Materials of an International Seminar
Civil society and social development



Some of those who spoke at the seminar yesterday mentioned some sort of inevitable conflict between civil society and the state, with this kind of relations being both conflict-like and constructive at the same time. However, there are conflicts leading to violence, and this type conflicts must be avoided by all means for too many people fall victim to them. To prevent a conflict situation from growing into a full-scale conflict, a large array of means is employed. They are used on all levels, their effectiveness, unfortunately, not always being sufficient enough. And here, as was graphically illustrated by our colleagues in their reports yesterday, civil society, too, is called upon to play its decisive role.

On my part, I shall tell you about non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as part of civil society engaged in conflict-prevention activities, as well as their cooperation with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Being humanitarian in nature, this organisation considers the development of civil society, democracy and human rights as an important means of preventing conflicts, which resort to violence as a weapon in the bid to achieve goals.

OSCE Activities to Develop Civil Society as a Crisis-Prevention and Management Tool in the Central Asian Republics of the Former Soviet Union

1. The OSCE and conflict-prevention

During the Cold War, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was used as some sort of a rostrum ensuring the negotiation process between the two opposing blocks. The fall of the Berlin Wall and changes that we witnessed in the early 1990s led to the sweeping reorganisation of the CSCE, with all its goals and missions completely reassessed during the 1992 Helsinki summit. From that time on, the CSCE became increasingly considered as an organisation, with conflict-prevention being its primary goal.

The 1994 Budapest Conference admitted that that the CSCE is interested in cooperation with NGOs as far as the settlement of crisis situations is concerned: “The participating States and CSCE institutions will provide opportunities for increased involvement of NGOs in CSCE activities as foreseen in Chapter IV of the Helsinki Document 1992. They will search for ways in which the CSCE can best make use of the work and information provided by NGOs.”[1]

The above idea is amply confirmed by the European Security Charter adopted at the recent Istanbul Summit: “Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can perform a vital role in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. They are an integral component of a strong civil society. We pledge ourselves to enhance the ability of NGOs to make their full contribution to the further development of civil society and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”[2]

2. The OSCE and former Soviet Republics

Remaining a Euro-Atlantic Structure, the CSCE becomes a Eurasian structure, too, since in January 1992 the former Soviet Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the Caucasus, as well as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, and Turkmenistan in Central Asia became CSCE full-fledged members.

Thus, the CSCE, having turned into the OSCE, has embraced all former Soviet Republics, which assumed the obligations taken on yet by the Soviet Union, inter alia, those concerning human rights and arms control. The OSCE views them as part of the so-called “Large Europe”.

3. Situation in the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union

1) The presence of tension in the region

There are still several sources of tension in Central Asia. Among them are:

-                            the crisis affecting all spheres of economic and social life. The Soviet Union having disintegrated, the republics’ national economies found themselves in need of thorough refurbishment.

-                            the civil war in Tadzhikistan.

-                            armed conflicts around the perimeter of the republics whose direct and indirect consequences are as follows: an influx of refugees, terrorism in border areas, illegal drug trafficking and arms trade, threat to national minorities, the danger of the religious extremism ideology (the Taliban movement).

-                            the Fergana Valley, situated in the centre of the area accommodating three republics (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan) can be regarded as a zone of ethnical instability and potential conflicts.

-                            arbitrariness on the borders and the danger of interstate conflicts.

-                            ethno-nationalism of Russian minorities (Kazakhstan).

-                            problems pertaining to the environment and water resources.

2) Human rights record

Structural deficit in democracy

Upon entering the OSCE, the five Central Asian Republics were unable to meet the obligations and norms laid down by the organisation as far as the so-called “human dimension” is concerned (human rights, political pluralism, the rule of law).

So, they had to a posteriori make their legislation and practical activities fully compliant with the OSCE standards.

Uncertainty as regards ethnicity and nationality

The Central Asian Republics were not all that desirous of independence, the latter being more of an accomplished fact. The political elite had to resign themselves to the inevitable and declared their independence in 1991 following the collapse of the centre. Independence was not gained as a result of a national liberation process, which proved to be a reason for the evident fragility of the national self-consciousness of the new states. This kind of fragility and uncertainty was also caused by the fact that the borders established by the Soviet government in 1924-36 had nothing to do with geographic, economic or ethnic expediency. Each republic houses rather big ethnic minorities from at least one of the neighbouring states.

4. Non-governmental organisations and crisis management

NGOs’ activities as regards crisis management can be divided into four phases:

Phase 1: Initial interference including the following actions:

Ø       diagnosing the conflict situation and determining participants in future actions, as well as their participation in the planned interference.

Ø       sponsoring meetings facilitating dialogue, intermediary activities, reaching a consensus among all parties concerned or working out a joint solution to the problem.

Ø       training in theory and practice of managing crisis situations.

Ø       encouragement of actions aimed at settling crises on the local level.

Some western NGOs encourage the development of independent NGOs, organisations somehow linked with universities and other educational establishments, as well as other structures on the local level.

Phase 2: Creating opportunities to settle crises on the local level

All goals provided for by Phase 1 having been achieved, further crisis settlement efforts must be focused on bolstering local resources and creating appropriate opportunities for crisis management. Such efforts include raising funds and other resources from external sources, consultations, organisational initiatives, joint efforts aimed at establishing an adequate resource base for training and education, etc.

However, this cannot be regarded as a general rule and some organisations prefer to skip the second phase.

At the same time, some NGOs see the activities provided for by phase 2 as their main mission. They provide appropriate resources, ensure training and guide the organisational activities of local organisations. Some NGOs also deem expedient to establish a certain consortium uniting various local participants into a single local organisation to coordinate crisis-management activity.

Phase 3: Improving the efficiency of crisis management

How can this be achieved?

By means of systematic collection of documentation, as regards settlement and timely prevention of crises.

By means of information exchange between parties involved in the conflict settlement process and parties not participating in the process.

By assessing the results of interference in the crisis situation.

By improving coordination as far as crisis management activities are concerned.

For such organisations’ activities to be useful as regards the local population, their planning must be well coordinated and, if possible, carried out in close cooperation with the latter. Efforts made must be neither excessive, nor counterproductive.

It is deemed expedient to develop machinery designed to document and disseminate information, as well as to assess and improve coordination between the parties involved in crisis management.

Phase 4: The installation of capable establishments

Long-term crisis-management activity requires well-financed and independent NGOs. It must be admitted, however, that the bulk of funds is allocated by the government.

5. The OSCE democratic stabilisation strategy

a)         Cooperation between the OSCE and NGOs

In 1994, Warsaw hosted an OSCE seminar on Early Warning and Preventive Diplomacy. The seminar emphasised the role played by NGOs in the global context of preventive diplomacy and in the development of democratic institutions. The seminar participants concluded that cooperation between the OSCE and NGOs could be successful: “Wider participation of NGOs in early warning and preventive diplomacy might as well be quite useful as regards separate states and the OSCE activities as a whole”.[3]

This regards the following aspects:

Ø       Freedom of action

NGOs boast a greater freedom of action as compared with official representatives. They can employ all sorts of innovations and work on different levels.

Ø       Contacts with civil society

Non-governmental organisations and the OSCE come into contact with different groups of people. They can exercise certain influence over politicians vested with the decision-making authority. The OSCE’s authority presents NGOs cooperating with the former with ample opportunities to act.

On the other hand, NGOs have access to all leaders of civil society. Dialogue between NGOs and political leaders is somewhat informal, which certainly promotes a creative approach in the decision-making process.

NGOs can employ a wide array of instruments to influence public opinion.

Ø       Resources

Like the OSCE, NGOs suffer from lack of adequate funding and human resources. Cooperation between organisations can bolster their resources.

Unlike the OSCE, NGOs can receive private funding to carry out some ad hoc initiative or other.

The Shleinin seminar held in Austria in September 1994 highlighted three major areas where the OSCE’s and NGOs’ interests coincide:

-                            the OSCE and NGOs have common goals as far as conflict prevention, civil society development and human rights protection are concerned.

-                            the OSCE and NGOs use the same means to achieve their goals: persuasion, dialogue and reconciliation.

-                            the OSCE and NGOs complement each other during all conflict settlement phases to begin with base settlement, through to political and governmental settlement.

b)         The OSCE civil society development projects for Central Asia

According to the OSCE, the democratisation of the state machinery and civil society is key to stability. The OSCE encourages efforts as regards the so-called “human dimension”.

The OSCE believes that NGOs are an important source of information, especially as far as human rights protection is concerned. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and its NGO (non-governmental organisations) branch are regarded as the main link ensuring cooperation between the OSCE and NGOs. They are involved in the programmes bolstering civil society in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. They also develop cooperation with local and international NGOs. The ODIHR is a sponsor of various forums devoted to the “human dimension” problems, with NGOs becoming increasingly involved in this kind of activity.

The OSCE activities in Central Asia are built around the Tashkent-based Liaison Office, High Commissioner for National Minorities and the ODIHR.

a) The Tashkent-based Liaison Office (the mandate expires on 31 December 2000)

This office is an information accumulation centre and an early-warning outpost at the same time. It is through this office that the OSCE receives situation assessment reports regarding the human right record in the region. The office is also used as an instrument to ensure dialogue, as well as a kind of drive, on the one hand, to ensure permanent contact with the governments and civil society leaders, and, on the other hand, to inform the OSCE of intentions on the part of the parties participating in the negotiation process. The office’s branches are also located in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

b) The High Commissioner for National Minorities

The High Commissioner is primarily tasked with the prevention of ethnic conflicts at early stages, with his office being a special preventive diplomacy instrument.

c) The office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)

The OSCE strategy in Central Asia is wholly wrapped around the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), since the human factor is at the core of any project dealing with society democratisation.

In 1999-June 2000, the ODIHR was engaged in the realisation of the Joint Programme for Human Rights Protection and Democratisation in Central Asia, which is partially financed by the European Commission. This programme encompasses about a dozen projects pertaining to civil society, the rule of law and human rights protection in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. They are called upon to create a relevant environment to develop civil society and promote dialogue between the governments and NGOs as regards assistance in strengthening human rights protection institutions.

Ø       The Programme for the Support of Civil Society in Kazakhstan

In 1999, the ODIHR in cooperation with the OSCE Office in Alma-Ata, Kazakh Ministry of Home Affairs and Kazakhstan-based Office for the Rule of Law and Human Rights organised three forums attended by the representatives of the government and NGOs to discuss the question of precluding the use of torture in prisons. During the forums, a new form of dialogue between the government and civil society in Kazakhstan was employed. Both sides also showed their determination to continue dialogue as regards the question.

The latest meeting within the civil society development programme focused on freedom of religion.

Ø       The Programme for the Support of Civil Society in Kyrgyzstan.

On 6 September 1999, Bishkek hosted the third meeting between the government and NGOs, which concentrated on human rights protection, civil society development and Ombudsman issues. The meeting was sponsored by the International Helsinki Federation, Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights and European Commission. The event meant to clarify the role of the go-between mission in a peculiar Kyrgyz environment and specify possible means of cooperation with the existing Commission For Human Rights. As a result of the discussion between the representatives of the state and NGOs the latter were offered to participate in the work of the official working group tasked with drawing up a new Ombudsman law in the capacity of a consulting group.

The latest meeting between the government and NGOs, which took place in Kyrgystan in 1999 (14 December 1999, Bishkek), focused on relationships between the legislative bodies and NGOs. To be more specific, it dealt with new legislation on NGOs, access to information, responsibility of organisations tasked with updating the existing laws, as well as ensuring efficient cooperation between the legislative bodies and NGOs within the context of the existing laws.

Besides the civil society support programme, the ODIHR has also revised the law on NGOs and made recommendations to the Kyrgyz government. With the OSCE Office in Bishkek acting as a go-between, the local NGOs applied to the government for the revision of the law. The civil society support programme is part of the Joint Programme for Human Rights Protection and Democratisation in Central Asia being implemented by the ODIHR and European Commission. It is partially financed by the United Kingdom.

The OSCE is a large and flexible Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian organisation, whose activities are wrapped around cooperation. It boasts tools and instruments that allow it to effectively operate both at the international and regional/local levels. Its "human dimension" accounts for the long-term character of its initiatives, broadens the organisation's field of application and promotes the development of civil society. It is deemed expedient to use the three-level structure for cooperation between the OSCE and NGOs, given below:
- the OSCE acting as an initiator and an intermediary, whose aim is to strengthen civil society and democracy in order to prevent the development of conflicts that use violence as a means to reach goals;
- international NGOs representing, to a certain extent, transnational civil society and facilitating the implementation of local initiatives;
- local NGOs as part of civil society called on to strengthen this very society through their activities.
Unfortunately, underfunding and lack of long-term budgetary policy are the main obstacles for the OSCE to surmount in order to effectively prevent conflicts.

[1]Budapest Document 1994, Decisions, Chapter YIII, 17

[2] Charter for European Security, OSCE, Istanbul Summit, 18-19 November ’99, Istanbul, November 1999.

[3] Speech by Ambassador John Kornblum to the CSCE Seminar on “Early Warning and Preventive Diplomacy”, Warsaw, January 1994.