Fringe meeting – Human Rights at the borders of Europe

At the PvdA-congres, the FMS organized a fringe meeting, where human rights activists from countries as Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Egypt and Armenia gave country specific updates. A lot is happening in these countries, things that often do not make it into Dutch news. With this meeting, the FMS gave these human rights activists the chance to give their insights and to answer the many questions from the audience.  

First on stage was the couple Yunus from Azerbaijan, long term human rights activists that have been fighting the authoritarian regime in the Soviet Union and (later) in independent Azerbaijan since the ‘60s. Mrs Leyla Yunus told the audience that she was first arrested in 1967 and that she has been arrested many times since. In 1995 the couple established the ‘Institute for Peace and Democracy’ in order to officially protest the lack of freedom of speech in the country. The Yunuses have openly expressed their discontent after many houses in the capital Baku were demolished in 2011 to build more  parks and monuments celebrating the authoritarian regime, which ended in their latest prison term after a sentence in 2014. In answer to the question whether it is good to visit Azerbaijan as a tourist, Mrs Yunus replied: ‘It is a shame that western tourists admire and walk around in the capital’s  parks and monuments, that could only have been built by evicting citizens out of their own homes. So please come to Azerbaijan, but do not close your eyes for the bad things that have happened and are still happening to the citizens of Azerbaijan.’

Bogdan Ferens from Ukraine then spoke about the New Social Democratic Platform, that he co-founded to bring together young people to think and talk about their ideas for the future of Ukraine. Ukraine is now in a more stable political situation, but security is fragile even though the conflict is diminishing. Also, the economy is still unbalanced and there is still need for European support. Bogdan finished his update in a more positive manner: ‘We have a vision for the tomorrow of Ukraine. With the SD platform we try to connect young people all over Ukraine, because together we can reshape the future.’

In thinking about the future, Gayane Sargsyan , head of the Forum for 21st Century Leaders in Armenia, stressed that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is still the biggest obstacle for both countries in their development. ‘We are stuck between transition and the invitation for democracy.’ By teaching young people on how to become better politicians, she wants to release them of the sigma of progressive left-wing connected to the soviet past.

Hussein Gohar, the international secretary of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party took a somewhat different stand on stability, by arguing that ‘even though stability is needed for democracy and human rights, human rights and democracy are both sometimes also put on hold in exchange for stability, as is happening in Egypt at the moment.’ According to Hussein, the situation in Egypt is unsustainable and taking action together is necessary: ‘we are either waiting for disaster or for a miracle, and miracles don’t really happen.’

Last to talk was the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders, who thanked all the human rights activists participating in the meeting who face sharp distrust by politicians in their countries. It’s a very difficult time for human rights activists in this complex world where it is not always clear what is necessary to improve the situation. With that, the minister called for innovation and renewal of the democracy movement and to be aware of fact free politics, which is a disaster in every country. ‘We need to put together a strong agenda for the support of human rights that energizes politicians to help the people on the ground fighting for freedom and human dignity.’

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