The new OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis, urged the Organization's participating States to focus on resolving existing conflicts and achieving concrete progress in addressing transnational threats and safeguarding fundamental freedoms in his inaugural address to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna .
Ažubalis, speaking on the 20th anniversary of events in Vilnius which led to Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union, said: “Our courage was met with solidarity across the OSCE area. Lithuania was backed by peaceful rallies in Kyiv, Warsaw, Moscow, Washington and Stockholm, by civil society and governments of most OSCE participating States.”
“Over the past 20 years the OSCE participating States have made great progress individually and collectively. Twenty years later problems remain, and we still face challenges, but progress is undeniable.”
“What we did then, we must be able to do now in the remaining unresolved disputes,” he added. “This is not just a matter for the Chairmanship. It is a matter for us all. Resolving existing conflicts in the OSCE area in a peaceful and negotiated manner must be our highest commitment.”
He said the Chairmanship would push for a resumption of formal “5+2” negotiations on Moldova, use the Geneva process to rebuild trust and work to restore a meaningful OSCE presence in Georgia; and support greater engagement by the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to re-energize political negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ažubalis also said he regretted that OSCE standards had not been met in recent elections in Belarus, and that the mandate of the OSCE Office in Minsk had not been extended at the end of 2010.
He emphasized the importance of upholding fundamental freedoms. “I am personally committed to supporting and defending the freedom of the media, safety of journalists, and protecting independent national human rights institutions,” he said, adding that a conference on protecting the safety of journalists would be held with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in Vilnius in June.
OSCE Heads of State and Government at the Astana Summit in December tasked the Lithuanian and subsequent chairmanships of the OSCE with "organizing a follow-up process" towards a concrete action plan.
Ažubalis presented the 2011 Lithuanian Chairmanship’s work programme and said he counted on the co-operation of participating States with its implementation, which will contribute toward the goal proclaimed in the Astana Commemorative Declaration - to realize the vision of a genuine security community.
Priorities of the Lithuanian Chairmanship outlined in the work programme include contributing to progress in the resolution of protracted conflicts, enhancing efforts to tackle transnational treats in the OSCE area, advancing freedom of the media, promoting tolerance through education, developing common principles in the field of energy security and promoting sub-regional co-operation.
“We have a full agenda ahead of us this year. We will be active and constructive. We must play to our strengths,” said Ažubalis.
The Permanent Council is one of the 56-country OSCE's main regular decision-making bodies. It convenes weekly in Vienna to discuss developments in the OSCE area and to make appropriate decisions.