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"Testimony by Robert Templer before the US Commission of Security and Cooperation in Europe on US Policy towards the OSCE"

[…] TEMPLER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the opportunity to speak here today on the role and potential role of the OSCE in Central Asia.

International Crisis Group's Central Asia Project, based in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, has five analysts who have been working across the region to prepare a number of documents, including a most recent report on the OSCE in Central Asia, which offers ideas for a new strategy for this organization.

The OSCE has been active in the region but has struggled to overcome a number of key obstacles. These include the difficult political environment presented by participating states that have little interest in opening up their political and economic systems.

Uzbekistan, for example, has shown a low regard for the OSCE, which it sees as focusing exclusively on human rights issues and ignoring the security concerns of the government in Tashkent. Senior OSCE staff, such as the High Commissioner for National Minorities, often only get to see low level officials when they visit Tashkent.

There's a very low level of staffing among the OSCE offices in Central Asia. There are just 30 international field staff in five countries out of a total OSCE field presence of 3,500.

The Central Asia mission suffers from a very low budget. They receive less than five percent of the total OSCE budget, which is a third of what Croatia alone receives.

The lack of a long-term strategy is also a problem, complicated by annual reviews of mandates and rapid staff turnover. There is also a low level of coordination with other organizations, such as the European Union; the international financial institutions, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; the World Bank; and the Asian Development Bank.

The OSCE will need to develop more effective relationships with the governments in the region if it is to succeed in many of its tasks. We recognize that this is an extremely difficult task, and in the case of Turkmenistan, almost certainly impossible. But we do believe much more could be done by establishing projects that balance the various dimensions and work closely with those organizations --for example, the EBRD -- that have more resources.

The Central Asian nations see the OSCE as focused almost uniquely on human rights and democracy. By balancing projects that tackle these issues with others that deal with security and economic problems, the OSCE could develop better relations with governments and would be more likely to gain their cooperation.

I'd like to be clear here that we are not advocating in any way a scaling back of OSCE human dimension activities. Indeed, we would like to see them substantially expanded. But we feel that they would have a better chance of success if accompanied by projects that include the other dimensions.

An example of this might be projects relating to border disputes, which is a serious problem in Central Asia that has raised tensions among the Central Asian countries and has seriously disrupted economic and family links in the region. The OSCE might consider a range of linked projects that reinforce the idea of open but secure borders.

Under the political and security dimension, the OSCE might consider providing good offices for border delimitation; political and military confidence building measures; and training to prevent the trafficking of drugs, arms, and people. Alongside these efforts, they need to provide human rights training for border guards and customs officers and development of NGO and advocacy groups involved in border monitoring, refugees, migration, and trade issues.

Under the economic rubric, it could consider developing such organizations as trader and driver associations to monitor the performance of border guards, and also consider the political facilitation of cross-border trade, the standardization of regulations on trade, and the monitoring of corruption among border guards.

By establishing linked projects, the OSCE could reduce the risk, for example, that police training simply reinforces repressive institutions. Establishing civil society groups provides a mechanism to monitor the impact of training and new regulations. Boosting economic activities provides an incentive for cooperation by all parties while tackling the security concerns of Central Asian governments and is more likely to get them on board than those projects that simply stress human rights.

This is just one area in which a broader approach by the OSCE could improve its influence in Central Asia. But there are many others, including expanding work against corruption, boosting the programs on small arms and light weapons trafficking, police training, elections, freedom of religion and media, and the broader development of civil society.

To establish these programs effectively, the OSCE will need to see some reforms to its own structures and methods. Among the recommendations that ICG has made are:

Strengthening the role of the Secretary-General in order to facilitate longer-term planning beyond the annual term of the chairman in office.

Better monitoring of the implementation of aims set out by the headquarters. Many offices operate with a great degree of autonomy, which often does allow them considerable flexibility. But many good ideas that are developed in Vienna and Warsaw die in the field due to a lack of specific interest among the heads of missions.

Improved quality of recruitment, particularly for heads of missions, and improve pay for OSCE field staff. There should also be greater efforts to bring women into the senior ranks in field offices. Very few women are in senior positions in the OSCE, not just in Central Asia but across the board.

Improved training for all OSCE staff. Currently, field officers get just two days of training, and many have very limited abilities to deal with culturally and politically sensitive situations.

ICG has worked closely with the government of the Netherlands, the next chairman in office in 2003, in the preparation of this report, and it's our hope that the United States will give its support to the government in the Hague as it develops a plan to make Central Asia a key priority for the OSCE in the coming years.

Once again, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Templer.

I yield to Commissioner Craner.

CRANER: Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.

I want to begin by saying how happy I am to be up here with you, and I appreciate the invitation.

I also want to commend all three of you and your organizations.

Cathy, you and I worked together back to the days when I was an IRI (ph) on Belarus, and I know you continue to keep that issue in your heart.

Human Rights Watch, I've worked with very, very closely. I don't go to Tashkent without seeing your person there. She's always one of my first meetings and always very, very informative.

And, Mr. Templer, I don't know if you wrote the report last August on Central Asia that was put out by ICG. But I told your -- I had dinner with your New York director -- I think it was on Monday night -- and told her that when many people were not as familiar as they might have been with the situation in Central Asia, last September, they grabbed for that report as something to read.

So I want to commend all three of you and your organizations.

Mr. Templer answered very extensively one of the questions I'd written down to ask, and that was your -- both Ms. Andersen and Ms. Fitzpatrick gave very detailed ideas for changing OSCE. You zeroed that in on Central Asia.

I wanted to ask the two of you if anything was said that you thought was particularly interesting, or if any of the recommendations you had for changing OSCE you would emphasize in dealing with Central Asia.

FITZPATRICK: I think Mr. Templer's remarks about the very poor training and thinness on the ground are very relevant, and this is something we've worked on for a number of years and outlined in our report that we issued in '99 to continue to make our concerns known. The usual formula is a Soviet era bureaucrat and a Ph.D. student wet behind the ears, and that's your mission. It's just not sufficient.

We think there really should be an OSCE academy of sorts that has really intensive training for these types of conditions. Our people in the missions should have a greater budget. The reason they don't is because of the host states resisting them, but a lot more pressure can be brought to bear, I think, especially given the windows of opportunity now with a closer military relationship.

The one difference I might have with some of the remarks made is the idea that you have a kind of carrot on a stick, you know, that you hold out economic projects or security projects as a kind of lure to sneak in some human rights work. This was tried in the Soviet era all the time, and it's predicated on the idea that the desire -- the interest in economics and security is somewhat genuine, and they're prepared to deal in these fields more honestly and more quickly than they are in other fields.

FITZPATRICK: But I think you find that the same reasons that make them sluggish in human rights will make them sluggish on the other issues, and that there's a certain ruse involved. And I think, you know, very basic issues -- like recently, when Uzbekistan increased their tariffs, the border tariffs, it really walloped especially humanitarian, NGO, you know, shuttle traders, and that was an issue for human rights NGOs and investigative journalists to raise, and they ratcheted it back a little bit.

But I think these issues are very much integrated, you know, information, freedom of the press, freedom of NGOs, monitoring. I think, you know, in order to form something like an association of drivers, you'd have to have across the board radical reform in the third sector in Uzbekistan. You can't just create these things out of thin air.

ANDERSEN: I guess I would join Mr. Templer in certainly highlighting Central Asia as a priority for the OSCE. When I spoke at the outset about the comprehensive membership of the OSCE as being one of its comparative advantages -- well, where that really comes into play is in Central Asia, and that's what the OSCE has that the Council of Europe does not have. And so I think it makes good sense for Central Asia to be a focus.

As for some of his specific recommendations, I would agree absolutely on the importance of better staffing and training for the missions. Also, another recommendation their report had in it -- I don't know that you mentioned it -- was the tenure for heads of mission varies from mission to mission. In many places, it's only one year. This is the case, for example, in the (inaudible) group to Chechnya. I think it's a real problem.

In Chechnya, we see time and again the Russians resisting the appointments, you know, three or four months into the year. Finally, they let the head of mission -- they agree on the head of mission who can come in. The person gets there, gets on the ground, gets up to speed six months into the year, and has six months then to do the work, and then we start all over again. It doesn't make sense, and it's something that should be looked at and developed across the board at the OSCE missions.

A second point on police training being an emphasis, or training for border guards and the like being an emphasis of OSCE activities in Central Asia -- while not opposing that, I think there are two things that need to be kept in mind. One, it does have to have an important human dimension, human rights component, to that training, and, second, there does need to be a vetting process to make sure that there is some way to identify those who may have been involved or for whom there's credible -- if you look at the (inaudible) and that credible evidence of their involvement in gross violations of human rights, they're not benefiting from that kind of training.

[…]

TEMPLER: I think the key role for the OSCE in this is the monitoring of the treatment of civil society organizations and publicizing the information that they do collect on that. It's been important in Kyrgyzstan, for example, that the OSCE officer has been reasonably good about speaking out in terms of protection of civil society organizations when they've been threatened by government action. I think it's a key area for the organization.

CRANER: Thank you all again for being here today, and let me commend you all again. I told a couple of people when I went into government that I'd be getting about half of my information from cables and the other half from my old friends in the NGO community. So I want to thank you for contributing to that today.



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