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Presentation by Baroness Falkner of Margravine, Candidate for the Post of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

Delivered to the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, 27 July 2016.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine

Good afternoon Mr Chairman and distinguished members of the Permanent Council.

My name is Kishwer Falkner, and I am honoured to be the UK candidate for the post of HCNM and for this opportunity to speak to you.

Mr Chairman, can I start by commiserating with your own country and with France for the tragic loss of life that we have witnessed only this last week. It reminds us of how much still needs to be done in both the security and integration agendas to keep our citizens safe and secure.

Mr Chairman, may I say a little about myself: I grew up in a country which was founded on the basis that different religious groups could not live together – hence the breakup of India, and the formation of Pakistan. By my teenage years we had fought two interstate wars, and the second one in 1971, was the direct result of a ruling minority (the West of the country) not recognising the outcome of a democratic election - hence the breakup of Pakistan itself.

I moved to the Middle East, where I lived in Lebanon, only to leave eventually due to a civil war. That legacy of conflict lives on and in the MENA region today we see the ravages of sectarianism, which is manipulated by power politics. I arrived in the UK with the iconic single suitcase 40 years ago. However, the power of an amazing education, the equality that democratic societies offer; and a thirst to integrate, to belong, is evidenced in the fact that I am here before this distinguished audience today.

But enough of my backstory Mr Chairman, you have circulated my c.v., so my formal credentials will be known to the PC. I want to move straight into my motivation and experience for this particular role.

My desire to take on this vital role is driven by my understanding of the mandate and its guiding principles: that the international community collectively has the duty to prevent conflict; that the HCNM is an instrument of conflict prevention and that early warning and quiet diplomacy are the main methodologies at his or her disposal.

My belief that I can fulfil this mandate is based on my professional experience. I have led leading roles in my party and for my government and in civil society on the basis of my academic expertise and practical knowledge - I have worked with multiple actors on issues of security, democracy, the rule of law and religious extremism in nearly three dozen OSCE participating states, and worked alongside many others on joint programmes.

So I know the issues, and I know the region and I know many of the actors. My policy-making skills are evident from my CV but no CV can give an assessment of one’s judgement, emotional intelligence, and powers of persuasion. That is what this process will flush out.

You asked me Mr Chairman to sketch out my objectives. It may sound mundane but I want to make the institution more effective in its core early warning function. To use our own capabilities and to leverage other players on the ground to become more reactive – to respond swiftly and as well as sensitively to new or existing situations of concern.

But I also want to press forward with longer-term thematic work – you heard from HC Thors a year ago about the need for more work on access to justice; work on hatespeech, on updating guidelines on the use of NM language in broadcast media representation.

This is not to say that the need for other on-going work has ceased. We have much to do on addressing statelessness; on kin-minorities and to look at more established democracies where, like in my own country we have seen a spike in hate crime and hate speech.

Finally, you would find it disingenuous if I did not mention Ukraine. The situation there and the need to secure a safe and pluralistic space is of course a priority. In concluding, Mr Chairman, the PC will be well aware of the challenges of the post. One that I find I am grappling with is the importance of ‘quiet diplomacy’ which is necessary to build confidence and elicit cooperation – but on the other hand, to be visible. The authority conferred upon the role works best when the role is visible, when it demonstrates its impact, when it gives assurance that it is capable of achieving change.

But in meeting all of these objectives, I would seek to do so in a quiet, professional but authoritative manner – because the greatest endowment of the post is the authority of the incumbent. I would strive to live up to that task, but in a spirit of collaboration, a helping hand, a constructive friend.

In doing so, my approach is to be fair and fearless – not one at the expense of the other. That would not do justice to the role, or to its founding principles.

Kant said: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made.” (“aus so krummen Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.”) In humility, Mr Chairman, I see my role, if appointed, to do my best to make that as straight as possible.

Thank you.

Published 29 July 2016