Terror and slave trade get priority at security agency
The Dutch have made combatting terrorism and human trafficking principal aims during their chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Encouraging democratisation in former Soviet states and administrative reform of the OSCE are also priorities.
The OSCE is a pan-European body, with 55 participating states stretching from Canada to Russia. It provides early warning of emerging conflicts, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation within Europe and some neighbouring areas.
To these ends it tackles a wide range of security-related issues, including human rights, arms control, confidence-and-security building, national minority rights, democratisation, policing strategies, counter-terrorism and economic and environmental activities. Decisions are taken by consensus on a politically, but not legally binding, basis. The OSCE chairmanship is held by member states for a fixed term on a rotating basis.
Since taking over the OSCE chairmanship in January, the Dutch have led the institution's efforts at helping the victims of human trafficking in the Balkans and Ukraine. They want the organisation to take a collective approach in the war against international terrorism.
The Dutch are also encouraging greater democratisation in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and are helping to find a political settlement between the Moldovan government and its Transdiestrian minority. A four-month publicity campaign has been launched in Albania to persuade people to stand up against corruption and injustice there.
The Dutch also want the OSCE to be involved long term in war-torn Chechnya to establish law and order, democratic institutions and social reconstruction in that Russian province. Anti-drug trafficking measures are also being supported in central Asia.
The OSCE's chairman-in-office, Dutch foreign minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, believes the end of the Cold War had raised new security concerns for Europe.
'The threats facing citizens across the OSCE region today give renewed relevance to the OSCE: threats such as terrorism, human trafficking, illegal immigration and xenophobia. They create urgent and legitimate concerns about human security that affect all our citizens, so it is no surprise that the Netherlands chair is placing these threats high on the OSCE's agenda,' he says.
Mr de Hoop Scheffer considers the best way to fight terrorism was with democracy.
'The rule of law and the full participation of all citizens in political life are essential in the fight against the dangers of instability and insecurity, including the threat of terrorism. The only societies that have the strength to challenge extremists in their midst are those where the right to question is beyond dispute.'
To this end, the Dutch-led OSCE is encouraging Europe's parliamentarians to work closer together to encourage the spread of democracy into Asia.
'In many OSCE regions a reinforcement of democratic structures and institutions is urgently needed. That is why the Netherlands chair welcomes the convening of the Trans-Asian Parliamentary Assembly to be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in May. That is highly significant. For it is a clear signal that this assembly is fully committed to the regions where urgent tasks lie ahead.'
Mr de Hoop Scheffer is particularly concerned about human trafficking.
'Human trafficking is the slave trade of modern times. It is one of the most pressing and complex human-rights issues in the OSCE region. It reaches across borders to affect nearly all OSCE countries, be they of origin, of transit or of destination,' he said.
The Dutch foreign minister said he wanted the OSCE to take practical steps to end human trafficking in Europe.
'There are already some excellent examples of what concrete measures the OSCE can take to fight human trafficking - preventive campaigns including the economic empowerment of potential victims; better prosecution of criminals through training programmes for police and legal authorities; or witness-protection programmes for victims.'
Mr de Hoop Scheffer is also working for greater transparency in the way the OSCE operates, so that it would more accountable.