Discussing Human Rights & Arms Control at the OSCE

March 02, 2021
Ottawa Journal (Ottawa Journal (March 05 – March 09, 2021)
David Tilson, MP

In my role as President of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, I recently travelled to Vienna, Austria, to lead an all-party parliamentary delegation at the Eleventh Winter Meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. During the delegation’s time there, many important international issues were discussed and debated. In particular, I made presentations to the Assembly on the most concerning human rights situation in Belarus and the future of conventional arms control.

The OSCE is the world’s largest security organization with 56 member states representing the regions of Europe, Central Asia, and North America. It provides a forum for these member states to discuss and to make decisions in the areas of: early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation, as well as ensuring the decisions are realized through a unique network of field missions.

In 1991, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) was created as the parliamentary dimension of the OSCE. The main purpose of the OSCE PA is to facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue on issues of concern to member states and to develop recommendations for their own respective governments, parliaments, and citizens with respect to the OSCE’s three spheres of action.

The human rights situation in Belarus continues to be of great concern for Canada and the international community, which was reaffirmed by the politically motivated November 2011 conviction of Ales Byalyatski, a long-time human rights defender and head of the human rights organization of Vyasna. During the Third Committee meeting at the OSCE PA, I rose and addressed the Assembly on this particular case and expressed Canada’s deep concern for Mr. Byalyatski and the current Belarusian government’s continued disregard of human rights of its citizens. During my presentation, I encouraged the appropriate authorities to ensure that Mr. Byalyatski’s appeal meets the standard of due process and reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to work with international organizations and partners to ensure Belarusians can exercise their fundamental rights. I ended my address to the OSCE PA by requesting all member states to urge their governments to follow Canada’s lead to assist the people of Belarus, their democratic future, and for the stability of OSCE region as a whole.

The following day, the OSCE PA proceeded to the issue of the future of conventional arms control in the OSCE area. This is a significant issue, as Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada estimates there are currently in excess of 600 million small arms and light weapons in circulation, which are instrumental in the deaths of more than 350,000 people a year. During my addresses to OSCE PA on this issue, I reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) regime and the transparency and predictability it offers. On behalf of the Canadian delegation, I encouraged all member states to commit to the effort required to ensure that current conventional arms control structures are modernized and that new ones are developed for the stability of the region going forward. I then cited an example of how Canada is doing this by negotiating a legally binding Strategic Partnership Agreement with the European Union (EU), which will hopefully enable Canada and the EU to act together to project our shared values to third countries on key issues.

The discussions during the Eleventh Winter Meeting of the OSCE PA proved to be productive in moving many international issues including human rights and conventional arms control forward through thoughtful and engaging discussions and debates. I look forward to participating in future meetings in the coming months.