2012-WM-Vienna-Standing-Committee-VotingIn his opening address to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's 11th Winter Meeting on 23 February 2012, Assembly President Petros Efthymiou spoke of the need for governments to respect the rule of law, particularly in prison systems, and called for better protection of freedom online.

"We all have the responsibility in our home parliaments to advocate for laws that protect freedom of expression wherever that expression is taking place," he said. "To ensure citizens remain free from government pressure online requires us to take more difficult action."

President of the Austrian Parliament Barbara Prammer called on the parliamentarians to protect and strengthen OSCE commitments, especially in the human dimension. "It is especially vital now, after all initiatives in this area have failed to gain consensus at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Vilnius in December," she stressed.

OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier highlighted the need to strengthen relations between the Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE's executive structures. He encouraged parliamentarians "to play a more active role in developing new, 'outside the box' ideas, and providing fresh inputs to the OSCE's intergovernmental dialogue."

The Winter Meeting began with a meeting of the Assembly's Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, in which former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak took part, along with Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital Management, who spoke about the case of Sergei Magnitsky; Eugenia Tymoshenko, daughter of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and Iryna Bogdanova, sister of Andrey Sannikov, former presidential candidate currently imprisoned in Belarus.

Committee Chair Matteo Mecacci (Italy) noted the importance of highlighting individual stories to make real the meaning of the OSCE's human dimension.

"It takes a human face to drive home the urgency of human rights. At its best the OSCE was known for this kind of work, focusing on specific cases of rights being abused. I'm proud to see that today we returned to this important work hearing from people who reflect some of the biggest challenges to justice in the OSCE region," Mecacci said.

In the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment OSCE parliamentarians debated the economic and financial crisis in Europe.

Chaired by Ukrainian parliamentarian Serhiy Shevchuck, the committee pointed out that austerity and recovery policies should go hand in hand. Parliamentarians agreed that European states should show greater solidarity, but also work toward fiscal convergence by cutting deficits and balancing budgets.

The meeting of the OSCE PA's General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, chaired by German parliamentarian Karl-Georg Wellmann, included a report from the Committee Rapporteur Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene on her plans for the upcoming Annual Session in Monaco, and a follow-up report from Vice-Chair Susanne Bratli regarding developments related to OSCE PA recommendations from the PA's 2011 Belgrade Declaration.

"The OSCE, due to its broad membership and comprehensive approach to security, offers a unique platform to discuss new threats including cyber threats," said Aleknaite-Abramikiene. She mentioned that existing OSCE tools for confidence- and security-building could be used on new threats such as cyber crime.

A lively discussion was held on the fight against terrorism and crime, with presentations by Mauro Miedico, Chief of the Specialized Terrorism Prevention, Terrorism Prevention Branch, UNODC; Manuel Marion, Senior Programme Officer, OSCE Transnational Threats, Action Against Terrorism Unit; Murat Yildiz, Police Affairs Officer, Training Adviser, OSCE Transnational Threats, Strategic Police Matters Unit; and Nemanja Malisevic, Cyber Security Officer, OSCE Secretariat.

The Standing Committee of Heads of Delegations met on 24 February to hear reports of recent OSCE PA election observation missions, as well as discuss ongoing activities, including upcoming meetings and election observation. Most national delegations showed support for the Assembly observing the Russian March 2012 presidential election in some capacity. After the discussion President Efthymiou decided a small delegation would be deployed to observe the election.

The Winter Meeting concluded with a Joint Session of the three committees.

In his report, High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek spoke about his recent visit to South East Europe and urged parliamentarians to continue working for ethnic reconciliation in the region. He outlined the work being actively undertaken in Kyrgyzstan, and the increasing involvement of the High Commissioner of the OSCE as a third party to settle disputes within the EU area.

Special Representative on Gender Issues Hedy Fry encouraged Members to increase the representation of women in the OSCE PA Bureau to at least 30 per cent, and called on female parliamentarians to put their names forward for election.

Damian R. Leader, an arms control regime expert from the United States, said the arms control regime, comprised of the Vienna Document, the Open Skies Treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, is crucial to a stable and predictable security environment. A continual adoption of the arms control regime is necessary to reflect the changes in the 21st century, he said.

Anton Mazur, Head of the Russian Delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security & Arms Control, outlined some of the work his office has been engaged with and gave a historical perspective on the problem from the Russian point of view. Consultations are in deadlock, he said, since some countries are using the interests of partners to solve political problems through arms control and opted for collective solution tools.

Mathew Geertsen, Senior Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC) Support Officer of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Center, outlined the work of the FSC in the area of arms control, describing the changing nature of threats to security and that parliamentarians would benefit from an adapted or new set of confidence- and security-building measures to strengthen transparency and predictability. The Vienna Document, he said, should be a "living document."

Several delegates urged progress on the modernization of the Vienna Document and the implementation of the corresponding 2011 Vilnius Ministerial decision.

The 11th Winter Meeting was held 23-24 February 2012, at the Hofburg Congress Center in Vienna. It brought together an estimated 250 parliamentarians from more than 50 OSCE participating States. At the close of the meeting, President Efthymiou issued a statement with consent of the Joint Session of the Assembly's three General Committees expressing regret for the violence and loss of life in Syria.