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2019-09-16 › Remembering the peaceful revolutions of 1989 to protect our democracies for the future: OSCE annual human rights conference

 WARSAW, 16 September 2019 – The velvet revolutions that swept Central Eastern Europe 30 years ago gave rise to a time of optimism that we need to recapture as threats to our democracies multiply, key speakers stressed as the annual human rights conference* hosted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) opened in Warsaw today.

“It is with immense pride that I look back on the achievements of the underground opposition and the Solidarity movement I was privileged to lead,” said Lech Wałęsa, Nobel prize-winning leader of the Solidarity movement that helped bring about the transformations of 1989. “It was because of this country’s pivotal role in the peaceful revolutions of 1989 that the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights was set up in Poland, and I am impressed at the work ODIHR has done since then in strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law in so many countries. But the backsliding we are seeing in both the new democracies in the East and the established democracies of the West make clear that the struggle is not yet over.”

Conflicts across the OSCE region and an increasing lack of solidarity with communities who find themselves excluded and discriminated against are making it all the more important to seek further dialogue and efforts to demonstrate the essential role of human rights in developing and sustaining our democracies.

“We need the conversations between states and civil society, and we need a platform to have them,” said Miroslav Lajčák, Foreign Minister of Slovakia and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. “The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) is the place to be open, to be critical, but always respectful. HDIM is a pillar of the human dimension. And the human dimension is the heartbeat of the Helsinki process.”

This year’s conference will see more than 1,500 participants from across the 57 countries of the OSCE gathering in Warsaw for the two-week meeting. The format is unique, bringing together representatives of government, civil society, international organizations, and academia to review the progress made by national governments in fulfilling their commitments in the field of human rights, and at the same time discuss current and emerging challenges.

Safety of journalists, hate crime, and the challenges facing Roma and Sinti across the OSCE are this year’s special focus topics. Human rights are at risk throughout the OSCE region, not least from restrictions to fundamental freedoms and rising intolerance both on- and offline, putting pressure on the security situation within and between states.

“The years following 1989 were a time of hope, and rightly so,” said Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, ODIHR Director. “We have come so far in so many ways since then, but the challenges to human rights are growing, and we must overcome them in order to preserve our democracies and the values on which they are built. Those who are deliberately fuelling prejudice and hatred for the sake of short-term political gain cannot be allowed to polarize our societies any further.”

* This year is the 23rd annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), organized and hosted by ODIHR.

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