By Alex Johnson, Policy Advisor and Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel
Approximately 180 parliamentarians from 49 countries throughout the OSCE region, including two members of the U.S. Congress, assembled in Toronto, Canada from September 18 to 21, 2008 for the convening of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) Fall Meetings. This record turnout for an OSCE PA Fall Meeting was convened under the theme “The OSCE in an Open World: Trade, Migration, and Security,” and featured a dedicated Mediterranean Forum as well as a spirited debate on the conflict in Georgia. Other sessions focused on the impact of migration and trade in the OSCE region and the role of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR), featuring a presentation by that Office’s Director, Ambassador Janez Lenar?i?. Representatives from Mediterranean Partners Algeria, Israel, Jordan, and Morocco actively participated in the meetings.
The U.S. Delegation was led by Helsinki Commission Chairman, Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a past president of the OSCE PA and current Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs. Commission Co-Chairman, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), a Vice-President of the OSCE PA, co-chaired the delegation.
The Mediterranean Forum of the 2008 OSCE Fall Meetings was very well attended and featured thoughtful dialogue on the fate of the Union for the Mediterranean. Introductory remarks were given by Parliamentary Assembly President João Soares of Portugal and Chairman Hastings in his capacity as the Assembly’s Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs. In his remarks, Chairman Hastings expressed support for the economic development component of the Union for the Mediterranean and used the opportunity to call on EU countries to accept Iraqi refugees, noting that the impact of more than two million displaced Iraqis on neighboring countries could threaten stability in the region. Mr. Gilles Mentré representing the European Union Presidency of France and Ambassador Mara Marinaki, permanent representative of Greece to the OSCE and Chair of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner Contact Group, gave keynote presentations.
As one of the architects of the Union for the Mediterranean proposal, Mr. Mentré reviewed its goals and strategies to frame the discussion. He specifically described President Nicolas Sarkozy’s goal of fostering better cooperation between Mediterranean States of the North and South while reforming the 1995 Barcelona Process of the EU. In order to accomplish this, the Union for the Mediterranean creates a co-presidency – currently held by France and Egypt, a joint secretariat that will be physically located in one of the southern states, and new economic, technical and social projects to implement the Union’s objectives. Some of the projects to be implemented first include cleaning up pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, promoting small businesses, increasing access to fresh water, developing solar power, and civil society capacity building.
Algeria, Israel, Jordan and Morocco made interventions along with eleven other states. Mediterranean Partners consistently emphasized the need for improved cooperation to increase food security and manage migration in the region. First, Mr. Abderezak Bouhara, head of the Algerian delegation, welcomed President Sarkozy’s initiative, particularly for its potential to improve cooperation for security and energy development, and also called attention to consistent images of migration in Western media which adversely impact confidence and public opinion in the region. Mr. Reuven Rivlin, head of the Israeli delegation, welcomed the proposal for its potential to improve the peace process through active projects to address growing humanitarian and environmental needs, matters which have tended to exacerbate conflict in the region. Mr. Rivlin noted that over 50 percent of the legislation passed in the Knesset in the last year has been related to current environmental challenges. Mr. Hani Al Nawafleh of the Jordanian delegation emphasized the potential for improved partnerships to address the refugee crisis in the region stemming from conflict in Iraq. Mr. Al Nawafleh also called for a holistic peace process for the region including efforts to substantially increase investment and trade. Mr. Mohamed El Mostafa Ibrahimy, head of the Moroccan delegation, welcomed the proposal and also stressed a holistic approach for the Union which would transcend traditional security concerns and also address food security and climate change. Other interventions, primarily inspired by various local interests, also welcomed the proposal with only some Italian parliamentarians expressing reservations based on tension over migration in the region.
Following remarks by Canadian Senator Consiglio Di Nino and Senator Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Canadian Senate, the keynote was given by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group and former Australian foreign minister. Mr. Evans’ characterization of the role the OSCE and its parliamentary dimension could play in resolving the crisis in Georgia was met with heated opposition by the delegation of the Russian Federation and a threat to disengage from the OSCE entirely. Mr. Alexander Kozlovsky, head of the Russian delegation, was then permitted to speak and made an impassioned statement on the role of the Russian Federation in the recent conflict in Georgia. Mr. Kozlovsky asserted that action taken by his country in South Ossetia and Abkhazia was reactionary and inspired by a need to protect Russians. He also labeled international media coverage of the conflict “information terrorism,” specifically taking note of CNN’s interpretation of the event as Russian aggression from the onset of the conflict. With the exception of a relatively calm response by the Georgian delegation, the remainder of the interventions during this session, at the request of President Soares, focused on the many other security and institutional issues raised by the Evans presentation.
Debate on the Crisis in Georgia
A highly-attended highlight of the Fall Meetings was a debate on the recent military conflict in Georgia. Framed by presentations delivered by Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili and Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin, parliamentarians were given an opportunity to voice their reactions to the conflict. OSCE PA President-Emeritus Göran Lennmarker (Sweden) opened the session in his capacity as Special Envoy for Georgia and attempted to establish a common context for discussion and a way forward to resolve the conflict. Mr. Lennmarker highlighted the need to support refugees and persons internally displaced as a result of the conflict. He called for observers on the ground to protect civilians and gather information surrounding three key points of contention: 1) the distribution of Russian passports to people living in South Ossetia and Abkahzia following the deployment of Russian troops to those regions; 2) artillery and mortar fire which occurred in Tshkanvali in July and August; 3) Clarification of conflict in the Kodori Valley of Abkhazia. Mr. Lennmarker called for the establishment of a “Catastrophe Commission” to ascertain the truth surrounding the events leading up to the fighting in order to appropriately proceed in resolving the conflict. He encouraged the countries of the Caucuses (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) to work together to seek regional solutions to security challenges and to engage Turkey and the EU as well in future negotiations with the Russian Federation.
Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, head of the Kazakh delegation, offered a mediating perspective by highlighting the fact that Kazakhstan has long-standing good relations with both the Russian Federation and Georgia, thus giving his country a potential role in future negotiations toward a resolution of the conflict. He said that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was one of the first to be informed about military action in the region and claimed that Nazarbayev was informed that initial actions came from inside Georgian territory. Tokayev called the situation a tragedy for both sides and urged participants in the debate to avoid a simplistic approach and laying blame. He noted the unique role that parliamentarians can play in working with both countries and supported the call for a UN mission of 200 observers with no preconditions. Mr. Tokayev noted that Kazakhstan has always supported the principle of territorial integrity over self-determination and will continue to do so, but also called for the strict observance of human rights.
Ambassador Aleksi Härkönen, head of the Finnish OSCE Chairmanship Task Force, explained the level of OSCE engagement in Georgia following the recent conflict, including a meeting between the OSCE Georgia Mission Chief, Ambassador Terhi Hakala, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Tshkanvali on September 15. Härkönen stressed that the OSCE would continue an intensive focus on resolving the crisis in Georgia including OSCE Chairman in Office Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb’s intention to meet with all parties at the United Nations in New York during ministerial week. He affirmed the OSCE’s commitment to play a leadership role in resolving the crisis during the Geneva Conference scheduled for October 15. The Ambassador presented several proposals for resolution in the region: the creation of a new international platform which fosters cooperation among the UN, the OSCE, the EU and other stakeholders; continued prioritization of OSCE and UN field activities in the region; and the immediate deployment of United Nations observers. Härkönen concluded by informing the parliamentarians that the OSCE Chairman in Office had asked both the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, Ambassador Knut Vollebaek and ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic to conduct a human rights assessment of the situation in Georgia.
Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili reviewed the history of the region from her country’s perspective, asserting that “frozen conflicts” are dangerous and have destabilized the Caucuses region. She observed that Russian troops have been in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the early 1990s and tension increased to a boiling point during the April 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest during which, she claimed, Russia threatened Georgia . The Foreign Minister also observed that even within the existing ceasefire agreement, Russian troops are restricting the movement of the limited number of international observers in the conflict zones. She stressed the need for transparency which could be achieved by the deployment of a large number of international observers and a thorough investigation of the events leading up to the conflict. Ms. Tkeshelashvili asserted that there are at least 150,000 refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of ethnic cleansing in the conflict zones. She went on to praise the leadership of the EU and the French presidency in mediating a resolution, but decried the lack of implementation of the ceasefire agreement. She also claimed that it is the intention of the Russian Federation to stop the expansion of NATO and divide Europe.
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin reviewed the history of the region from the Russian perspective. He claimed that Georgia had staged military maneuvers near both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which resulted in attacks on South Ossetia on August 7 and 8. He implied U.S. support for these activities citing the sale of U.S. military equipment to Georgia and the presence of 125 U.S. advisors in the country. Churkin described his efforts to call for United Nations Security Council action against Georgia for its initial military action but noted that his attempts were blocked. He asserted that 1600 people, including Russians, died in South Ossetia as a result of military action by Georgia. Churkin noted that some members of the U.S. Congress have called for an investigation of Georgia’s actions and that Russians have always favored negotiation over military action. He asserted that, “by opting for genocide,” the Georgians gave up their right of sovereignty and their actions therefore necessitated a military response by the Russian Federation. The Ambassador challenged the notion of Russian resistance to implementation of the ceasefire and claimed that Russia has complied with all agreements ahead of schedule. He believes that the OSCE tried to rewrite the August 8 agreement.
One of the most persistent themes of the debate was articulated by the delegations of the United Kingdom and Italy as they expressed concern about the potential for the establishment of a new psychological “iron curtain” in response to the military conflict in Georgia. A number of delegations cautioned against this, noting that this would deter positive cooperation with the Russian Federation. The Belgian delegation observed that moving forward with aid and redevelopment in the region should provide the stability necessary to prevent further provocation and conflict. Canadian Senator Jerry Grafstein, supported by others, offered the concept of establishing a standing committee of parliamentarians available for immediate deployment to undertake diplomatic efforts to prevent similar situations in the future. Many parliamentarians agreed that they, as directly elected representatives of the people, could contribute a unique bridging role as interlocutors with citizens, governments and other stakeholders in potential conflict situations. Delegations from several former Soviet States, particularly the Ukrainian delegation, cautioned against the rhetoric of the Russian delegation and Ambassador Churkin which alluded to the former “great empire of Russia.” The Ukrainians felt that such comments revealed the imperialist intentions of the Russian Federation. These observations were followed by spirited exchanges between Ambassador Churkin on the dais and the delegations of other former Soviet states in agreement with the observations of the Ukrainian delegation. Another heated exchange in the debate began with the Albanian delegation’s assertion that the situation in Georgia is not appropriate for comparison with Kosovo. Spirited outbursts ensued directly between Ambassador Churkin and the Albanian delegation.
Several parliamentarians from the Greek and French delegations supported Ambassador Churkin’s allegation that any semblance of a new “iron curtain” is being generated by U.S. efforts to establish new bases in NATO countries or potential future partners. Churkin sought to also draw parallels between the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the conflict in Georgia by likening what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to as the “mistakes” of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to those of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He further suggested that the U.S. should immediately withdraw its troops from Iraq before entering any discussions regarding territorial sovereignty throughout the world. The parliamentarians supporting these allegations added that U.S. militarization of space and new missile installation projects through NATO matched the imperialist objectives of the Russian Federation. A member of the French delegation referred to Russian reactions to NATO expansion as logical, since “Russia cannot always be on the retreat.”
At the conclusion of the Fall Session, Co-Chairman Cardin attended the meeting of the OSCE PA Standing Committee, the leadership body of the Assembly composed of the Heads of Delegations of the 56 OSCE participating States and the Assembly’s officers. The Standing Committee applauded the accomplishments of the Mediterranean Forum and the Georgia debate in contributing to one of the most successful Fall Sessions of the OSCE PA. The meeting primarily consisted of presentations from the OSCE Secretariat, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Secretariat, OSCE PA leadership, and a number of special representatives. Notable contributions of the special representatives included calls to focus the work of the OSCE PA toward Central Asia by strengthening inter-parliamentary cooperation and working on initiatives to increase the participation of women in delegations to the OSCE PA. Other presentations included updates on election observation missions and briefings on the budget. Co-Chairman Cardin participated in the review of the OSCE budget by calling for greater transparency, field mission audits and access to OSCE financial reporting for participating States. Other delegations also reflected on the budget as well as various reports, and the meeting concluded with a review of upcoming OSCE PA meetings.