Open letter to RoFM Harlem Désir in light of the unfolding OSCE crisis

© Philippe Grangeaud/Solfe Communications/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/

Dear Mr. Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media,

It is with dismay that our organisation, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and our partners working on defending media freedoms in Central Asia and other post-Soviet countries have learned that today is your last day in office. We find it outrageous that the position you have held, as well as the positions of three other key mandate holders within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will now be left vacant due to the lack of consensus and the political pressure exercised by certain OSCE participating States, such as Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

On behalf of IPHR and our partners, we would like to express our deep concern about this leadership crisis in the OSCE, because of its implications for the OSCE’s institutional future and, above all, for the defense of human rights in our target region.

Over the last years, we have built a strong relationship with you and your excellent team. We always knew that if freedom of expression and media freedoms were attacked anywhere in the region where our partners are based, we would find support and protection by addressing our concerns to you. Your voice has reinforced the message of local human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists, making sure that their concerns are given appropriate attention at the highest level and throughout all possible diplomatic channels.

For this reason, we fear that the decision to discontinue your mandate, and leave the position as OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media open for an unknown period of time will have a serious negative impact on the protection of fundamental freedoms especially in OSCE participating States with the most repressive regimes.

Last week IPHR issued a comprehensive report on media freedom in Tajikistan, which is also reflective of the long-term trends of curbing the right to freedom of expression in the Central Asian region. It showed that the active role of human rights experts such as yourself in vocalizing concerns in this area and publicly raising  them with the respective authorities has been of key importance in attracting international attention to violations and putting pressure on the Tajikistani government to comply with its international obligations. Thus, IPHR and our partners in the region are extremely worried, that without such interventions in months to come, it will get much harder to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and others are not silenced, and that citizens have access to independent information not only in Tajikistan, but also in other countries of Central Asia and the wider OSCE region.

In the face of growing authoritarianism, the rise of populism and political and socio-economic challenges due to COVID-19, the demand for well-functioning OSCE institutions is now greater than ever. At this time of unprecedented crisis and turmoil within the OSCE, we and our partner organisations will do our best to help ensure that the OSCE is not paralysed but remains capable of promoting the objectives set out in the Helsinki  Final Act.

On behalf of IPHR and our partners, we wish to thank you again for all your work on defending freedom of expression and the media in Central Asia and other countries of the former Soviet Union during your years as OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. We wish you success in your future endeavours and are convinced that you will pursue your mission in ways through which our paths will cross again.