World leaders have called for changes to the OSCE at the organization's first summit since 1999. In the Kazakh capital, Astana, Chancellor Angela Merkel said all member states must do more to promote human rights.
Kazakhstan is the first ex-Soviet republic to host OSCE
World leaders collectively called for a stronger Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Wednesday, as the body's first summit since 1999 got underway. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the 56-member group must first ensure peace and freedom within its borders.
"There's still a lot of work to do. Conflicts in this region must be successfully solved, now," Merkel told delegates in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
Merkel said the organization still had some way to go before becoming a "cooperative security forum on the basis of democracy and freedom."
"Human rights guarantees, such as democracy and freedom of expression and media, must be fully implemented in all (OSCE) member states," Merkel said, in what may have been a veiled reference to Kazakhstan, the host country, among others.
The first ex-Soviet republic to hold the chairmanship of the organization, Kazakhstan itself does not meet the organization's standards on freedom of press and assembly. Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday said Kazakhstan was an unsuitable choice to host the OSCE's first summit of the 21st century.
"We have created a democracy in a part of the world where it never existed before," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in his opening address, seeking to answer his critics. "Stability in Kazakhstan, first and foremost, means economic growth. We developed the economy first in order that poverty did not humiliate our young democracy."
Afghanistan, regional conflicts on agenda
Merkel (right) said confidence in the OSCE was gradually being restored
Thirty-eight heads of state and other top leaders from around the world have traveled to Astana for the two-day meeting, amid tight security.
They are seeking to strengthen the OSCE's chairmanship and to consider taking on a greater role in Afghanistan, as fellow international organizations call for help.
"The United Nations would welcome greater OSCE involvement in supporting Afghan national programs and priorities," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Conflicts left over from the Soviet era, including the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Moldova's rebel region of Transdniestria and Georgia's separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, were also set to feature in the discussions.
Need for modernization
Earlier on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged world leaders to agree on a "forward-looking framework for action" to prevent conflicts, calling on them to back the OSCE's institutions and missions "with political will."
"Regional crises and transnational dangers threaten our people. Democracies are under pressure, and protracted conflicts remain dangerously unresolved," Clinton said.
She was echoed by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, who said the organization had begun to "lose its potential," and called for modernization.
OSCE posters are everywhere in Astana
However, Clinton and Medvedev had their differences over the OSCE's role in Georgia. Clinton implicitly criticized Moscow by calling for the reestablishment of an OSCE mission in Georgia.
In 2009, Russia vetoed the continuation of the mission after the 2008 war with Georgia over its breakaway region of South Ossetia. In his remarks, Medvedev laid the blame on Georgia for the conflict over South Ossetia, accusing it of improper use of force.
As world leaders seek to find common ground at the summit, OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut called for a strong final statement. He, too, criticized the organization's lack of real clout, saying that a lack of confidence between member states had reduced its flexibility in responding to crises and new threats.
The organization was set up during the Cold War as a forum for dialogue between communist states and the West. It's made up of European and Central Asian countries as well as the US and Canada. The last OSCE summit took place in Istanbul in 1999.
Author: Timothy Jones, Mark Hallam (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson