The President of the Swiss Confederation, Didier Burkhalter, underscores the importance of involving civil society and young people in the work of the OSCE

Bern, 03.12.2014 - Didier Burkhalter, Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and President of the Swiss Confederation, took part in a civil society parallel conference today during which recommendations from civil society were submitted to the OSCE Ministerial Council. Mr Burkhalter's participation in the parallel conference underlines the importance the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship attaches to the involvement of civil society and young people in the work of the OSCE.

At the start of the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting and within the framework of the parallel conference, earlier today civil society actors adopted concrete recommendations for the Ministerial Council, the OSCE institutions, the field missions, and the participating States. The discussions centred, among other things, on the issues of intolerance, discrimination and hate propaganda, which form part of the recommendations of the "Basel Declaration". Other recommendations relate to freedom of expression, freedom of association, the security of human rights defenders, protection against torture,  the independence of the judiciary, the protection of property, and the right to free and fair elections.

Upon receiving the recommendations from civil society, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Didier Burkhalter, emphasised that freedom and security are fundamental for human life and that a dialogue that involves all actors is consequently imperative. The "Basel Declaration" focuses on a central problem of our time that affects all OSCE participating States: some groups are a target of hate propaganda and even of crimes. Mr Burkhalter stressed that discrimination of any sort, including discrimination on the grounds of religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation is unacceptable. In addition to the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Didier Burkhalter, the recommendations were also presented to the Serbian Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic, who will chair the OSCE in 2015, and to Michael Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).  With their presence at the parallel conference, they also emphasised the significance of the participation of civil society in the work of the OSCE.

A priority of the Swiss Chairmanship

Switzerland made the involvement of civil society and young people in the work of the OSCE one of the priorities of its OSCE chairmanship. In this context, the prevention of torture was selected as a central theme. Switzerland organised regional workshops on torture and other topics of regional importance with civil society in Belgrade, Vienna, Tbilisi and Dushanbe, which were also an opportunity for networking at the regional level.

Switzerland also worked to ensure that civil society representatives were able to take part in all OSCE meetings and events. Whenever possible during his travels, Mr Burkhalter met with local civil society representatives. For example, he spoke with civil society representatives in Azerbaijan, the United States, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and in Kosovo about their concerns. In order to reaffirm Switzerland's commitment to human rights defenders, in June 2014 the Swiss Chairmanship also organised a chairmanship conference on this topic in Bern, during which the OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders were presented.

The Swiss Chairmanship placed particular emphasis on young people. One of the objectives the Swiss Chairmanship set itself was to give young people a voice within the OSCE as well as an opportunity to get to know its structures and themes. To this end, Switzerland established a "Model OSCE" with 57 young men and women from OSCE participating States. The Model OSCE negotiated a youth action plan for the OSCE during three simulated rounds of negotiations.

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