CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Your Excellency vice president Danish,
Minister of Justice,
Distinguished guests, dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour for me, as a representative of the European Union, to address you here today. I would like to thank our partners, The Afghanistan Civil Society Forum Organization, The Afghanistan Journalist Safety Committee and International Media Support for convening this timely conference. In addition to representatives from government agencies and international stakeholders, I am particularly pleased to note that this conference brings together human rights defenders from not only Kabul, but various provinces. The protection of human rights is something that concerns us all.
Today, human rights are increasingly under pressure around the world, including in Afghanistan. Only in the last few months, we have seen several targeted attacks against journalists, civil society activists and prosecutors. It is becoming more and more difficult for human rights defenders, civil society and media representatives to do their work. I have also understood that ACSFo later in the conference will present additional findings when it comes to threats against human rights defenders. I reiterate our expectation that all these attacks and targeted killings are thoroughly and transparently investigated by relevant authorities, and that effective measures are taken to protect human rights defenders and media representatives. The perpetrators must be brought to justice.
These attacks are of great concern, as you – many here today - , are the fundamental building blocks in a democracy. Human rights defenders play a key role in defending fundamental rights and in protecting victims, combating the impunity of those responsible and raising awareness of human rights both at national and local level, despite an often hostile environment. Without your courage and daily struggle, Afghanistan would be a different place and democratic progress would not be possible. As we will be updating our Human Rights and Democracy country strategy, I very much look forward to coming consultations and exchanges with civil society.
Acknowledging your contribution, I would also like to point at the role human rights defenders can play in the ongoing peace process. Safeguarding human rights in the negotiations is of paramount importance for a future Afghanistan in peace. The EU is a staunch advocate of an inclusive peace process building on the democratic and human rights achievements of Afghanistan since 2001, and we encourage the inclusion and meaningful participation of human rights defenders in existing structures, including the High Council on National Reconciliation.
The achievements made should not be wasted, but further promoted. Lasting peace requires a national consensus on the future governance of the country where all Afghans matter, and where the voices of women and of vulnerable communities are equally heard, both during and after the peace talks. In the current precarious context, we find the recent news about the Ministry of Human Rights troubling. While Afghanistan has come a long way in the protection of human rights during the past two decades, work is not finished. The protection of human rights necessitates concerted efforts on behalf of all stakeholders, and should be spearheaded by strong government institutions. Against these elements, the EU will seek to discuss with the Government of Afghanistan the institutional framework and policy perspectives for the protection of human rights.
The establishment of the new government commission, tasked with protection of human rights defenders and strengthening human rights advocacy is a welcome progress. We encourage Afghan authorities to uphold the respect for the rights of human rights defenders, especially women, to protect them from attacks and threats from non-state actors and to work to increase knowledge by law enforcement officials of the state’s obligations in this field. I hope that the commission will soon become fully operational and take practical and tangible actions for concrete follow-up of cases and better protection of human rights defenders.
As a global actor, the EU is a strong champion for human rights and it is at the core of our external action. The most recent step in this regard is the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, which was adopted by EU Foreign Ministers two weeks ago. This regime will target serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, as it is not country-specific. It encompasses the imposition of travel bans and asset freeze and sends a strong political message, as the EU will be able to stand up for human rights ever more forcefully.
Prior to this, we have long-established, concrete measures for protecting human rights defenders at risk, including the provision of emergency aid. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights is one tool at our disposal to support human rights defenders working in some of the world’s most challenging environments, including this country.
The EU Delegation here in Afghanistan is engaged in the protection of human rights defenders through a project with International Media Support. This project has facilitated the provision of services for human rights defenders at risk such as financial aid for medical treatment, and protection support and relocation.
The European Union stands with all who tirelessly work to safeguard and advance the promotion of human rights in Afghanistan. I once again commend you for the work you do and wish you good discussions here today, with tangible results contributing to the promotion of human rights.