point, I would like to say to the participating States and the donor community, that we need more flexibility in terms of money allocated to the OSCE projects. At the moment the situation is such that often there is no money for projects during the first half of the year. This especially concerns the projects in the human dimension. The moneys pledged arrive during the summer and they have to be used by the end of the year. There should be more flexibility so that support for a project could be used during the next 18 months, for example, or without time constraints. This would enhance the organisation's possibilities in planning for long-term, multi-annual projects.
It is important to maintain the dialogue in all levels, and with all actors, with governmental and non-governmental. For that we need mutual understanding and respect. In the conversations with all my interlocutors, I encountered a positive attitude. From there we can discuss and work together as equal partners on issues which concern us all. Despite the slow progress in some areas, there is no alternative to dialogue. Persistent cooperation, not confrontation or isolation, is the only possible solution.