Reflections on OSCE Chairmanship Conference in Berlin: Celebrating Diversity as an Opportunity

The task is simple, yet daunting: to create a more equitable world, we have to work together across faiths, ethnicities, and borders to strengthen our commitment to human rights. This was the shared vision expressed by civil society and governments of the OSCE region as they gathered to discuss their serious societal and political divisions.

On October 19, 2016 civil society representatives met in Berlin for a preparatory conference before the OSCE Chairmanship Conference on Tolerance and Diversity. Our goal was to develop a set of recommendations to press governments on their implementation of OSCE commitments for the promotion of tolerance and diversity and to discuss how civil society can be an active partner in reaching these goals.

I had the responsibility of moderating a working session on combating hatred in social media. There has been a troubling rise in racist, antisemitic, xenophobic, and discriminatory comments on social networks and the Internet in many OSCE countries, including the United States.

The Internet provides a platform for these voices, magnifies their impact, and contributes to false narratives intended to spread fear. Facing a set of related challenges—to ensure that the Internet remains a productive, unifying force, that freedom of opinion and expression are protected online, and that we publicly and effectively repudiate and counter hate speech and discrimination—we emphasized the need for preventative measures and counter-narratives promoting tolerance and non-discrimination.

The next day more than 350 officials from OSCE states and civil society representatives from the region gathered at the invitation of the German OSCE Chairmanship 2016 to discuss ways to embrace diversity and integration as an intrinsic part of addressing migration challenges and countering extremism. OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that better responses to these challenges will be possible only if we regard diversity as an opportunity for our societies.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, stressed that “Freedom of expression should be looked upon as a tool and a possibility to counter hate speech and extremist narrative, and not as a hindrance.” At the same time, she said that “media is society’s mirror.”  There have been some frightening reflections in that mirror.

Many participants acknowledged that the process of globalization has created worse inequality. While political forces, particularly from the far right, have been stoking grievances and cultivating  hatred, political elites have been seen as out of touch and unresponsive. This is a legitimate problem, one that should be addressed through inclusive dialogue and policies.

Anastasia Crickley, the Chair of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Nils Muiznieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe, both emphasized—with some exasperation—that this need not be a crisis. Implementing rational policies, forging cooperation, and living up to established human rights frameworks are essential ingredients in a recipe for making this hard situation a manageable one.

The onus is on governments and representatives of international organizations to put into place policies that meet basic needs and stand up for rights of all citizens.

The massive numbers of refugees who are coming to Europe, risking their lives to get there, should prompt us to remember the tragedy of WWII and the Holocaust and to recommit to helping those in need. It is not enough to speak of tolerance; we must come together and “walk the talk.”

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Published on October 26, 2016

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