Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Robert Templer
Asia Program Director - International Crisis Group


Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the opportunity to speak to the Committee on the role – and potential role – of the OSCE in Central Asia.

I’m here as the Asia Program Director of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a private multilateral organization working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. ICG’s Central Asia Project, based in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, has five analysts working across the region, reporting on a range of issues relating to conflict prevention. Last month ICG released a report titled The OSCE in Central Asia: A New Strategy, based on extensive research in Central Asia and at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna. This report outlines a new approach that ICG believes the OSCE should adopt in Central Asia and also makes recommendations on reforms to the OSCE that we believe would improve its performance.

The Central Asian nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union were among the original members of the OSCE but these countries have fallen behind most other participating states in the development of democratic systems and open economies. Indeed these five countries frequently flout the commitments to democracy and human rights that are the foundations of the organization. These states are mostly controlled by very small elites and have weak, highly corrupt bureaucracies. Rapid declines in living standards have led to considerable disaffection in the population. Human rights violations are common and many minorities live with the fear of abuses and violence. Political and economic exclusion has provoked some people to turn towards radical Islamist movements. In short, the region is crying out for greater involvement by the OSCE in the development of more open and tolerant political systems.

The OSCE has been active in the region but has struggled to overcome a number of obstacles. These include:

· The difficult political environment presented by participating states that have little interest in opening up their political and economic systems. Uzbekistan, for example, has shown a low regard for the OSCE which it sees as focusing excessively on human rights issues. Senior OSCE staff, such as the High Commissioner for National Minorities, often only get to see low level officials in Tashkent.
· A very low level of staffing – there are just 30 international field staff in five countries out of a total OSCE field presence of 3,500.
· A very low budget – Central Asia receives less than five percent of the total budget. OSCE operations in Croatia alone receive more than three times the budget for the whole of Central Asia.
· A lack of a long-term strategy, complicated by annual reviews of mandates and rapid staff turnover.
· A low level of coordination with other organizations such as the European Union and the International Financial Institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The mission of the OSCE in Central Asia is conflict prevention. Risks of conflict in the region come from poorly conceived security policies, declining economic conditions and authoritarian political cultures and institutions. To tackle these, the OSCE needs to develop a more comprehensive approach to security including activities and projects that cross the three OSCE “dimensions” – politico-security, economic and environment and human.

The OSCE will also need to develop more effective relationships with the governments in the region. While we recognize that this is an extremely difficult task – and in the case of Turkmenistan, the most repressive and dictatorial of these states, nearly an impossible one – we do believe it can be done by establishing projects that balance the dimensions and by working closely with those organizations that have more resources.

The Central Asian nations see the OSCE as focused almost uniquely on human rights and democracy issues. By balancing projects that tackle these issues with others that deal with security and economic problems, the OSCE could develop better relations with governments and would be more likely to gain their cooperation. I’d like to be clear here that we are not advocating in any way a scaling back of OSCE human dimension activities – indeed we would like to see them expanded – but we feel that they would have a better chance of success if accompanied by projects that include the other dimensions.

An example of this might be projects relating to border disputes – a serious problem in Central Asia that has raised tensions among all the states and seriously disrupts economic and family links. The OSCE might consider a range of linked projects that reinforce the idea of open but secure borders.

Under the political and security dimension the OSCE might consider providing good offices for border delimitation, political and military confidence building measures and training to prevent the trafficking of drugs, arms and people. Alongside these efforts the OSCE could provide human rights training for border and customs officers, development of NGO and advocacy groups involved in border monitoring, refugees and migration issues. Under the economic rubric it could consider developing trader and driver associations to monitor the performance of border guards, the political facilitation of cross-border trade, the standardization of regulations on trade and the monitoring of corruption.

By established linked projects, the OSCE could reduce the risk, for example, that police training simply reinforce repressive institutions. Establishing civil society groups provides a mechanism to monitor the impact of training and new regulations. Boosting economic activities provides an incentive for cooperation by all parties while tackling the security concerns of Central Asian governments is more likely to get them on board than simply stressing human rights.

This is just one area in which a broader approach by the OSCE could improve its influence in Central Asia but there are many others including: expanding work against corruption, boosting the programs on small arms and light weapons, police training, elections, freedom of religion and media and the development of civil society.

To establish these programs effectively, the OSCE will need to see some reforms to its own structures and methods: Among the recommendations that ICG has made are:

· Strengthening the role of the Secretary-General in order to facilitate longer-term planning beyond the annual term of the chairman in office.
· Better monitoring of the implementation of aims set out by the headquarters. Many offices operate with great autonomy and therefore many good ideas developed in Vienna die in the field due to a lack of interest there.
· Improved recruitment and pay for OSCE field staff and greater efforts to bring women into the senior ranks in field offices.
· Improved training for all OSCE – currently field officers get just two days of training and many have limited abilities to deal with culturally and politically sensitive situations.

ICG worked closely with the government of the Netherlands – the next chairman in office – in the preparation of this report and officials in the Hague have expressed enthusiasm for making Central Asia a priority for the OSCE as its activities in the Balkans wind down. Our hope is that other Participating States, in particular the United States, will support an expansion of OSCE activities in Central Asia to tackle many of the pressing security and human rights problems in the region.

Once again I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.