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.

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.

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, speaks at the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 18 June 2009. (OSCE/Susanna Lööf)

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, speaks at the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 18 June 2009. (OSCE/Susanna Lööf)

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 states 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 their formal approval to enter into 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 situation must not involve:

  • Groups actively engaged in terrorist activities
  • Ethnic conflicts that are engaged in open violence
Collaboration

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.