I spent the summer in London at a law fellowship primarily working on the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery. Part of my duties was to scan media and various international organizations for news and reports related to the topic areas my employer was concerned with. And one of the organizations I frequently browsed was the OSCE. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is prolific in publication and active on a broad number of issues. And I honestly had no idea who they are or what they do all summer.
I'm not a stupid guy. I knew about the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, and various other international bodies prior to showing up on my first day. I'd taken an International Law class and worked on human trafficking issues from the international perspective before. Hell, I'd even done policy debate in high school. We (policy debaters) don't leave any stone unturned when seeking out resources with which to argue about an issue. But with all the OSCE reports and endorses this and Special Representatives going there to that, I really had no idea why exactly anybody should care about the OSCE.
Until about an hour ago, I didn't even know the US was a member state. Truly Americans don't care too much about international commitments. Even those with an outwards-facing orientation.
So here's what I gleaned after reading about the OSCE for International Human Rights. The OSCE was first convened as a conference in 1975 in Helsinki between Western European, America, and Soviet Bloc countries with the expectation to discuss security issues like borders. But somehow it transformed into a forum where the countries could snipe openly and pointedly at each other about each other's human rights abuses. Apparently this felt pretty good because they decided to have more of these meetings and eventually to formalize the process into the modern OSCE structure.
Unlike other international organizations like the UN or the Council of Europe, the OSCE isn't a treaty-based organization. That means it doesn't have binding legal authority over the member states. In other words, you can't bring a complaint to the OSCE and expect to get an enforceable decision back. Instead, the OSCE operates through "political" rather than "legal" force. That means the OSCE can't make you as a member State do anything. But they can serve as a roundtable to talk about what a miserable job you're doing at protecting human rights.
And that's my understanding of the OSCE in a nutshell.