ASTANA – Helga Schmid, the Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), highlighted Kazakhstan’s vital role in promoting regional security and fostering economic prosperity in her recent interview with Kazinform international news agency.
Schmid, who visited Astana on June 8-9 to address the Astana International Forum, commended Kazakhstan for its active engagement in addressing regional challenges and its commitment to advancing multilateral cooperation.
On the sidelines of the forum, she met with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Murat Nurtleu, among other senior officials in the country.
The discussions focused on strengthening regional cooperation and connectivity amid the rising challenges in the region, such as border management, energy security and climate change.
“Kazakhstan’s commitment and experience in promoting regional integration definitely make it stand out in the region. Kazakhstan is one of the key actors in regional security, economic prosperity and human development. This is evident in our partnership,” said Schmid, who visited Astana after Bishkek and Ashgabat.
As part of her visit, Schmid handed the international EcoPorts certificate for the port of Kuryk on the Caspian shore to Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Zulfiya Suleimenova.
“This globally approved standard for environmental management shows how trade and environmental protection can go hand in hand. The certification is the result of successful cooperation between the OSCE and Kazakhstan, of which I am very proud,” she said.
The partnership between Kazakhstan and the 57-member organization is long-standing, progressing rapidly since the OSCE Programme Office was established in Astana in 1999.
A milestone in this cooperation is Kazakhstan’s chairmanship at OSCE in 2010, the first country in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Central Asia to chair the organization. Later in November 2010, Astana hosted the OSCE summit, the first in 11 years, which witnessed the adoption of the Astana Declaration.
“I commend Kazakhstan’s constructive engagement and close cooperation with the OSCE Secretariat and institutions. Together, we are strengthening border security management and countering transnational threats, including cybercrime, as well as tackling global challenges with strong regional implications, such as climate change,” said Schmid.
Kazakhstan, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, has emerged as a key player in the region’s geopolitical landscape. With its strategic position and multi-vector foreign policy, the country has been successful in promoting dialogue, stability, and economic growth in Central Asia and beyond.
“Similarly, the OSCE remains firmly committed to Kazakhstan. The staff of our Programme Office in Astana demonstrate this every day by strengthening ties with government, civil society, academia, the private sector and the international community to support the country in its comprehensive reform agenda,” said Schmid, emphasizing that cooperation is increasingly important given the growing security risks in the region.
As part of her visit, she also met with civil society representatives, discussing safeguarding democratic elections, ensuring media freedom and the digital rights of citizens.
Reforms agenda in governance and rule of law
Schmid also acknowledged the country’s efforts in implementing comprehensive reforms to strengthen democratic institutions, improve governance, and protect human rights. Sustainable democratic development, she noted, requires strong institutions, respect for the rule of law, and an engaged civil society.
“The OSCE, through our local field staff, is already cooperating closely with Kazakhstan’s officials in this area: to help develop institutional capacities through the office of the Ombudsperson, to promote water resource management or to encourage public participation in government planning and lawmaking. This cooperation also includes civil society organizations, which play an essential role in protecting human rights, fundamental freedoms and promoting OSCE commitments,” she said.
Democratic elections are an important pillar of long-term security and stability, according to Schmid. The OSCE has been sending its observers to monitor the elections in Kazakhstan 14 times, with the latest for presidential elections in November 2022 and parliamentary elections in March.
In March, OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) had a core team of 11 experts based in Astana, 32 long-term observers and 300 short-term observers.
“We don’t just look at the voting process itself, but also if political parties had equal access to media or if certain groups face more difficulties when running for office. While the situation varies from country to country, room for improvement can be found in all OSCE participating states. As the OSCE, we strive to address any shortcomings, as does our Programme Office in Astana, in close cooperation with Kazakhstan’s authorities, following up on the recommendations by the ODIHR,” she explained.
Equal opportunities for women and men
Gender equality and women’s empowerment is an important pillar of the OSCE activities in Kazakhstan.
“To this end, we have implemented various initiatives and programs to support women’s engagement in political and public life, economic empowerment, and the prevention of gender-based violence. We have, for example, a project supporting women working in the energy sector in Central Asia – a sector that is very much dominated by men,” said Schmid.
OSCE Programme Office and the Fund for the Development of Parliamentarism in Kazakhstan also offer courses on the political, social and economic empowerment of women.
Relevance of OSCE amid rising confrontation
Schmid is sure such platforms as OSCE will remain relevant.
“The OSCE was created as a platform for dialogue between states that normally do not see eye to eye. I firmly believe that the existence of inclusive platforms, such as the OSCE, where disagreements can be openly discussed, will remain indispensable,” she said.
Addressing shared challenges requires greater efforts toward dialogue.
“We face a broad range of security challenges, and we know that these don’t stop at any particular border – security is inextricably linked to that of neighboring regions, and it remains crucial to maintain and strengthen our commitment to dialogue, confidence-building, and cooperation among all participating states,” she said.
In promoting dialogue, she stressed the important role of the Astana International Forum and also commended President Tokayev’s decision to expand the forum’s focus to international affairs. “This was a timely event and an important platform promoting dialogue and cooperation as a means to tackle key global challenges – which is very much in line with what we do at the OSCE,” she said.