Civil Society Forum calls for release of all political prisoners in Eastern Partnership countries
The Civil Society Forum (CSF) has called for the release of all political prisoners in Eastern Partnership countries in a statement addressed to the EU Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in Brussels on 23 July 2012.
"Some political prisoners have been released in Azerbaijan and Belarus, but it is not acceptable to have any political prisoners in the Eastern Partnership countries, and we call for the unconditional release of all,” says the statement. “On 26 June 2012, the Council of Europe called for resolution of the cases of more than 80 political prisoners in Azerbaijan alone, and we must not forget that next week marks the anniversary of the imprisonment of Ales Bialiatski, a courageous human rights defender in Belarus."
In the statement, the co-Chairs of the CSF Steering Committee, Ihor Kohut and Jeff Lovitt, also welcomed the increased engagement with both EU and Eastern Partnership governments in governmental platforms and ministerial meetings through the extension of permanent participant status for the CSF.
Ihor Kohut, who spoke on behalf of the CSF at the meeting, said: "Civil society actors are well-placed to take up the role as independent watchdogs, monitoring and evaluating the effective use of resources, and observance and strengthening of democratic reforms, human rights and the rule of law."
The CSF is planning to undertake election observation missions in upcoming parliamentary elections in 2012 in Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine. The CSF called for the establishment in all six partner countries of trilateral fora for regular consultations with the respective partner government, the EU Delegation and representatives of the national platforms of the CSF.
“These fora should consider, assess, and monitor implementation of, policy developments in relations between the EU and the respective partner countries, and public consultations should be held to reach out to all sectors of civil society and the wider public,” said the CSF in its statement.
The CSF also said that it welcomed the Council decision to establish the European Endowment for Democracy to support independent civil society actors. “In addition, we look forward to the further development of grant mechanisms through the new neighbourhood civil society facility for independent watchdog, analysis and monitoring activities - including monitoring and evaluation of use of ENPI (European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument) and CIB (Comprehensive Institutional Building Programmes) funds allocated by the European Commission to Eastern Partner governments,” said the statement.
Furthermore, the CSF announced that it intends to evaluate the achievements of the Eastern Partnership in a European Integration Scorecard (building on the work by participants in the CSF in producing a European integration index).
“Qualitative and quantitative indicators will be developed for all six Eastern Partner countries. The results could help shape partner country policies and EU funding decisions, building on the ‘more for more’ principle
laid out in the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy in June 2011,” said the statement.
It welcomed the progress on visa facilitation agreements with Armenia and Azerbaijan along with the launch of the visa dialogue with Georgia and the action plans towards visa liberalisation for Moldova and Ukraine.
“In line with the underlying motif of the Eastern Partnership to bring the peoples of the six countries closer to the EU, we would ask the Council to give high priority to the waiving of visa fees as soon as a visa facilitation and readmission agreement is in place (already the case in three partner countries), and to the introduction of online application procedures for Schengen visas,” said the statement.
Ihor Kohut told ministers that the CSF’s annual event, which is due to take place in Stockholm, Sweden, on 29-30 November, will include a debate assessing the first six months of the roadmap (Eastern Partnership: A Roadmap to the autumn 2013 Summit) as well as in-depth sessions on elections, media freedom and the fight against corruption. He confirmed that the CSF would welcome the attendance of high-level representatives of the partner governments as well as the heads of the EU Delegations in the six partner countries.
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) was established in 2009 following the Prague Summit which launched the Eastern Partnership. The EaP CSF aims to support the development of civil society organisations and facilitate their dialogue with public authorities. The first EaP CSF took place in Brussels on 16-17 November 2009. (EU Neighbourhood Info Centre
Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum - statement