Ales Bialiatski urges EU to comply with clear value-based criteria in relations with regimes of Belarus and Azerbaijan (VIDEO)
On May 20, Ales Bialiatski, head of the HRC "Viasna" and Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, spoke at the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Conference in Riga.
The Belarusian human rights activist spoke at a session entitled “Civil Society as a Strategic Stakeholder in the Eastern Partnership”. The discussion also involved Oleh Rybachuk, a civic activist and former Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine, Sandra Kalniete, Member of European Parliament, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, and Juris Poikāns, Latvian Ambassador-at-Large for the Eastern Partnership. The discussion was moderated by Krzysztof Bobinski, Co-Chair of the EaP Civil Society Forum’s Steering Committee in Poland.
The panelists discussed the state of affairs in the participating countries of the Eastern Partnership and its main problems on the way to reform, the role of civil society in national politics, regional relations and the Eastern Partnership as a whole. The discussion was focused on how to enhance the capacity of civil society and its participation in the Eastern Partnership.
At the beginning of his speech, Ales Bialiatski thanked the representatives of non-governmental organizations from different countries of the Eastern Partnership for the support provided to him during his imprisonment, and, citing the case of Azerbaijan, called to seek the release of civil society activists held in the country.
Describing the situation in the countries of the Eastern Partnership, the human rights defender stressed the constant changes underway in this sphere.
“If we recall the time when we created the Eastern Partnership [a constituent meeting was held in Prague on 7 May 2009], there was a formula of “5 + 1”: five countries had nearly the same level of development of democracy and the pursuit of contacts with the European Union, and one, Belarus, was a trailer car, and no one knew what to do about it. In recent years, there have been rapid and major changes, and the original formula has been changed and we can say that now it looks like the “3 + 1 + 2”. And if there are countries that have made a major breakthrough to move closer to the European community, have made some heroic efforts, passing through wars, lost lives and suffering, it is clear that these countries should have a clear signal from the European Union that they have a European perspective, because they have paid a heavy price for it. Of course, we hope that our former neighbors in the “prison of nations” (as the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union used to be called) have a better understanding of the situation in which we find ourselves, and to some extent have a moral obligation to help these three countries [Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine], which to date show a clear desire to join the family of European nations. Armenia is in an incomprehensible state, as it wants to be friends with everyone. But it never happens this way, sooner or later they will have to make that choice. And I think that the role of civil society in the resolution of the choice will be very high in the near future. The situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated a lot over the last couple of years, and in fact Europe’s last dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka has given the laurels to other presidents, and now he’s probably the third dictator. Ilham Aliyev has overtaken him, because there are more than a hundred political prisoners in Azerbaijan, a crackdown on the civil society, harassment of the independent press –tragic events are now taking place there, as the civil society is destroyed both before our eyes and before the eyes of Europe. At the same time, Ilham Aliyev, will be tomorrow in Riga, and I do not understand how to combine it... A clear set of value-based criteria with regard to the countries with authoritarian regimes within the Eastern Partnership, that is Belarus and Azerbaijan, it should also be present. Do not give any privileges to the countries where the situation with human rights and democratic freedoms is deteriorating,” said Ales Bialiatski.
He stressed that it is the civil society in these countries that is the natural ally of the European Union: “Civil society is the locomotive that pulls our country into the European community. The Eastern Partnership should not turn into a mechanism to support authoritarian regimes, it should be an instrument of protection of European values and support for those sectors of society and civil society organizations who share these values. The Eastern Partnership should be a platform to support democracy and human rights.”
At the same time, the human rights activist said that the policy of drawing states into the European Community does not work, and cited the recent example of Azerbaijan: “Now we see how Azerbaijan was dragged into the Council of Europe and they do not know what to do about it, because this state violates all the rules by which the country joined the Council of Europe.”
“We need to achieve positive changes in Belarus and Azerbaijan, not through a flirtation with authoritarian governments or funding that strengthens these regimes, but through the support of civil society and independent media in our countries,” said Ales Bialiatski.
According Viasna leader, the horizontal ties and solidarity between the civil society of Belarus and Azerbaijan are a formula of optimism in the future of these countries.