On 21 May, the EU presented its Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World in 2018. Its six Eastern partner countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) have been covered by the report.
As regards Armenia, the report says that peaceful mass protest in April 2018 fundamentally changed the political system in the country. “The new Government demonstrated a high level of transparency and responsiveness to public views,” it states.
“The new Government declared as priorities the fight against corruption and judicial reform,” adds the report. “Nevertheless, concerns were raised with regards to the capacity and genuine readiness of the judiciary to act independently from the executive and administer justice in an effective and impartial manner.”
As for Azerbaijan, the human rights situation, according to the EU report, remains of concern. “Violations of the fundamental freedoms of association, expression and assembly and the authorities’ persecution of critics or perceived critics continue,” it highlights.
While the EU has been conducting negotiations on the new bilateral agreement with the country, it reminds that the “[r]espect of democratic principles, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and cooperation with civil society are at the core of the agreement”.
According to the report, the human rights situation in Belarus “has not improved” in 2018. “Most restrictive laws impacting on fundamental freedoms have not been amended,” it stresses. “Activities of unregistered organisations were decriminalised but fines were instead added into the administrative code.”
It does however add that the EU and Belarus moved closer to the finalisation of its bilateral partnership priorities, which will shape the cooperation between the EU and Belarus, including in the area of human rights.
The EU report says that “overall, the human rights situation in Georgia is positive”. It adds that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, but challenges still remain”, especially in the areas of election administration, independence of the judiciary and media, and other rights. The report, however, acknowledges that the Human Rights Strategy 2014-2020, together with the respective action plans, “provide an elaborate framework for the implementation of Georgia's ambitious human rights agenda”.
“Several observers noted a deterioration of the democratic standards and the rule of law in the Republic of Moldova during 2018,” says the analysis. “The EU and other international actors regarded as non-transparent the invalidation of the June 2018 mayoral by-elections in the capital, Chişinău, won by opposition leader, Andrei Năstase.”
It adds that there are several other areas in the Republic of Moldova which remain of concern to the EU. These include the failure to progress with the investigation of the major bank fraud from 2014 and recover the lost assets; slow progress with reforms in the justice sector; concentration of media ownership and monopolisation of the advertising market, to name just a few.
As for Ukraine, the report concludes that “human rights are generally respected and fundamental freedoms upheld in the area under the control of Ukrainian Government”. It adds: “The most severe human rights violations take place in the areas outside governmental control, namely the Crimean peninsula, which has been illegally annexed by Russia, and in eastern Ukraine, due to the conflict in Donbas, as a consequence of Russia's destabilising actions.”
“Concerns exist in a number of areas, including the safety of investigative journalists, rights of persons belonging to different minorities and accountability, while some progress has been observed in gender equality,” the report adds.
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