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OSCE conference

Swiss push for protection of rights defenders

By Urs Geiser

Burkhalter again called for the unconditiional release of OSCE monitors held in eastern Ukraine (Keystone)

Burkhalter again called for the unconditiional release of OSCE monitors held in eastern Ukraine


Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who currently chairs the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), has welcomed the Ukrainian president’s efforts to foster dialogue and peacefully resolve the crisis in eastern Europe.

Addressing an international conference on human rights defenders in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Tuesday, Burkhalter said a tripartite contact group has held three meetings on the implementation of a peace plan by Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko. The talks are scheduled to continue.

“It is a crucial moment for both Ukraine and the OSCE to achieve a ceasefire,” Burkhalter told journalists.

On Sunday Burkhalter sent a senior Swiss diplomat, Heidi Tagliavini, to represent the OSCE chairmanship in the contact group.

He says the OSCE is providing a platform for dialogue to prevent a further escalation of the violence in eastern Ukraine.

Burkhalter once again condemned the detention of eight OSCE monitors by armed groups as “unacceptable”, saying the rebels undermine important work of international experts to provide unbiased and verified information about security incidents and human rights violations in Ukraine.

He called for the immediate and unconditional release of the observers held since May 26.

Burkhalter said the OSCE was in contact with the hostage takers but declined to give further details.

Political will

The two-day conference brings together about 100 experts from OSCE member states. It marks the launch of guidelines for the protection of human rights defenders in civil society, including lawyers, teachers or the media, worldwide.

The event is jointly organised by Switzerland and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) as part of Switzerland’s chairmanship of the 57-member organisation in 2014.

In his opening address, Burkhalter stressed the importance of the respect for human rights as well as the rule of law and democracy for long-term security and stability.

“The implementation of human right norms first and foremost needs one thing: political will,” he said.

In a passionate keynote speech, Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union Special Envoy for Human Rights, pleaded for improved protection of the population from rights abuses by the powerful.



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