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F. Mogherini: Respect for human rights is not matter of choice, but commitment

Photo Internet. Federica Mogherini

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini arrives in Kyrgyzstan with official visit today.

She visited Kyrgyzstan at the beginning of the year and met with the President Almazbek Atambayev. Federica Mogherini called on the authorities to firmly pursue a policy based on democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. In March, the EU issued a statement on the arrest of Ata Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev, stressing if his detention had a political background, this could pose a threat to the development of democracy in the country. Today Federica Mogherini answers the questions of 24.kg news agency.

— What are the state and prospects of cooperation between the EU and Kyrgyzstan?

— We have close relations, which will continue to strengthen. In October, the EU countries gave the European Union a «green light» to start negotiations on a new, comprehensive bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan that reflects our ambitions and will better correspond to the type of relationship that we want to build in the future.

This shows how our partnership has strengthened over the past twenty years. Despite the fact that in the beginning our relations were based on financial support, they are characterized now by considerable depth and coverage.

A fundamental feature of our partnership is a joint work aimed at improving the living standards and incomes of the citizens of Kyrgyzstan and European citizens.

Federica Mogherini

We are partners acting in the interests of democracy: the European Union has supported reforms in this sphere, including the adoption of the 2010 Constitution. The EU promoted the creation of new institutions that provide a system of checks and balances needed in any democratic society, such as the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

We support Kyrgyz entrepreneurs, farmers and businessmen, providing your country with trade preferences in the form of reduced customs duties. We allocated significant grants and loans to the government to overcome financial difficulties.

As for rural areas, the European Union supports the sustainable development of the Kyrgyz communities by providing financial and technical assistance to improve resilience to natural disasters — floods, earthquakes and landslides.

Farms, schools and universities are also beneficiaries of the European Union’s financial support program, budget of which is €184 million (more than 14.6 billion soms) for 2014-2020.

Support is also provided through regional programs, budget of which is €245 million (more than 19.5 billion soms) for 2014-2020.

Programs to improve border management, water supply and prevent drug abuse also received EU funding.

In addition to bilateral relations, the EU and Kyrgyzstan are interested — I hear about it at meetings with the authorities of your country — in an effective multilateral system, in particular, the UN. It must be preserved and strengthened through joint work for the benefit of peace and security in Central Asia, neighboring regions and the world. I hope that during our visit to Bishkek we will review our current relations and outline the way forward in expanding our cooperation.

— In your opinion, were the presidential elections held in Kyrgyzstan on October 15, 2017 competitive? Did all candidates have equal opportunities?

— Elections are always a test for any democracy and its important indicator. It is assumed that their result reflects the will of the people and is fair. The European Union supports the election observation missions sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as they make an independent, impartial and objective assessment of the electoral process.

If we talk about the recent elections in Kyrgyzstan, we noted the commitment to the principles of democracy on the part of the people and on the part of the authorities of the country.

Federica Mogherini

The elections were competitive: many candidates, who represented different points of view and potential options for the development of the country, participated in them. It is important the voters to have a real choice and different points of view are expressed, heard and taken into account without a risk of being subjected to unlawful punishment.

Over the past years, Kyrgyz authorities have invested in improving the electoral process and increasing the transparency of elections. The European Union contributed to this through a program to support the reform of the electoral system, budget of which amounted to €13 million (more than 1 billion soms).

Election observation missions during the recent presidential and parliamentary elections noted that the reforms had brought positive changes.

However, the OSCE election observation mission presented a number of recommendations on the results of the electoral process. We expect that the authorities will execute them in order to improve the procedure by the next election. We will support to effectively solve the problems detected by the OSCE observers.

— Can we say that the reforms, in particular judicial and electoral ones, for the support of which the European Union has allocated grants, are implemented in Kyrgyzstan?

— Judicial reform is a long and complex process that requires constant attention to overcome new challenges. The authorities carried out significant work to improve the legislative framework, including the Civil and Administrative Codes. The European Union supported the training of more than 1,400 civil servants and 700 professional lawyers, including judges, prosecutors and attorneys in a wide range of issues relating to human rights and many aspects of the work of the courts.

But there are still challenges, for example, ensuring the independence of the judiciary from political pressure, ensuring the inevitability of punishment and reducing corruption.

Federica Mogherini

The European Union contributes to this by allocating up to date €40 million (almost 3.2 billion soms) for these reforms and the reform of the electoral system. And we will continue to lend support.

If there is trust in the judicial system and the right to a fair trial is guaranteed to everyone, then citizens feel safe, and the country attracts more investors, which contributes to the development of infrastructure and the growth of people’s incomes.

— How do you assess the situation with the observance and protection of human rights in Kyrgyzstan? Do the authorities promote democracy and human rights in accordance with EU recommendations?

— Respect for human rights is not a matter of choice, it is a commitment. The principles of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are enshrined in the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan and international obligations of the country. For example, in order to take advantage of EU trade preferences, Kyrgyz authorities have committed themselves to respecting 27 international conventions on human rights, labor rights and effective governance. In some areas, significant progress has been reached.

Kyrgyzstan has well-developed legislation in the field of child protection and introduces new measures to protect against domestic violence.

Federica Mogherini

Such oversight institutions as the National Center for the Prevention of Torture and the Ombudsman, have gained some authority. The completion by the Government of the development of a human rights action plan will help to increase the effectiveness of work in this field.

Developed civil society that plays an active role in political and social life is also beneficial to Kyrgyzstan. In any country, representatives of civil society are the main initiators of reforms and observers for their implementation. They oppose corruption, they are for transparency and accountability. In Kyrgyzstan, they are the main force that protects the rights of citizens and contributes to the improvement of the media sphere. The active civil sector is the guarantee of the prosperity of society. Therefore, the authorities should protect and stimulate the work of civil society, and not undermine it.

We can openly discuss any difficult issues within our annual human rights dialogue, and the EU always raises specific human rights cases when necessary.

An open media environment is extremely important, the main components of which are critical materials and journalistic investigations.

Federica Mogherini

The European Union insists on the independence of the judiciary, which should be free from any external influence. It is extremely important that the resonant lawsuits brought against certain politicians to be free of interference and influence and be considered fairly and transparently so that citizens of Kyrgyzstan and the international community to recognize the decisions on them. In this regard, close cooperation between the Kyrgyz authorities and international bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee, can bring significant advantages.

— What results do you hope to achieve at the meeting with the foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries? What role does Kyrgyzstan play in this format?

— I look forward to meeting and discussing with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all five Central Asian countries in Samarkand. There are a number of issues that are difficult to resolve on a bilateral basis. That is why such meetings are important, and we hold them annually. We will discuss regional challenges such as security threats, opportunities to increase trade and economic development, and priorities for future cooperation.

Although this regional format has great potential, we are not always able to use it to the full. In recent years, I note the increasing willingness to exchange opinions and openness to cooperation, even on sensitive issues. This is a positive trend.

Central Asia is a unique region at the intersection of important trade routes; it occupies a strategic position between Europe, China, Turkey and Russia and is of great importance for stability, peace and sustainable development in the region.

Federica Mogherini

The European Union as such is the choice of sovereign states in favor of closer interaction, because we realized that joint work is more beneficial than confrontation. Central Asia is a similar region. There is also growing awareness that sharing responsibility, overcoming challenges in partnership and uniting of resources can bring significant benefits to the peoples of the region than actions alone.

The EU is ready to contribute to this exchange and cooperation and can support specific projects, promote regional integration. Kyrgyzstan has much to offer this cooperation. Your country plays a key role in determining the forms of cooperation in energy, water and transport spheres, strengthening trust-based relations with neighboring countries and identifying priorities for regional cooperation that will promote economic growth, security and stability in the region.