What’s going on in Europe?
Maybe you have heard that in Russia, “homosexual propaganda” is now legally prohibited and many people defending the rights of the LGBT community are facing repression. Or maybe you heard that in Central European countries, Roma people have been killed without serious police investigation. Or you could have heard that American and Western European secret services have been (and are still) illegally collecting our private data. These things have been in the news. But did you know that these are just three examples out of hundreds?
Human rights and democracy in Europe are under constant attack. Trials are faked, people are jailed, kidnapped and murdered, elections are rigged, media are censored. Private actors, churches, governments, everyone is trying to influence the political game, and some of them may resort to dangerous methods. From afar, Europe may seem an island of peace in an otherwise violent world. Yet behind the scenes, many things are going wrong, and sometimes we don’t even know…
But aren’t we in AEGEE precisely to find out about such things? Yes we are! And from 30 September till 4 October 2013, we, seven AEGEE members from different parts of the network, had a golden opportunity to do so when we met in the Polish capital of Warsaw to attend the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE has 57 Participating States, including all countries where AEGEE is present as well as five Central Asian countries, Canada and the United States of America. Every year in September, their governments send delegations to the HDIM in Warsaw. At this conference, which lasts two weeks, all critical questions related to human rights and democracy are discussed.
The national delegations usually present the progress their governments made in these fields and claim to be on a good path. But there are also non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at the conference, such as Amnesty International and many others. And obviously, they have a different, much more critical opinion.
Topics on the agenda cover a wide range of aspects: election observation missions, immigration policies, press freedom, juridical corruption, discrimination of minorities – you name it. During the plenary sessions, every delegation can make a statement about the topic of that session. Usually, such statements are very diplomatic and, to be honest, boring (with some honourable exceptions). More open debate takes place outside the plenary hall in the so-called side events that are mostly organised by NGOs.
In these side events, it can be quite shocking to learn in full detail about the cases of human rights violations that are discussed. In some parts of the OSCE area things like fake trials and even torture are still commonplace. But also in the more stable democracies of Western Europe there are many problems, especially related to corruption. Democracy is not a safe system, but a constant struggle for the right way.
As an NGO delegation, we can participate in all the sessions and occasionally contribute with some questions. But our main interest lies in networking inside and outside the meeting room. There are many organisations and personalities at the conference that can be valuable partners for AEGEE. We are particularly interested in the topic of election observation missions. It would be awesome if AEGEE members could participate in more missions in the future (and we are working on it)!
On the last day we also manage to have a meeting with representatives of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR; pronounced “oh dear” in English). Primarily we are in contact with the office of Mr Marcin Walecki, Chief of the Democratic Governance and Gender Unit, who in fact is a former AEGEE member himself. They are very interested in AEGEE and very happy indeed to see young people attending this extremely serious and political conference, especially since they consider youth participation one of the weak points in the OSCE area.
Since it is one of the priorities of the OSCE 2014 Chairmanship (held by Switzerland) to focus on the involvement of youth, the ODIHR representatives suggest that AEGEE might be able to help developing their portfolio. And what is more, OSCE might give AEGEE the opportunity to hold an own side event at the next edition of the HDIM in 2014. In the meantime, AEGEE members are warmly invited to participate in the new Model OSCE Conferences 2014 – deadline next week (24 October 2013).
All in all, our participation in the HDIM has been very successful and rewarding, both in our personal and organisational capacity. Special thanks go to Alin (Liaison Officer towards OSCE) who worked hard to give us this brilliant opportunity, and to Maciej (AEGEE-Warszawa) who was not only a superb host, but also a priceless private taxi driver!
Written by Thomas Leszke, AEGEE-Köln
The AEGEE HDIM delegation:
Miguel Gallardo Albajar, AEGEE-Europe Projects Director
Alin-Florin Calin, AEGEE-Europe Liaison Officer towards OSCE
Anca Gliga, AEGEE-Cluj-Napoca
Anita Celia, AEGEE-Wien
Thomas Leszke, AEGEE-Köln
Ann-Kathrin Habbig, AEGEE-Brussel/Bruxelles
Aleksandra Kluczka, AEGEE-Kraków