The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is engaged in standard setting in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. In addition, the OSCE undertakes a variety of preventive diplomacy initiatives designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict within and among the participating States.
The OSCE has its main office in Vienna, Austria, where weekly meetings of the Permanent Council are held. In addition, specialized seminars and meetings are convened in various locations and periodic consultations among Senior Officials, Ministers and Heads of State or Government are held.
Selected OSCE Institutions and Structure
Summits - Heads of State or Government of the OSCE States set priorities and provide orientation at the highest level.
- Heads of State or Government of the OSCE States set priorities and provide orientation at the highest level.
Review Conferences - review implementation of all OSCE commitments.
The Ministerial Council - Foreign Ministers of the OSCE States act as the central decision-making and governing body of the OSCE activities.
The Senior Council - responsible for the overview, management and coordination of the OSCE activities.
The Permanent Council - responsible for the day-to-day operation of the OSCE.
The Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) - negotiates and consults on concrete measures aimed at strengthening security and stability throughout Europe.
The Chairman-in-Office (CiO) - vested with overall responsibility for executive action and coordination of current OSCE activities.
The Secretary General and the Secretariat - consists of the four permanent administrative departments under the Secretary General.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) - responsible for furthering human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) - responds at the earliest possible stage to ethnic tensions that have the potential to develop into a conflict within the OSCE region.
The Representative on Freedom of the Media - assists governments in the furthering of free, independent and pluralistic media.
The Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities - addresses economic, social and environmental issues of security.
OSCE Missions - serve as instruments of conflict prevention and crisis management in a number of participating States.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) - meets annually to examine issues important to the national legislatures of the OSCE States.
The Court of Conciliation and Arbitration - established to settle disputes submitted to it by OSCE States.
Principles Guiding Relations Between Participating States
Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty
Refraining from threat or use of force
Inviolability of frontiers
Territorial integrity of States
Peaceful settlement of disputes
Non-intervention in internal affairs
Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief
Equal rights and self-determination of peoples
Co-operation among States
Fulfilment in good faith of obligations under international law
Origin of the Helsinki Accords
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had its origin in the early 1950s when the Soviet Union first proposed the creation of an all-European security conference. In the mid-1960s the Warsaw Pact renewed calls for such a conference. In May 1969, the Government of Finland sent a memorandum to all European countries, the United States and Canada, offering Helsinki as a conference venue. Beginning in November 1972, representatives from the original 35 nations met for nearly three years to work out the arrangements and the framework for the conference, concluding their work in July 1975.
On August 1, 1975, the leaders of the original 35 participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. This comprehensive Act contains a broad range of measures designed to enhance security and cooperation in the region extending from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
Basket I contains a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between participating States, including the all-important Principle VII on human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also includes a section on confidence-building measures and other aspects of security and disarmament aimed at increasing military transparency.
Basket II covers economic, scientific, technological and environmental cooperation, as well as migrant labor, vocational training and the promotion of tourism.
Basket III is devoted to cooperation in humanitarian and other fields: freer movement of people; human contacts, including family reunification and visits; freedom of information, including working conditions for journalists; and cultural and educational exchanges. Principle VII and Basket III together have come to be known as "The Human Dimension."
Since 1975, the number of countries signing the Helsinki Accords has expanded to 57, reflecting changes such as the breakup of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
Institutionalization of the Conference in the early 1990s led to its transformation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, effective January 1995.
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Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic (C), who serves as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE in 2015, meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (L) and Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (R) immediately after the February 25 hearing on Serbia's leadership of the OSCE. (Feb. 2015)