Twenty Years On and Twenty Years Ahead

The Continuing Relevance of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

The mandate of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), agreed by the participating States of the July 1992 Helsinki Summit of the then Conference or Security and Co-operation in Europe, is about early warning and early action on minority conflicts across the OSCE area.

Over the past two decades, this has predominantly applied to the post-Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, including Central Asia, because countries in Western Europe were generally less willing, and less susceptible to pressure, to allow HCNM engagement in conflicts in their jurisdictions. This is unlikely to change, and resistance to HCNM involvement is likely to increase in an era in which sovereignty concerns all too often trump concern over human and minority rights. Yet, this does not make the institution of the HCNM itself irrelevant — on the contrary. I see three areas in which the HCNM has a future role to play: monitoring, preventive quiet diplomacy, and policy transfer.

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