Press Releases EEAS: EP: Speech by HR/VP Josep Borrell on the 2019 Human Rights Annual report, Stability and security in the Mediterranean and the negative role of Turkey and the Situation in Belarus

EEAS: EP: Speech by HR/VP Josep Borrell on the 2019 Human Rights Annual report, Stability and security in the Mediterranean and the negative role of Turkey and the Situation in Belarus

Honourable Members, since we do not have a lot of time, let’s go directly to the matter on the [EU annual] report on Human Rights and Democracy in the world 2019.

One important subject that the report highlights is the link between human rights and the environment. I took part, in December [2019], in the 21st EU-NGO Human Rights Forum and I was struck by the testimonies of human rights defenders from across the world. In 2018, 77% of human rights defenders killed worldwide were working on environmental issues. These are very sensitive issues and economically very important. The protection of the rights of indigenous peoples against, among others, land-grabbing is of central concern. We must strengthen our efforts in these regard.

The report equally highlights the link between the digital transformation of our societies and human rights and democracy. New technologies bring opportunities to promote human rights and democracy, but also generate uncertainty and challenges. I therefore welcome the pioneering debates of the European Parliament on the need to regulate ethical aspects of artificial intelligence.

This year marks the 25-year anniversary of the Beijing declaration on gender equality. Unfortunately, according to UN Women statistics, a third of the women around the world continue to suffer from some kind of violence in their lives. Despite the fact that we rely so heavily on women to make up the much-needed workforce of carers, teachers and nurses, women are generally experiencing the biggest socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.

Honourable Members, there are also some good news and progress in human rights policy and democracy: for example, let’s highlight the decision by Chad to abolish the death penalty; the decision by Sierra Leone to overturn the ban on pregnant girls attending school; Sri Lanka brought child labour down to 1%, through pioneering ‘Child Labour Free Zones’, concretely over 60,000 children less in child labour compared to 10 years ago. Slowly but firmly, we are advancing on this field. Some societies in Tunisia, Sri Lanka and the Gambia made democratic improvements. And unhappily autocracy has expanded in 2019, but resistance against dictators has also been growing.

I would like to say more things about this report but I have to turn – according with the agenda – to the second item that you have titled: “Stability and security in the Mediterranean and the negative role of Turkey”. That is how you titled the second point in the agenda.

I have just returned from intensive discussions in Turkey and Malta. In the previous week, I visited Greece and Cyprus to demonstrate the European Union’s solidarity.

It is clear that the stability and security in the Mediterranean requires our collective engagement. Years of conflicts in Libya and in Syria have been impacting this region, directly affecting our interests and security in terms of uncontrolled migration, terrorism or political instability from the Sahel to the broader Middle East.

Turkey is also affected by this situation, and is active in conflicts both in Syria and in Libya, in fact it is one of the most important actors in both conflicts. We have had important discrepancies regarding Turkey’s action in North-West and North-East Syria. Last October, the Council firmly condemned Turkey’s military operation in North-East Syria.

Yet we must also acknowledge where our interests coincide. Turkey has been showing solidarity and generosity towards more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and has supplied cross-border humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the recent brutal fighting in Idlib. By the way, I have to regret strongly the decision of the [United Nations] Security Council not to continue to keep open the border between Turkey and Idlib in order to bring humanitarian assistance.

In Libya, we need to work better together to launch a real political process. I recalled it also yesterday in my intervention in front of the Security Council of the United Nations, stressing the importance of the Berlin process and our commitment to implement the United Nations arms embargo with our means which are the ones we have. With Operation Irini we will continue to monitor closely suspect trafficking, regardless of provenance or destination.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has been showing a worrying assertiveness – with increased number of flights over Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, drilling operations in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone and signature of the maritime Memorandum of Understanding with Libya, which we do not recognise here in the European Union.

On these issues, we have been sending clear messages to Turkey. We are determined to protect principles, values, borders, and sovereign rights of the Member States. We will also continue working for a political solution in Syria and Libya.

Turkey is an important partner, a candidate country and a NATO ally. The current negative trend in our relations, I told a couple of days ago in Ankara to our Turkish colleagues, to the Foreign Affairs Minister [Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu] and the Defence Minister [Hulusi Akar] – the current negative trend in our relations needs to be stopped and reversed. Dynamics of retaliation do not make the Mediterranean a more secure and stable zone. This will only be achieved through dialogue and negotiations where discrepancies exist and they do. This is what I have been discussing with Turkish colleagues on my last trip, stressing that we have many common interests on which to build.

On Monday, with the Foreign Ministers [of the European Union] we will examine the possible ways forward.

The third issue is Belarus. Let me start right out with the latest developments. I reassure you that we pay very close attention to the situation on the ground in the context of the 9th of August Presidential elections.

We are concerned about the restrictions on freedom of assembly and speech, including reported detentions of peaceful protesters, bloggers and journalists. The harassment and persecution of the leading opposition candidates has to stop. Fundamental freedoms have to be respected and each candidate and voter must be able to exercise their civil and political rights. We expect to be invited by Belarus as soon as possible to observe the upcoming Presidential elections.

We have reacted to recent developments calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all arbitrary detained persons. We will follow closely these elections in order to reinforce the sovereignty, independence and freedom of Belarus, which is the only way to pave a future of prosperity for its citizens.

Belarus has demonstrated an active participation in the Eastern Partnership. We have achieved tangible benefits for the Belarusian citizens – in particular the Visa Facilitation Agreement, which entered into force on the 1st of July.

The European Union is Belarus’ 2nd largest trade partner and closer economic cooperation is of mutual interest. Due to our geographic proximity, our ongoing dialogue, among others, on how to improve standards on environment and climate change, are essential for all Europeans.

In the absence of a legally binding framework agreement, the conclusion of the European Union – Belarus Partnership Priorities remains an important objective. I believe that having an agreed set of political priorities, including on human rights and nuclear safety, would provide us with more transparency and accountability in our relations.

Ms President, Honourable Members,

We should remain open to further development of our relations with Belarus and continue supporting Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. However, this development can only be based on positive steps in the area of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This brings me back to my initial words. The 9th of August Presidential elections will be very much important in charting our way forward and in defining our relations.

Thank you for your attention.

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