CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr. Abdullah
Deputy Chairman of the High Council, Mr Saadati,
Minister Taher Zohair,
Deputy Minister Shewai Sharq,
Members of Parliament,
Journalists and other members of the media community,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the organisers Free Speech Hub for convening this timely conference, which the EU is happy to support.
Having been a journalist and a spokesperson myself, I relate to your passion, your smartness, your speed (with witch you have to understand the things in minutes for which we government officials may often have days) your style (which, sometimes brings me at odds with my industry) and also your sense for provocation and criticism.
To quote famous French political philosopher and travelling observer of the young United States Alexis de Tocqueville:
“I avow that I do not hold that complete and instantaneous love for the freedom of the press that one accords to things whose nature is unqualifiedly good. I love it out of consideration for the evils it prevents much more than for the good it does”
I am not saying that the media is not also doing good, but the quote reflects a minimum common denominator still for today. Around which all political currents could rally:
To prevent evil. To prevent bad things to happen.
So this is a day to celebrate, as we gather to recognize the invaluable work of journalists in Afghanistan and award the best journalist of the year.
I know already, who will later receive this award.
I have promised not to reveal it but all I can say is that we are talking about a seasoned senior reporter, an impressive person who has done an excellent work shedding light to issues of great concern for the general public.
With a recent focus on health matters, (which are one of the pillars of the European Union’s Development Assistance) Covid 19 issues in particular, and who also covered a terrible event which had to do with a health facility.
And - may I underscore, who just happens to be a woman.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would now like to pay tribute to all journalists and media workers who cannot join us here in this celebration.
Because way too many have been taken away from us too early.
With us here today, we have family members of some of the killed journalists
Mursal Wahedi, Shahnaz Raofi, Sadya Sadat, Elyas Dayee and Samim Faramarz, –
all murdered because of their profession.
These targeted attacks not only deprive the victims of their future, but families, friends and colleagues of loved ones.
As there is a movement that reminds everybody these days how much and how legalistic it adheres to international treaties even to those paragraphs that were made at the expense of a third party, let me clearly state.
There is another treaty you are bound by – we are all bound by.
It is 72 years old.
And it is called the Fourth Geneva Convention:
It enshrines International Humanitarian Law and its article 3 reads
Even where there is not a conflict of international character, the parties must as a minimum adhere to minimal protections described as: non-combatants……
…with the following prohibitions:
These attacks are thus not only violations of international law (and national law !)
They also create an environment of fear.
Out of self-preservation, you might chose not to write that story about alleged corruption or you might avoid certain topics to escape the risk of persecution. We know that this is already the case in some areas in Afghanistan, which is deeply disturbing.
The challenging circumstances under which many of you work, with threats and attacks, risks undermining the freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Afghanistan. Freedom of expression should not be a luxury, as it is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
And fear leads to the erosion of a society, of a country
-in which journalists were forced to quit their job
-abandon their profession
-or even leave their country
Therefore, today, in the face of some of the most horrible risks and challenges,I shall recognize the courage and determination by media people to overcome this fear.
Female journalists, by their profession and by their gender – often even by their ethnic origin – have been made especially vulnerable and a target in a double sense.
Let me, therefore, particularly highlight their strength and resilience.
And even more, the contribution that Afghan women are making in the media, and in all fields of society.
The EU has repeatedly called for an end to the senseless violence, a stop to impunity and increased protective measures. Perpetrators must be brought to justice and more has to be done to protect those targeted.
In addition to our political support and interaction with the Government, the police and other security forces, the EU is also supporting existing safety mechanisms in the country.
By funding safety trainings for human rights defenders and media workers.
By providing capacity training for journalists reporting on elections, to mention a few things.
By donating protective gear and transport protection.
ladies and gentlemen,
“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen”.
This was a quote German-American political theorist Hannah Ahrendt. And she continued: “What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.
Believing facts and distinguishing fake news from real news has been a big debate in recent years in Europe.
It had to do most importantly
And the negative impacts of this were highlighted in the Covid pandemic
All this new scepticism to media – this new disinformation has to be countered by even stronger and, of course, continuously improving journalism.
Now, attacking media means attacking the watchdogs of governance.
Those contributing to better governance. If you criticize the government, if you criticize the bureaucracy of ministries – then it’s actually in the spirit of improving governance.
So, I have always wondered why the Taliban mistrust or even hate the media ? A movement started to bring justice and more equal governance to Afghanistan.
Of course, journalism and free media are not Western ideologies. Perhaps here lies sometimes the origin of a misunderstanding.
Not all journalists have to be western-minded liberals. It is ok to be a conservative journalist. It is perfectly legitimate to be an Islamic journalist. Like anywhere else in the world.
One thing, however, unites all of you:
You contribute to a transparent society,
You scrutinizing those in power so that they can be held to account for eventual wrongdoings and receive credit for achievements made.
You are educators, as you raise awareness and inform about issues not well-known to the public.
You are enablers, allowing women and men to tell their stories and raise the issues that are important to them so that people in power listen.
Good journalism provides new perspectives and food for thought, challenging established perceptions and ideas we have grown accustomed to.
And – last but not least – the Taliban and everybody else are welcome to express their ideas and proposals via media.
As a diplomat, I strongly believe that the pen is always stronger than the sword in the long run and access to information is especially
crucial in the current situation.
ladies and gentlemen,
Eventually but not least importantly let me say a few words on the events of the last week.
The European Union has taken note of NATO’s and US decision. The majority of our member states are also NATO members.
The EU Delegation will continue to be here.
Of course, we are a strong supporter of an inclusive peace process that reflects the concerns of the people of Afghanistan. This includes women, youth, war victims, civil society and all ethnic groups.
As we have just entered the holy month of Ramadan, I still hope that the Taliban will not miss the opportunity offered to them by Istanbul.
Never in the last 5 years has Afghanistan been so high on the international agenda. This may change.
And if the Taliban want to be part of a government in Afghanistan, benefit from our development assistance, from our trade, from the international exposure, they better start negotiating.
The European Union is not only protecting free speech.
The European Union is first and foremost the world’s largest and most successful experiment in peace-making.
An example and a tool box on how blood on the battlefield can be exchanged for patience at the negotiation table.
How horrific conflicts and wars could be ended through joint institutions.
How people, good, services and ideas can be exchanged without borders.
I stand here to testify that understanding between hereditary enemies is possible
Peaceful transitions are possible
But all this needs compromise and the readiness for each side to make concessions.
For this, it is not too late. And the European Union stands ready to help. In a continued war, everybody will lose terribly.
Getting this across, Ladies and Gentlemen,
we need your help. We need good communicators.
So let me conclude with another quote by a French journalist and politician, member of the resistance movement to Nazi occupation Louis Terrenoire :
“The press must be free to say anything so that certain people are deprived of the freedom to do anything."
Thank you very much !