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Profile: The OSCE

Members meet at Vienna's Hofburg winter palace
Flags of member nations at the OSCE HQ (Picture: OSCE)
Membership: 56 nations
Headquarters: Vienna, Austria
Budget: 164.2 million euros (2008)

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, aims to prevent conflict and manage crises in Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia.

The organisation is based in Vienna, Austria, but many of its 3,500 staff work in the field. The OSCE is particularly active in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and in the republics of the Caucasus.

The organisation's mandate is broad. It aims to promote democracy and human rights and to resolve regional conflicts. To this end it encourages political, social and media reforms.

The OSCE has no peacekeeping contingents, but may call on the resources of other international bodies, including the UN and Nato.

Background

The OSCE's forerunner, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), was set up in 1972 as a forum for dialogue between nations. It brought Nato and Warsaw Pact countries to the meeting table.

Russian weaponry being removed from breakaway Moldovan region of Trans-Dniestr
Moldova: OSCE monitors removal of Russian arms (OSCE/Neil Brennan)

In 1975 the CSCE produced the Helsinki Final Act. The signatories - from East and West - promised to respect basic freedoms and human rights and to recognise Europe's post-war borders.

At the end of the Cold War, the CSCE became a fully-fledged organisation and provided the framework for reducing conventional armed forces in Europe.

The organisation adopted its present name in 1994 to reflect its more permanent structure.

Members, decision-making

The OSCE has 56 member states. These are drawn mainly from Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The United States and Canada are members of the OSCE.

All OSCE members have equal status within the body. Decisions are reached by consensus, except in the case of "clear, gross and uncorrected violations" of OSCE commitments by a member country.

Member states fund the running of the organisation and its missions.

Structure

  • Summit Conference: Leaders of member states meet every few years to map out the OSCE's priorities
  • Ministerial Council: The OSCE's main governing body meets annually, except in a Summit Conference year; it comprises foreign affairs ministers of member countries
  • Permanent Council: Undertakes the day-to-day running of OSCE activities; comprises permanent representatives of member states who meet once a week

Leaders

Chairman-in-office: The position is held by the foreign affairs minister of a member state for a one-year term. The incumbent has overall responsibility for the organisation.

Secretary-general: Responsible for managing OSCE operations, the secretary-general is the representative of the chairman-in-office.

OSCE on the ground

Albania: A substantial OSCE presence aims to promote democracy, human rights and media freedom.

Ibrahim Rugova casts his ballot in 2002 local elections
Elections in Kosovo: OSCE is committed to democracy-building

Armenia and Azerbaijan: The OSCE is working for a political settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region. It has monitored elections in both states and maintains offices in their capital cities.

Belarus: The OSCE has repeatedly clashed with President Alexander Lukashenko ever since it condemned as fraudulent elections which he won in 2001. OSCE observers again criticised the president's re-election in 2006 and said that 2008 parliamentary elections failed to meet internationally accepted standards. After the OSCE criticised the conduct of the 2010 presidential election - in which Mr Lukashenko was re-elected for a fourth term in office - the Belarus government shut down the OSCE's Minsk office. A positive judgment by the OSCE on the conduct of the election had been seen as crucial to Belarusian chances of receiving EU economic aid.

Bosnia: An OSCE mission aims to strengthen the legal system and de-segregate the education system.

Central Asia: The OSCE maintains offices in the capitals of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. The OSCE monitors elections in the region. It has warned that a failure to develop democracy will make Central Asia more vulnerable to extremism. The OSCE has criticised human rights standards in Turkmenistan. In 2010, Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian state to chair the organisation.

Chechnya: The organisation has urged a political solution to the conflict and has expressed concerns about the climate of violence and the lack of independent media in the republic. In 2002 Russia refused to renew the mandate of the OSCE's mission.

Shell explodes in Macedonian village during 2001 conflict
Macedonia: 2001 conflict prompted the OSCE to boost its presence

Croatia: The OSCE mission to Croatia advised on democratisation and human rights between 1996 and 2007, after which it was deemed to have successfully completed most of its mandate. It continues to maintain an office in Zagreb.

Georgia: The OSCE urges a political resolution to the status of the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In December 2008, Russia vetoed the extension of the OSCE mandate on the grounds that one mission could not cover both Georgia and South Ossetia, whose independence Moscow has recognized.

Kosovo: As part of the UN Mission in Kosovo, a large OSCE presence is involved in democracy-building and human rights monitoring. The OSCE police school trained more than 6,000 officers for Kosovo's multi-ethnic police force.

Macedonia: Originally set up in 1992 to prevent the Balkan conflict from spreading, the OSCE mission expanded following the 2001 conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces. The organisation has trained a new multi-ethnic police force.

Moldova: The OSCE is working for a political settlement between Moldova and the breakaway Trans-Dniester region.

Serbia: The OSCE mission in Belgrade aims to promote the development of democracy. One of its projects includes working with Roma communities to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion these marginalized groups face.

Montenegro The OSCE Mission to Montenegro was set up in June 2006, soon after the Republic of Montenegro became independent, and helped the country draft a new constitution.

Ukraine: The OSCE runs projects on media freedom, military and legal reform.



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