Remarks by High Representative Catherine Ashton following the Foreign Affairs Council, 21 March 2011
Topics: JAPAN, LIBYA AND SOUTHERN NEIGHBOURHOO, SAHEL STRATEGY, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, BELARUS, IRAN
“I’m going to spend a little bit of time taking you through the Council discussions today because I think it’s important and, of course, we’ll take questions afterwards.
We began our meeting with an update on the situation in Japan and reiterated our support and sympathy for the Japanese people.
We’ve received an official request from Japan to assist in bringing relief to the affected population and we are currently preparing its response in coordination with the Japanese authorities.
LIBYA AND SOUTHERN NEIGHBOURHOOD
Today’s meeting showed the EU’s determination to react quickly and decisively and with one voice to the events in Libya.
Everything we do has one objective – and that is to help the people of Libya. We adopted strong conclusions expressing our satisfaction with the adoption of Resolution 1973, and stressing our determination to contribute to its implementation.
And I quote: “While contributing in a differentiated way, the EU and its Member States are determined to act collectively and resolutely, with all international partners, particularly the Arab League … to give full effect to these decisions.” We call upon Gaddafi to relinquish power immediately and to allow the Libyan people to realise their aspiration for democracy.
We have added 9 new entities and 11 new individuals to the sanctions list. And we will follow up in the coming days with another decision to implement the sanctions in Resolution 1973.
We agreed that the EU is ready to provide CSDP support to humanitarian assistance, under the coordination of the UN.
We will now continue, and I quote: “further planning on support for humanitarian assistance / civil protection operations, including by maritime means”. And as part of this process, I will continue with my close contacts with Ban Ki Moon, with Amr Moussa of the Arab League, with Jean Ping and the African Union and, of course, other countries in the region.
Our debate also focused on the wider neighbourhood. We need to look longer-term, to support people in all countries in the region in the transition to freedom and democracy.
The constitutional referendum in Egypt is a significant step in Egypt’s transition to an open, democratic and pluralist society.
It is now important that there is time for all political forces to organise themselves. Egypt’s future lies in the hands of the Egyptians, and only the Egyptian people can establish and maintain a stable and democratic society.
We stand ready to help. We are also extremely concerned with the situation in other countries too and I am following closely events in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.
We have adopted strong conclusions urging the authorities in Yemen and Bahrain to show restraint and engage in dialogue with the opposition with full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. I look forward to discussing the events in Bahrain with my envoy who has just returned this morning. In parallel to the unfolding political events on the ground, the Council called on us to continue work on the EU’s package of assistance to our Southern Neighbourhood. What I have call the ‘3 Ms’: Money and resources; Market access, trade; and Mobility will be vital as the region continues its journey towards deep, sustained democracy. We will now feed this work into the European Council at the end of this week.
I presented to the Council the European Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel. We discussed the main components of the Strategy and options for its implementation. It was welcomed. The integrated action taken and the strategic lines of action proposed were seen as very positive. And we will now start working on the implementation options. In doing so, we will consult with partners in the region.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
We, of course, too looked at the political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the way forward and agreed to further strengthen our presence there in order to support the reform process. In return for results delivered, we look to provide a very clear EU perspective. As a matter of priority, we are looking for a broad-based government, which can progress on all necessary reforms (particularly bringing the Constitution in line with the European Convention of Human Rights, adopting a state aid law, and a census law). It is clear that progress will depend on the ability of the politicians there to show leadership and their willingness to compromise.
To provide further support, we intend to have one single EU representative on the ground. We want to have available a broad, balanced toolbox so we can support reforms, including financial support, and we can monitor and report around political facilitation. In addition EUFOR ALTHEA, which we have there, will remain part of our approach. We will discuss this further with key local and international partners in the coming weeks.
We are also, of course, concerned about the situation in Belarus. We condemn the continued detention, trials and sentencing on political grounds of representatives of NGOs and opposition leaders. They must be released immediately. Today we have extended the visa ban and assets freeze list to a further 19 individuals, in particular judges, prosecutors and university rectors who are directly involved in the latest trials and harassment of students. Depending on developments in Belarus, we stand ready to consider further targeted measures in all areas of cooperation.
And finally, we are worried that the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate. We have seen a dramatic increase in executions; the systematic repression of Iranian citizens, including human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, women’s activists, bloggers and the opposition.
Hundreds of Iranians are subject to harassment and arrest for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. We will therefore continue to support individuals and civil society organizations which stand up for the rights that all Iranians should enjoy.
We are also ready to keep channels of communication open with the Iranian authorities. We want to discuss our human rights concerns frankly and openly. We do want to make our views clear. The EU will continue to stand up against human rights abuses in Iran, in all possible ways. And that includes the introduction of restrictive measures targeted against those responsible for grave human rights violations.” Thank you.
Council of the European Union