BRUSSELS—The steering committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum issued a message in which it urged Azerbaijan and Belarus “immediately release all political prisoners and to cease obstruction to the activities of civil society, including the National Platforms of the Civil Society Forum.”
In their message addressed to the governments of the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine), EU institutions, EU Member States and the Council of Europe, Ulad Vialichka and Antonella Valmorbida cited beatings and arrests of peaceful protesters in Baku on 2 April, who were calling for democratic reforms in Azerbaijan, and urged the Azeri authorities “to provide full access to the EU representation in Baku and to Azeri and international human rights organisations to detainees in prison, and for the swift release of all prisoners arrested during and before the democracy rallies.”
They also invoked actions by the Belarusian authorities, who over the last month obstructed a Conference of the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Minsk and prevented several members of the Eastern Partnership CSF Steering Committee from attending a meeting of the Steering Committee, “funded by the European Commission and agreed to be held in Minsk with the personal knowledge and support of European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle.”
The European Commission, the EU Council and EU Member States should hold wide-ranging consultations with civil society representatives, said Ulad Vialichka and Antonella Valmorbida, suggesting also direct meetings should be convened on every official visit to Azerbaijan, Belarus and other Eastern Partnership countries “to hear first-hand about the observance of human rights” in these countries.
They suggested the European Commission and EU Member States should support “the full participation of civil society in the official platform meetings of the Eastern Partnership, thematic working groups, expert panels and flagship initiatives, with prior access to draft policy documents, and the establishment of a distinct Civil Society Facility under the ENPI (European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument) to finance the capacity of civil society organizations and support dialogue between CSOs and government.”