Check against delivery!
Strasbourg, 14 September 2017
Mr President, one year after the heavily contested presidential elections in Gabon, the situation has reached a stalemate, with no prospect of a political solution to the country’s divisions and to the crisis.
It is quite clear to us that the new restrictive and repressive measures imposed on the opposition escalate the political and social tensions. In a moment when tempers are running high, also because of the downward economic trend, this is a very dangerous path to follow. We expect all parties to refrain from any statement or action that may fuel further tension. Gabonese law guarantees freedom of expression, assembly, movement and access to media for all the citizens of the country. This means that no one should be subject to arbitrary and legally unjustified arrests and restrictions.
As you all know, at the beginning of the year we decided to call for an intensified political dialogue between the European Union and the Government of Gabon, in the framework of the Cotonou Agreement. Months after our proposal, the government has accepted and the first procedural session of this dialogue was held this summer, in July. In September and October, we will hold four specific sessions of dialogue, including one on the electoral process. Our conversation will be based on the final report of the EU’s Election Observation Mission, and I would like here to take again the opportunity to thank all the Members of this Parliament, and your former colleague and my new fellow Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, for having led that mission in a remarkable manner.
The conclusions of the Electoral Observation Mission were very clear. We cannot simply turn the page or allow others to turn the page. So the European Union’s relations with Gabon have been reassessed. Our aim is to prevent a lasting split in the country and to contribute to reconciliation. This requires that the government engages towards meaningful electoral and institutional reforms. We are ready to accompany the institutions in this process in any possible way.
It is also essential to shed light on the serious human rights violations in the country. The preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court, the European Union’s intervention at the Human Rights Council in March, the resolution of the European Parliament and the resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights all agree on this point. Truth must be established and those responsible for any violations must be brought to justice. The session of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances on Gabon was an opportunity for the government to take more seriously the numerous and well documented allegations of human rights abuses.
Reconciliation will also need true dialogue between the parties. Unfortunately, the national dialogue process did not succeed in bringing together the main political forces. It is essential for us to find a new framework for a truly inclusive dialogue, with the ultimate goal of agreeing on structural reforms. We stand ready, as the European Union, to work with the government and the opposition, to help them find a way out of the crisis and towards transparent and credible future elections.
For this aim, as I said, the remarkable work done by our Electoral Observation Mission will be incredibly valuable, an excellent basis for our further work. I thank you for that and also for this debate that I believe will provide us with good guidance for the further work that we will carry on.