Statement at the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference on Rule of Law

As delivered by Senior Advisor, Merete Kristin Wilhelmsen, Warsaw, 9 October 2023.

Mr. Chair,

Rule of Law adopted by accountable politicians elected in free and fair elections is the backbone of peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. Absence of rule of law is one of the root causes of conflicts within and between states. An independent, competent, and impartial judiciary is a prerequisite for ensuring that the rights of minorities and vulnerable persons are respected. This is essential to preventing Human Rights violations that may lead to conflict. It is difficult, but effective. Rule of law, it’s all about people, according to North-Macedonia’s slogan for 2023.

Today we see examples of how difficult, but at the same time how important this is. In the USA, Poland and throughout Central Asia, to take a few examples, we see how the judiciary is being challenged by politicians. An independent judiciary is following those who come to power - in and out of office. In Russia and other countries, we see how laws are being enacted to curb and forbid citizens their freedom of speech and right to free assembly and association. Human Rights defenders are being arrested and treated as criminals just by executing these rights. Many places in Europe we see politicians increasing their power over the judiciary, despite the protest of judges and civil society organizations. It looks like it’s all about power, and not at all about people. 

A big thank you to the Chairpersonship North Macedonia for having organized this meeting. Here we are, representatives of governments not only talking to each other. We are also talking to and with a high number of nongovernmental organizations. Democracies do not exist without democratic citizens. Nongovernmental organizations have an important role in promoting and safeguarding societies based on rule of law. They have an important job in keeping a critical eye on national governments. For instance, reminding authorities that an independent, competent, and impartial judiciary is a prerequisite for ensuring the rights of minorities and persons belonging to vulnerable groups. Civil society and independent media constitute important control mechanisms, contributing to inclusive and informed public debates and democratic processes. As the chair says: it’s about people.

Multilateral and international organizations’ assistance in upholding the norms and principles of rule of law are both necessary and useful. The OSCE, and in particular the ODIHR, is offering assistance and guidance on a wide scale of topics to our governments.  ODIHR observes elections, monitors respect for human rights, and provides expert advice and support throughout the OSCE area on issues ranging from strengthening gender equality to improving judicial processes.

We urge all OSCE participating states to continue to utilize ODIHR’s assistance in developing justice systems that guarantee the respect of everyone’s fundamental rights and freedom in a fair and independent manner.

Thank you.