Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
last updated July 30, 2013

Within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Monitoring Unit of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) monitors and analyzes human rights development and compliance with OSCE commitments by OSCE member States. The Monitoring Unit also serves as an early warning system to alert the OSCE Chairman-in-Office to "serious deteriorations in respect for human rights that could merit his attention and intervention" and to bring attention to "indicators of a possible imminent deterioration in the human rights situation of an OSCE participating State."[1] The Monitoring Unit prepares background briefings and advice on human rights issues for the Director of the ODIHR and the Chairman-in-Office.

The OSCE conducts monitoring primarily through the sending of missions to the country in question. The mandate of the ODIHR clearly contemplates that the mission experts will be allowed to meet with non-governmental organizations and may receive any information in confidence from individuals, groups or organizations with information on the issue being addressed. Very general information about the work of the ODIHR Monitoring Unit can be accessed from the OSCE webpage.

Reports and documents of the OSCE do not create legally binding obligations, but the OSCE monitoring function is very influential to countries in the region making the transition to democracy. The following documents set forth some of the principles and mechanisms that guide the OSCE in carrying out monitoring functions: The Vienna Concluding Document of 1989 established a mechanism to address human rights, referred to broadly within the category of "human dimension concerns." The mechanisms introduced by the Vienna Concluding document include: written communications from member States in response to OSCE requests on human rights issues, bilateral meetings to examine specific situations and cases in an attempt to resolve them, the involvement of any OSCE member State in bringing attention to and providing information on human rights violations.[2]

The 1992 Helsinki Document further defines the role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to monitor compliance by member States with OSCE commitments. The Helsinki Document also sets forth guidelines for member States to provide opportunities for increased involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in OSCE activities, including attending plenary meetings, seminars, workshops, exchange of information between government structures and NGO and written presentations by NGOs.[3]

Finally, the Moscow mechanism, which supplements the Vienna mechanism above, is an emergency mechanism which allows the OSCE to undertake missions, led by a rapporteur or a group of experts, to examine human rights issues in a particular country. Under the Moscow mechanism, it is possible for several member States to request an emergency mission when it appears that large-scale human rights violations are occurring. In these circumstances, the OSCE can send a mission when receiving State is opposed. A Reference Guide to the Moscow Mechanism may be useful to advocates wishing to provide the OSCE with information during the monitoring process.[4]

In addition to human rights monitoring, the ODIHR provides human rights training materials. For example, the Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit  provides training on how to make security systems accessible to both men and women.[5] Additionally, the Handbook on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel gives an overview of legislation, policies, and other guiding principles utilized for the protection of armed forces personnel.[6]
 
 
[1] Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Semi-Annual Report Autumn 1999, December 15, 1999, http://www.osce.org/odihr/20465.
[2] Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Concluding Document of the Vienna Meeting 1986 of Representatives of the Participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-Operation in Europe, Held on the Basis of the Provisions of the Final Act Relating to the Follow-Up to the Conference, 1989, http://www.osce.org/mc/16262.
[3] Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Helsinki Document 1992, http://www.osce.org/mc/39530?download=true.
[4] Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE Human Dimension Commitments
A Reference Guide: Moscow Mechanism, 2001, http://www.osce.org/odihr/17599.
[5] Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit, February 13, 2008, http://www.osce.org/odihr/30652.
[6] Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Handbook on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel, April 7, 2008, http://www.osce.org/odihr/31393.