On 1 January, I became Chairman-in-Office of this important multilateral organisation for 2012. The responsibility for chairing the OSCE, the world’s largest inter-governmental regional security organisation, is a significant honour and challenge for Ireland and for me personally. From the outset, our Chairmanship objectives were to ensure balance and coherence across the three main policy areas of the OSCE, namely its politico-military dimension, its economic and environmental dimension and the so-called “human dimension”, which covers human rights and fundamental freedoms. I have also explored opportunities to make progress towards lasting settlements of the “protracted conflicts” in the OSCE area.
The general assessment of the Irish Chairmanship’s performance has been extremely positive. We have had a productive year across all areas of the OSCE’s work. In February, I addressed the UN Security Council on our priorities and discussed these also with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon. I visited Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in June and underlined the Chairmanship’s commitment to making progress towards the peaceful settlement of the “protracted conflicts” in the region. Minister of State Creighton visited Moldova in September and conveyed our strong support for the Transdniestrian settlement process; she has also visited a number of Western Balkan countries which feature on the OSCE’s agenda.
We have hosted a number of successful high-level conferences in Dublin and Vienna during the year. In April, I hosted a conference in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, entitled ‘Shared Future: Building and Sustaining Peace, the Northern Ireland case study’. This event provided, for people engaged with conflict resolution elsewhere in the OSCE region, a first-hand account of the Northern Ireland peace process and its possible relevance in other conflict situations. The Dublin Conference on Internet Freedom took place on 18-19 June in Dublin Castle. It focused on ways to ensure that the internet remains an open, global and public forum for freedom of opinion and expression and a platform for facilitating the exercise of other human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In addition to the successful Chairmanship conferences held earlier this year, I recently hosted in Dublin the OSCE’s annual Ministerial Council. This was the largest ever meeting of Ministers in Ireland. Among those who attended were the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, and the High Representative of the EU, Catherine Ashton.
It is a particular achievement that agreement was reached at the OSCE Ministerial on the Helsinki +40 process. On the initiative of the Irish Chairmanship, a strategic roadmap has now been agreed for a process of reflection on the work of the OSCE, to be undertaken between now and 2015, the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act. Other significant agreements include, for the first time in ten years, a joint statement on the Transdniestrian settlement process (which recognises the progress achieved in the several sessions of the 5 + 2 settlement negotiations which took place under our Chairmanship, including two sessions in Ireland); a declaration on strengthening good governance; and a decision on transnational threats, which consolidates work over the past year. We were also able to reach agreement on the accession of Mongolia as a new participant State and to welcome them to the table in Dublin.
The lack of a consensus to agree any decisions in the human dimension is a matter of regret. It is unfortunate that this worrying trend of recent Ministerial Councils has continued. As Chair-in-Office, I gave prominence to a number of key human rights issues. While agreement was not possible on a decision relating to the strengthening of media freedom, I was pleased that, following the closing session of the Ministerial last week, Ireland signed a US Declaration on Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age.
Ireland has reaped several benefits from chairing the OSCE this year, including a significantly raised international profile. We have enhanced our reputation for diplomacy and crisis management and have expanded our expertise in relation to conflict resolution and human rights, both key features of our foreign policy. Our Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2013 and our impending membership of the UN Human Rights Council will, I hope, enable us to consolidate these gains.