Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (26 May) prior to her departure for the Federal Foreign Office’s regional human rights seminar in Tbilisi:
The Eastern Partnership was launched by the EU ten years ago with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine in order to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the countries of eastern Europe. It is an offer of support to states aiming to move closer to the EU by implementing reforms. The anniversary is a good time for an in-depth discussion with civil-society representatives about human rights issues and the scope for civil society in the region.
Because unfortunately things are developing very differently from country to country. While we have seen considerable progress over the past few years in Georgia, for example, there has been no substantial improvement from the human rights perspective in Belarus. In Azerbaijan, a large number of political prisoners were released under this year’s Novruz amnesty, but there are still numerous restrictions on freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly. Whereas the Velvet Revolution of 2018 brought hope in Armenia and free and fair presidential elections were held in Ukraine, there are growing authoritarian tendencies in the Republic of Moldova.
At a time when the rules-based global order is coming under pressure, and some countries are intensifying their endeavours to call universal human rights into question, we need a strong voice from civil society. In many parts of the world, human rights defenders – be they lawyers, journalists or activists – face increasing repression simply for raising grievances publicly. That is why we must stand up resolutely against all attacks on the universality of human rights and support human rights defenders worldwide. This seminar, which will be attended both by representatives of the embassies and by civil-society representatives selected by them, continues the successful series of human rights seminars begun in 2011 and designed to support targeted cooperation between the embassies and civil society. We want to help human rights defenders to set up regional networks and thus to remain a strong voice.
Particularly in the countries of the Eastern Partnership, civil-society organisations and the citizens involved in them are crucial in supporting the ongoing processes of transformation in the region. I am looking forward to talking with them and to hearing their recommendations on how to deal with the countries of the Eastern Partnership.
The Eastern Partnership was set up specifically for the EU’s eastern neighbours (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) at a summit in Prague on 7 May 2009. Since then, it has formed the foundation for the partner countries’ bilateral relations with the EU, as well as for multilateral relations between the EU and its 28 member states and the six partner countries.
The Federal Foreign Office and the Human Rights Commissioner have organised one or two regional human rights seminars every year since 2011. This seminar with human rights defenders from the countries of the Eastern Partnership will focus on regional tendencies in human rights in the 11th year of the Partnership, workers’ rights and occupational safety , the scope for civil society, equal opportunities for women, penal systems and impunity.