The European Union’s (EU’s) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, met with the incumbent President Almazbek Atambayev, President-elect Sooronbay Jeenbekov, and Prime Minister Sapar Isakov, in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan).
The press service of the president released information about the meeting between Mogherini and Atambayev late at night. Mogherini reportedly praised both the president and Kyrgyzstan, saying significant work had been done to improve the electoral process and increase transparency of elections, which, "is a model not only for Kyrgyzstan, but for the entire region."
However, Azattyk Radio reports that the meeting with Atambayev and Jeenbekov was held behind closed doors, and Mogherini spoke to journalists only after meeting with Prime Minister Isakov, where her tone was cautious. "Since democracy is an ongoing process," the EU will be happy to support Kyrgyzstan "in sectors, which require reforms: in public administration, economy or creating opportunities for citizens."
Almazbek Atambayev awarded Federica Mogherini with the "Dostuk" (Friendship) Order" for significant contribution to the development of cooperation between the Kyrgyz Republic and the European Union
Earlier, Mogherini gave an interview to the 24.kg news agency, in which she recalled that the EU countries had given EU the "green light" in October to start negotiations on a new bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan. Pointing to the assistance the EU provided Kyrgyzstan in recent years, Mogherini recalled the support for reforms (including the adoption of the 2010 Constitution), the creation of new democratic institutions (for example, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court), the granting of preferences in the form of reduced customs duties, grants and loans to the government, and so on.
According to Mogherini, the budget for financial support to be given to farms, schools and the university for the 2014 to 2020 period is 184 million Euros and the budget for support in the framework of regional programmes for the same period is 245 million Euros. The budget of the programme to support the reform of the electoral system amounted to 13 million Euros.
"Funding for the EU has received programmes to improve border management, improve water supply and prevent drug abuse," added Mogherini.
Asked whether Kyrgyzstan has implemented reforms that the EU allocated the grants for, Mogherini was evasive: "Judicial reform is a long and complex process that requires constant attention to overcome new challenges. Complex tasks still exist; for example, ensuring the independence of the judiciary system from political pressure, ensuring the inevitability of punishment and reducing corruption.”
“The European Union contributes to this, by allocating to date 40 million Euros for these reforms and the reform of the electoral system. And we will continue to support that. Respect for human rights is not a matter of choice, it is a commitment. In order to take advantage of the EU trade preferences, Kyrgyz authorities have committed themselves to observing 27 international conventions on human rights, labour rights, and effective governance. Significant progress has been made in some areas," she added.
In the interview, Mogherini also stressed on the importance of developing the civil sector and urged the authorities, "to protect and stimulate the work of civil society, not to undermine it," adding that an open media environment is important, and the resonant lawsuits brought against some politicians were free from interference and influence, and were conducted fairly and transparently.
However, during the visit to Bishkek, Mogherini refused to meet with representatives of civil society and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, pleading a lack of time.
Katie Morris, the head of Europe and Central Asia of the human rights ARTICLE 19 organisation, told Fergana News: “It is highly disappointing that Ms. Mogherini did not use the opportunity of her visit to Bishkek to demonstrate the EU’s firm commitment to human rights in Kyrgyzstan. We are particularly concerned by the recent deterioration in freedom of expression, including the use of politically-motivated defamation and incitement charges to silence critical media and pressure on civil society. Nor should we forget the unjust imprisonment of human rights defender Azimzhan Askarov since June 2010, despite a decision from the U.N. Human Rights Committee calling for his release.”
“As the EU opens negotiations on an enhanced partnership agreement with newly elected President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, it is essential that the EU puts human rights at the heart of these discussions. There is a window of opportunity for reform; however, Ms. Mogherini’s failure to meet with civil society or speak out openly about the situation sends completely the wrong signal. Prior to her visit, Ms. Mogherini stressed on the strategic importance of support for civil society; however her public silence on this matter during her visit suggests the EU will sacrifice its principles in the interests of trade,” concluded the international human rights defender.