Europe’s values demand that high-ranking European officials dare to ask the difficult questions, on behalf of those few who try every day to raise them on their own at considerable risk to their personal safety and security” say NGOs grouped in the Civic Solidarity Platform, a coalition that brings together nongovernmental organizations from Europe, Eurasia and the US. The Platform published the statement following the Baroness Catherine Ashton’s first official visit to four of the five Central Asian republics: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
In the summer 2012 the European Commission and the EEAS published the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. Following the publication, Catherine Ashton declared that human rights should be “the red thread running through everything we are doing in EU foreign policy”. However during her visit to Central Asia, Ashton did not publicly engage on human rights issues in a substantive manner. For example, after the meeting with the president of Kazakhstan she made no mention that human rights were among the issues discussed, instead she noted that the talks had “focused on economic and trade issues”. This is especially appalling, considering the recent escalation in the attacks on free speech and political pluralism in this state.
During the recent EU-NGO forum that for the 14th time took place in Brussels, many participants pointed out that although EU officials seem to enjoy speaking of human rights during various meetings in the EU, when they travel outside Europe to parts of the world where human rights are repeatedly challenged, they talk about them with much less vigor. The typical explanation NGOs hear when they mention this problem, is that EU officials raise human rights issues behind closed door, and that not all steps taken are made public. This however only irritates those who have to deal with hostile governments ignoring their international obligations on every day basis. Rightly does the Platform point out that “while human rights issues can be expected to be integrated into behind-the-door discussions the EU conducts with third party governments, it is also crucial that high-ranking EU officials take a strong public stand on pressing human rights problems in countries they visit.”
During the ongoing plenary session, the European Parliament will vote on the new EU Strategy and Action Plan. On the same day the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize will be symbolically handed to EU citizens. Such a recognition highlights EU’s responsibility to act visibly as a pro-human rights actor. This is especially important today, when the space for NGO’s is rapidly shrinking all over the world. As it was pointed out during the recent Forum “while recent years have seen increasing efforts to protect human rights at the international level, this trend has been countered by mounting pressure on those working to promote human rights standards in many parts of the world.” Unfortunately the EU’s diplomacy repeatedly misses the opportunity to deliver strong message.
Zuzanna Warso “Europe of Human Rights”