A human rights tour of the OSCE region

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On 18 March 2024, in Vienna, Human Rights House Foundation and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee co-hosted a civil society Human Dimension event where OSCE State delegations could hear directly from human rights defenders from seven countries, including representatives from several Human Rights Houses in the region.

Civil society representatives from Georgia briefing the delegates during the event on 18 March, 2024.

From military conflicts to severe crackdowns against civil society, several of the countries across the OSCE region face a variety of daunting human rights challenges. That’s why exchanges like these are critical, so that states can be briefed directly, and receive perspectives and recommendations from human rights defenders working on the ground.

Nora Wehofsits, International Advocacy Officer, Human Rights House Foundation

This event brought together 20 civil society representatives from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Ukraine, and provided over 40 representatives of international delegations and missions to the OSCE with a series of one-on-one briefings on emerging and ongoing human rights trends, as well as recommendations to States.

The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Delegations of Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States to the OSCE and was co-funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

Permanent Mission of Ireland to the OSCE met with Ukrainian participants

The event was very engaging for delegates and provided a good networking opportunity for civil society. It was also great to see Ukrainian civil society so well represented and covering a wide range of important topics.

Lisa Dolan, Attaché at the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the OSCE

Nataliia Okhotnikova, ZMINA Human Rights Centre, in the office of the EU delegation to the OSCE

We were able to brief the delegates on the main updates related to the human rights violations but also raise the individual cases.

Nataliia Okhotnikova, Human Rights Centre ZMINA , Ukraine

Nataliia Okhotnikova from ZMINA was one of the advocates representing Ukraine. She shared that the event’s format was new to her but was enough to deliver the key advocacy points while keeping attention and interest.

“Unfortunately, it’s been over two years since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and 10 years of war, and it’s not easy to keep [the issues] as high in the international agenda as they deserve to be, as, obviously, there are many events that also require attention.”

“It was a pleasure to meet the delegates who were also well prepared, they asked specific questions based on the knowledge ground. For instance, they asked for our opinion and view of specific potential human rights violations, and what are the trends related to Russia’s behaviour in the temporarily occupied territories [of Ukraine]. Following their questions we also discussed the Moscow Mechanism and what could be the lessons learnt for the future mechanisms, as well as how we see their potential for future action.”

“Together with colleagues from AlmendaCrimean Human Rights Group and Regional Centre for Human Rights we selected the main advocacy topics to focus on in the allotted time.”

“We raised issues including the persecution of civil activists in the occupied territories, Ukrainian citizens held as political prisoners by Russia, looted cultural heritage from the occupied territories, and Ukrainian children deported by Russia. I also spoke about civilian hostages and issues related to this important topic. Delegations consulted with us on what they could practically do to assist the situation and whether in cases such as of civilian hostages, we believe that raising names of individuals could help their situations.”

“Depending on the participants of each round, we could tailor our presentation. For instance, in the case of presenting to the group with the representative from Spain – we could raise the case of Mariano García Calatayud, a Spanish citizen who was providing humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and who is now in [Russian] captivity.” 

“This was also an opportunity to raise individual cases that require international attention. For example, we shared a letter requesting international support from the parents of Mariana Checheliuk, a 24-year-old investigator from Mariupol, who has spent two years in Russian captivity without any charges against her, has been tortured and is being denied necessary medical help.”

Group photo after the event with the participating advocates representing 15 CSOs from the region

The Civil Society Human Dimension Event “Human Rights Tour of the OSCE Region” was organised by the Human Rights House Foundation and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee. The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Delegations of Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States to the OSCE and was co-funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

The advocacy trip of Ukrainian partners from member organisations of Human Rights House Crimea was organised within the “Emergency Support to civil society and media in response to the Ukraine war’ (ESU) project – a regional project that provides opportunities for emergency support for Ukrainian civil society and independent media in the wake of the full-scale Russian invasion. ESU is funded by the European Union and implemented by ERIM-led coalition of partners including Human Rights House Foundation.

Source: Human Rights House Foundation