Dutch human rights envoy: We shouldn't make sports hostage of politics


As a OSCE conference is taking place in Warsaw, Euroradio has talked to one of the participants - Human Rights Ambassador of the Netherlands Lionel Veer.

Euroradio: As Ambassador for Human Rights, whose rights do you defend? I mean, do you protect the rights of migrants in your country, or the rights of the local population? For example, we know, we can hear some applies to protect the population from Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

Lionel Veer: I am working for the Ministry for Foreign affairs. My main concern is to speak to governments, NGOs, civil society groups in other countries. But of course we believe that if we want to be honest and credible outside the Netherlands for human rights, we should also look at our own human rights situation. We believe it's important that when I speak to the countries like Bulgaria or Romania they can also ask questions to me and be critical on the Netherlands. But it's not my responsibility as I am not working for the internal affairs, I am working for the foreign affairs.

Euroradio: In your opinion, is there the common understanding of the human rights standards? Belarusian officials often say they are the victims of double standards. For example, there is death penalty in Belarus and in the United States as well. Belarus is being criticized and punished because of it and the United States aren't.

Lionel Veer: I was in the United States, I do not only visit countries where the human rights situation is overall bad, or countries of concern. We also talk to countries that we consider, let's say Western countries. When I was in the United States I also talked about death penalty, and there is a very serious campaign, also for the European Union, to force the United States to stop, to abolish death penalty. I also visited countries like Israel and discussed the human rights situation in Israel. So it's unfair to say double standards. We criticize our friends, we criticize our enemies, and we also criticize ourselves.

Euroradio: Let me continue the topic about double standards. For example, the main issue in Europe is that Belarus has political prisoners who should be freed. However, in just a few months there will be the world hockey championship taking place in Belarus. Do you think that the International Hockey Federation is right to organize the championship in the country with human rights problems, de facto supporting the political regime?

Lionel Veer: I think it is always important to keep open relations with every country. I think we should not make cultural events or sporting events hostage of political issues. If you remember, when the Olympic Games were held in China there was the same debate. In the end it is always clear that you should take these opportunities for contacts. Maybe, you should not turn your sports people into political people. Officials, when they are sort of accompanying the sportive events, they can use this opportunity to raise issues. That's exactly what we are doing all the time. For us, human rights is part of every politician, or wider - government, not only people who are specifically dealing with human rights. When an economic minister goes to a country which has human rights problems he will also raise human rights issues. So we try to make it a wider message and use every opportunity to form a dialogue, to talk about it.

Euroradio: But, on the other side, the money for the authorities that come at these competitions, like the world hockey championship - huge money will come to our country to support the regime.

Lionel Veer: Yes, of course. But I don't think it will be the other way round if you stop this, that it will automatically improve the human rights situation. For the countries like Belarus, I think it is important especially for the young people of Belarus that they have as much contacts as possible with the other countries, the international contacts. I think that sportive events and also cultural events are important for contacts, and we should use these channels to increase the contacts and to show the other side of the story and to use the opportunity to talk about it.  

Euroradio: On September 14, you had a meeting with Belarusian and Russian human rights defenders and journalists. This meeting was organized by the International Federation for Human Rights and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee. You had a very interesting topic - "Business and Human Rights", stating the fact that Dutch companies are the main importers of Belarusian products. Is it true that the economical factor influences on the political relations between Belarus and the Netherlands?

Lionel Veer: Of course, relations between two countries are never isolated on one issue. Its true that the port of Rotterdam is the main port in Europe if not one of the main ports in the world. So many goods from many countries with big human rights problems go through Rotterdam, also goods from Belarus. The prosperity of our nation thrives through our economic contacts, we live from export, we live from international trade. We cannot stop business with the rest of the world because they have human rights problems. Many of these goods go through Rotterdam, they go somewhere else, it's a transit. When we ask what we could do, in the ideal world, if it would be possible to stop it, are you asking us to stop it, they say "No!" We are looking for ways how we can use it to influence, to help to improve the human rights situation in Belarus. The most important thing is that the government has more responsibilities - economical responsibilities, security responsibilities, human rights responsibilities, and we have to make a combination of  all those elements and find the right balance. It's important also for economic relations that human rights are respected. If Belarus wants Dutch companies to invest in Belarus, it's not only about short-term profit, it's also about the long-term stability, and we think that rule of law, respect for human rights also reflect in the overall stability of a country. If you know that human rights are not respected, and you have to invest in liberal opportunities in Belarus, and you have to create business and work with people, you'll be better of if the rights of the people are also respected.

Euroradio: Did you learn something new about he human rights situation in Belarus from Belarusian human rights defender Valyantsin Stefanovich and Chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Zhanna Litvina during your last meeting?

Lionel Veer: We are following closely what's going on, there was not much new information, but we looked to analysis on how can we work together to promote, to help the positive developments. I think it would be very good if people like myself, the ambassador for Human Rights from the Netherlands, could visit Belarus, and talk to people in Belarus. I think it's important that we talk not only to people who are officially in human rights organizations, but also to the government officials to have a wider picture. And to talk to civil society groups. I think Belarus has a great potential for the good development as there are many well-educated young people interested in international contacts, in the internet, using different possibilities. But it would be good to have a direct personal contact.

Specially for Cardiogram