High Commissioner on National Minorities

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities works to identify and seek early resolution of ethnic tensions that might endanger peace, stability, or friendly relations among OSCE participating states.

Finnish Member of Parliament Astrid Thors was named the new OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities on 17 July 2013 (OSCE).

Astrid Thors was named the new OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities on 17 July 2013 (OSCE)

Finnish politician Astrid Thors  was appointed OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities in July 2013 to serve a three-year term, replacing Kurt Vollebaek.  She had been a Member of the Parliament of Finland since 2004. She also served as a Minister of Migration and European Affairs of Finland and was a Member of the European Parliament.

Role

The role of the High Commissioner is not necessarily to act as an advocate on behalf of persons belonging to minority groups; rather, the mandate is to promote dialogue between persons belonging to minority groups and governments or other institutions and organizations representing the national majority. The HCNM, acting as an impartial third party, negotiates at the highest political level.

The HCNM decides when and where to travel in response to incidents that might produce greater violence or an escalation of attention. This flexibility makes the office of the HCNM a unique role pioneered by the OSCE and is often considered one of the most innovative steps it has taken to prevent violent conflict.

Moldovan schools teaching the state language in Latin script in the breakaway region of Transdniestria continue to be harassed by the authorities. (OSCE/Walter Kemp)

Moldovan schools teaching the state language in Latin script in the breakaway region of Transdniestria continue to be harassed by the local authorities. (OSCE/Walter Kemp)

Most significantly, the High Commissioner does not require prior approval of his activities from any central institution of the OSCE, and he may seek to enter any participating state when he believes that the situation can benefit from his involvement. Although he typically coordinates his visit with the government involved, he does not need its formal approval to work on a conflict involving persons belonging to minority groups.

Limitations

The High Commissioner’s involvement is subject to limitations.

The situation must include:
  • Persons belonging to national minorities
  • Potential for conflict emanating from minority issues
  • Potential to affect inter-state relations or regional security.
The HCNM cannot:
  • Deal with individual cases
  • Situations involving acts of terrorism
  • Communicate with any person or organization that practices or publicly condones terrorism or violence
Collaboration
Knut Vollebaek (c), OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, speaks to Moldovan officials, alongside Olesea Coseac (l), Translator, and Jaqueline Carpenter, Human Dimension Officer, Chisinau, 16 March 2012.

Knut Vollebaek (c), outgoing OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, speaks to Moldovan officials, alongside Olesea Coseac (l), Translator, and Jaqueline Carpenter, Human Dimension Officer, Chisinau, 16 March 2012. (OSCE)

In many cases OSCE field operations and the office of the High Commissioner have collaborated closely in their effort to resolve underlying tensions involving the rights of persons belonging to minorities. A substantial number of field operations have come into existence in part because of recommendations by the High Commissioner.