AKIPRESS.COM - High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini answered some questions of journalists here in Bishkek.
- What kind of projects you plan in the new strategy for Central Asia?
- We discussed with the ministers the EU support to infrastructural projects, in particular with the focus to the connectivity. The European Union has not only adopted the strategy on Central Asia, but connectivity. Two strategies will go very well hand in hand. The main focus will be to invest in local communities, the projects that are sustainable from the environmental and social perspective. Very importantly, the EU is ready to support projects that would link Central Asia with Afghanistan as a way to incentivise any peace and reconciliation processes in Afghanistan. Connecting that country with its neighbors would bring very positive impulse and support to peace talks that happening right now.
- One of the components of European Union's new strategy for Central Asia is human rights protection. How do you assess human rights situation in Central Asia?
- We have discussion and work on human rights, rule of law, good governance as integral part of our cooperation, dialogue with each Central Asian nation and all of them together. We do not hide any difficult issue, including some individual cases that are constantly discussed. In some cases, in some countries we've seen some encouraging developments and in some other cases, the developments are not very encouraging, but we stress the fact that this is an integral part of our work to strengthen societies in the countries, institutions in the countries, even those that faced transition recently, or even those facing some security challenges.
Having an open society, having a free media, having solid independent judicial system is a part of having a solid, resilient country itself. And importantly, we have stressed the fact that independent judicial system and human rights protection is also very important element that our business communities take into consideration. Investors from the EU always look at that aspect when considering investments in countries and their international image or reputation of countries is also linked to the human rights standards. So whenever we see positive developments we tend to encourage, when we see other individual cases or systematic issues that need to be addressed, we also raise them offering assistance and support to solve and overcome them.
And last but not least, in the process of ratification of our agreements, our national parliaments attach importance to track record on human rights issues. This is an additional reason for the institutions in these five countries to be serious and consistent on the human rights issues.
- What are the most important things and challenges that happened since the last year Tashkent conference on Afghanistan? What's Uzbekistan's particular role in peace-building process in Afghanistan?
- Uzbekistan had a leading role last year in convening the conference in Tashkent and that was the important moment, because together with President Ghani, myself, ministers and leaders from all the surrounding countries and regional players were present. I believe that Afghan people need to feel and see that the international community unites and supports the reconciliation process in the country. That's why the EU has decided to work very closely with the Central Asian countries, to support projects that can help connecting the neighboring countries and countries of the region, in particular the connectivity projects, and projects aimed at education and employment, in particular Afghan women. And politically, we share with the Central Asian nations the same approach, that of empowering the Afghan leadership and Afghan people to have Afghan-led and -owned process. This is where the big powers of the world need to come together to help, but responsibility ultimately lies in Afghans and the region. And the EU is ready to intensify work to support our Afghan friends in their own search for sustainable peace and reconciliation process. EU and Central Asian countries understand that the peace process is needed and we should keep supporting that.
- How do you assess the situation with freedom of speech in Central Asia in light of the latest blocking of various information sites and the detention of protesters in Kazakhstan? Prior to your visit to Bishkek, many human rights activists and NGO representatives raised the question of Kyrgyz human rights defender Azimjan Askarov jailed in Kyrgyzstan. How would you comment it?
- On the second part of your question I would like to underline that all issues have been on the table, there are no taboos in our partnerships, there's always frank, open, constructive exchange, this case also included.
On the assessment of human rights and media freedom in the region, I would say every single country of the five has different situation. I would not give grades. This is not our role. Our role is to encourage, to support and to accompany positive developments, obviously to signal when there are individual systematic cases when we see the need to change course, but also to offer support for making this possible and addressing the situation of independence of the judiciary and the media freedom, that for us is a must and a starting point for cooperation. In this couple of days, I had constructive exchanges on these issues with the ministers. Every country has a different situation, some are more encouraging others are less. But the focus of the EU is to be very clear, no taboos, and offer concrete assistance to have concrete positive results.
- Is there any mechanism to protect the EU partners from some kind of knock-on effect from sanctions that EU imposes on third nations? I'm from Kazakhstan, and Kazakhstan is an economic partner of Moscow that suffers to some extend from EU sanctions on Russia.
- The EU economies are the ones that suffer the impacts of sanctions on Russia. But there is a reason why EU has imposed some sanctions on Russia, and that's the situation in Ukraine. Russia knows perfectly well and we're having an ongoing dialogue with Moscow, including at my level, that these sanctions are not the goal themselves, they're not the policies themselves, it's a tool to push for implementation of Minsk agreement. In the moment, when the Minsk agreement will be implemented by all sides, the sanctions will be lifted for sure and the Europeans will be the first ones to be happy about it. Because that will mean that the situation in Ukraine will be solved in respect to the international law.
The dialogue with our Central Asian partners is based on very transparent and clear elements, they know why our sanctions are in place, they know that the European economies suffer from the consequences of sanctions that we only wish that we could lift. But this is linked to implementation of Minsk agreement and positive solution of the conflict in Ukraine. By the way, from here, I will fly to Ukraine for the EU-Ukraine summit and we will discuss this further with authorities in Kiev and our Russian interlocutors know that very well.