As part of the 2023 Warsaw Human Dimension Conference of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, on October 6th, 2023, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) organised a side event on “Integrating civil society in the work of national parliaments”. Our Supervisory Board Chair, Bartosz Kramek, was invited to provide input based on ODF’s work and experience.
Official invitation and summary of the event, published by the OSCE:
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) regularly brings together more than 300 members of OSCE parliaments to debate topical issues affecting the region. Democracy, human rights and democracy questions, which are regularly being discussed within OSCE PA Third General Committee, are key priorities for the parliamentarians.
Moreover, every year at its Annual Sessions, OSCE PA passes a Declaration with a wide range of recommendations directed at national authorities, including those related to strengthening dialogue with civil society actors.
This side event will serve to present the conclusions from the Vancouver 2023 Declaration, brief OSCE diplomats and civil society actors on the Resolution on the Role of National Parliaments in Enhancing Participation of Civil Society in Parliamentary and Decision-Making Processes and seek their feedback, as well as their input for the upcoming 2024 OSCE PA Annual Session in Bucharest (29 June – 3 July 2024).
Furthermore, the event will provide an opportunity to exchange good practices, lessons learned and innovations on how national parliaments, as well as international parliamentary fora such as OSCE PA, can better integrate civil society in their work. The OSCE PA is pleased to invite you to a side-event on “Integrating civil society in the work of national parliaments” at the 2023 Warsaw Human Dimension Conference.
The OSCE PA looks forward to an active discussion on priority topics and to receiving feedback on the OSCE PA’s human rights and democracy work and civil society engagement efforts.
OBJECTIVES: The event will provide an opportunity to discuss innovative approaches on integrating the civil society efforts into the work of national parliaments. More specifically, the event will aim to:
1. Present conclusions from the 2023 OSCE PA Vancouver Annual Session;
2. Provide a platform to exchange good practices, lessons learned and innovations on how national parliaments and interparliamentary organizations can better integrate civil society in their work;
3. Raise awareness of OSCE PA tools and mechanisms for promoting the role of the civil society in the work of national parliaments.
The event is hosted by Kyriakos Hadjiyianni, OSCE PA Vice-President, Member of Parliament of Cyprus.
- Andrew Gardner, Deputy Head, Human Rights Department, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
- Ivana Korajlić Executive Director, Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Nana Kalandadze, Programme Manager, Regional Europe Programme, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)
- Bartosz Kramek, Board Chair, Open Dialogue Foundation
As part of the event, Bartosz Kramek, Chair of the Supervisory Board of the Open Dialogue Foundation, delivered a statement, highlighting the importance of a structured, transparent and efficient mechanism for civil society representatives to be able to conduct their advocacy work at national parliaments and international organisations. Below are a few excerpts from his opening remarks.
Bartosz started by outlining our core belief: “We believe the involvement of civil society actors is essential in strengthening the capacity of democratic systems – both at the national and transnational level – to resist abuses and attacks of malign states: be it totalitarian, authoritarian or hybrid regimes/ill democracies (such as, sadly, our host country – today’s Poland, or its ally Hungary) – whatever we call them.”
“Ensuring smooth access for civil society to the sessions of parliaments and transnational institutions, in order to update parliamentarians on emerging threats to democratic societies, remains of vital importance.” – he continued.
He then outlined the main obstacles faced by civil society organisations in this regard:
“In general, rules of procedure (governing access to parliaments, transnational assemblies and their works) should become more transparent and less arbitrary. The system used by the European Parliament may and – in our view – should serve as the role model. It is vital for there to be a transparency register, governed by an apolitical body in charge of granting accreditations and access to the premises.
Obtaining accreditation should depend on meeting formal criteria, not rely solely on “sponsorship” by members of a given assembly or – for instance, in the case of PACE – an extremely rare, discriminatory instance of having representation in five Council of Europe Member States. It should be renewed on an annual basis, the processing of applications should be continuous and allow access to all premises to facilitate in-person meetings with MPs and relevant staff. In particular, civil society representatives should be allowed, without discrimination, access to common spaces of parliaments and assemblies to conduct their human rights work independent of previously assigned MP who are not always able to accompany them.”
Bartosz then mentioned the attacks faced at parliaments by civil society from malign actors:
“Obstruction of access to parliaments and assemblies’ (such as PACE or OSCE PA) premises and sessions remains a significant problem. We believe no MP or a group of MPs should actively seek to prevent activists from entering premises where meetings, sessions and all kinds of formal and informal gatherings take place. It should not be allowed to obstruct the work of civil society organisations because their views or agenda are not shared by some MPs.
Attacks on civil society may also take the form of slander – false and damaging statements by diplomats, MPs and lobbyists of autocrats and kleptocrats. Sadly, it is not uncommon to face unacceptable and unfounded allegations against civil society organisations – and even against MPs cooperating with them, formulated by other MPs in order to undermine such cooperation. Usually, diplomats and MPs representing non-democratic states (such as Russia, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan, but recently also Poland) abuse their power to attack critical voices. And sometimes they can influence and prejudice their colleagues from democratic countries as well.”
He then used ODF’s experiences in PACE as a case study:
“Since 2017 we have become a target for representatives of the Polish PiS government, whose actions were harshly criticised in several resolutions on the rule of law in Poland by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, including the one on the independence of judges adopted on January 26, 2021. Mularczyk, supported by his British ally, conservative Ian Liddell-Grainger, initiated a series of actions based on manipulative and false claims (including alleged breaches of the Assembly’s rules) to block our advocacy campaign at PACE. He accused us of ‘dictating’ allegedly ‘anti-Polish’ amendments to the resolution and even to influence the activities of pro-resolution MPs in other ways (incl. financial incentives, i.e. bribery). Fortunately, his unfounded allegations resulted in Mularczyk’s temporary disciplinary ban from speaking at PACE (June-September 2021).
By all means, his aim was to limit the influence of NGOs at PACE and exclude inconvenient organisations from its work. Unlike the Sejm (lower chamber of the Polish parliament), PACE is not surrounded by fences and barriers and its leadership does not ban civil activists from entering it, as the Speaker of the Sejm and the Commander of the Marshal’s (Sejm’s) Guard do.”
Bartosz concluded his statement by listing some concrete recommendations:
“What should be done to protect civil society against such attacks? The answer is accountability. Codes of conduct should include a prohibition and accountability mechanisms against this kind of abuse. Civil society representatives should be empowered to file complaints for review by an independent body entitled to impose, or at least, to recommend, specific sanctions.
Furthermore, there should be a clear obligation for any individuals registering in the transparency register to reveal any links/professional dependencies on a government or another state and state-related institution under the sanction of removal from the register.
An important, not to be missed aspect is the process of organisation of observation missions to third countries and cooperation with NGOs in this field. The composition of delegations, and their agendas should be known well in advance and NGOs should have the opportunity to meet with foreign politicians – their members. In this context, it is also important to apply the principle of limited trust in undemocratic (and not fully democratic) governments, which may promote their own organisations (so-called GONGOs) at the expense of persecuted, actual civil society organisations.
Last but not least, procedures and regulations are one side of the coin. The other is individual willingness of MPs to meet, listen and get involved in defence of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. We need it more than ever. “