The OSCE 2023 Parallel Civil Society Conference

The OSCE 2023 Parallel Civil Society Conference in Skopje called for an end to the aggression against Ukraine, bring responsible for international crimes to justice, intensify work on resolution of conflicts, strengthen the protection of civil society, and reform the OSCE


On November 29, Parallel OSCE Civil Society Conference was held in Skopje (North Macedonia) on the eve of the annual meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. The meeting of non-governmental organizations and activists, which took place against the background of the most severe security crisis in recent decades, was devoted to discussing the pressing issues the OSCE, its participating States and civil society face today, and possible solutions to overcome the crisis. At the end of the meeting, the participants presented their quite uncompromising recommendations to the OSCE leadership and the participants of the Ministerial Council meeting.

As in previous years, the Parallel Conference was organized by the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), a network of almost 100 non-governmental organizations of the OSCE region. The North Macedonian OSCE Chairpersonship and the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights provided support in organizing the meeting. The CSP has been working closely for many years with OSCE political bodies and institutions and with many participating States of this largest international regional organization. For the second year in a row, the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) performs the functions of the Platform’s secretariat. In addition to the Center for Civil Liberties, the organizing committee of the conference included the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Austausch e.V. (Germany) and Minority Rights Group Europe.

The Parallel Conference in Skopje continued the tradition of Parallel OSCE Civil Society Conferences held in previous years in Astana (2010), Vilnius (2011), Dublin (2012), Kiev (2013), Basel (2014), Belgrade (2015), Hamburg (2016), Vienna (2017), Milan (2018), Bratislava (2019), Tirana (2020, online), Stockholm (2021) and Lodz (2023). The annual parallel conferences are an important forum for searching for answers to current challenges in the work of the OSCE and the implementation of OSCE commitments by participating States, as well as for developing strategies and recommendations of civil society aimed at strengthening the work of OSCE political bodies and institutions and participating States.

What was discussed at the conference in Skopje?

The Parallel Conference in Skopje became a platform where many civil society activists and experts were able to engage in dialogue with diplomats from various countries and representatives of OSCE bodies who participated as observers, on key issues covering all OSCE dimensions – military-political, economic and environmental, and human. The third, human dimension of the OSCE encompasses human rights, the rule of law and democracy – traditionally important areas of activity for civil society.

The conference participants paid particular attention to the consequences of Russia’s ongoing aggression with the complicity of the Lukashenka regime in Belarus against Ukraine and the need to strengthen international support for Ukraine, the importance of the intensification of efforts to investigate and prosecute international crimes, including the crime of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, as well as crimes against humanity, committed in Belarus. Many participants spoke about the importance of the OSCE’s active response to the intensification of repression against non-governmental organizations and civil society activists in many countries and the need to make more active use of the potential of civil society in the work of the OSCE. Representatives of civil society noted that the number of violent conflicts in the OSCE region is constantly growing, and States are increasingly resorting to the use of force during conflicts with both other States and their own citizens, as opposed to using the OSCE’s preventive, mediation and peacekeeping tools and at the same time violating their OSCE commitments.

The conference participants noted with alarm that at a crisis moment in history, when the OSCE is needed more than ever, its activities are paralyzed by two states, Russia and Belarus, which not only grossly violate all the Helsinki Principles, but also systematically abuse the rule of consensus, blocking decision-making within the OSCE, including the choice of the chair country, appointment of heads of OSCE institutions, holding events, approving the budget, sending missions, etc. As a result, the other 55 participating States are hostages of this situation, and the OSCE has proved to be virtually unable to implement its mission to ensure security based on cooperation among States and to respond to the most acute challenges facing the international community today. Representatives of civil society called for creative approaches to overcome the paralysis of the organization and to begin as soon as possible an active process of elaborating proposals for a reform of the OSCE. This is necessary in order for a package of proposals to be ready by the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Final Helsinki Act in 2025, which could be agreed and approved at a meeting of the Ministerial Council in Finland.

The conference was divided into four thematic sessions:

  • The human dimension during North Macedonia’s OSCE Chairpersonship: The context of civil society in the Western Balkans;
  • The OSCE region during the times of armed conflicts and increasing repression: Investigation and prosecution of international crimes;
  • Combating torture and enforced disappearances in the OSCE region: Putting MC Decision 7/20 to work;
  • The role of civil society in the OSCE region and OSCE work in the times of crisis.

Interaction with the OSCE leadership

At the concluding session, the presentation of the outcome document of the conference and statements by OSCE officials took place. Civic Solidarity Platform representatives handed over the Skopje Declaration to the OSCE leadership, which was represented by the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Northern Macedonia Bujar Osmani; Wojciech Gerwel, Under Secretary of State at Poland’s Foreign Ministry, which headed the OSCE in 2022; Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland Elina Valtonen (Finland will chair the OSCE in 2025); OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, OSCE ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci; OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro; OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Kairat Abdrakhmanov, and President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Margareta Söderfelt.

In their statements in response to the outcome document, the OSCE leaders emphasized the important role played by civil society in the OSCE activities and the implementation of OSCE commitments by its participating States, expressed their determination to counter illegal restrictions on civil society activities and repression against non-governmental organizations and activists, expressed gratitude to civil society for its support to the efforts of the international community to end Russian aggression against Ukraine, document crimes and bring perpetrators to justice, and talked about the programs and initiatives implemented within the OSCE framework aimed at resolving the current acute crisis in the field of comprehensive security. Many of the OSCE leaders who spoke agreed with the position of the conference participants on the need to develop proposals for reforming the OSCE on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Helsinki Accords.

Skopje Declaration The OSCE and its participating States should overcome the organisation’s paralysis, stop continued aggression, ensure justice, respond to expanding conflicts and growing repression, and reflect on the future of the Helsinki process”

Skopje Declaration consists of 10 chapters:

  1. When the OSCE is needed most in times of crisis, it is paralysed by abusers.
  2. Stopping the Russian aggression on the basis of international law, providing stronger support for Ukraine, undermining Russia’s ability to wage the war, and developing an effective mechanism for compensation and reparations.
  3. Ensuring accountability for the crime of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
  4. Ending impunity for crimes against humanity in Belarus.
  5. Supporting Russian opponents of the Kremlin’s policy of aggression and repression.
  6. Reinvigorating OSCE work on early warning, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict rehabilitation.
  7. Protecting civil society space across the OSCE region and ensuring a stronger role for civil society in the OSCE.
  8. Effectively combating torture and enforced disappearances in the OSCE region: Putting the MC Decision 7/20 to work.
  9. Addressing other key challenges.
  10. Approaching the 50th anniversary of the Helsinki Accords: The moment to reinvent the OSCE?

Meetings during the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting

More than 20 members of the Civic Solidarity Platform observed the annual meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council and held meetings with a number of ministers and heads of delegations of OSCE participating States. During these meetings, they discussed with their interlocutors the most pressing problems in the entire OSCE region, the situation in various participating States, and presented the recommendations of civil society contained in the Skopje Declaration as well as plans to develop proposals for reforming the OSCE in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the final Helsinki Act in 2025.

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