Mr van Baar also shared his views about why human rights are important and whether it is possible to solve human rights issues in Belarus both at the local level and internationally.
Euroradio: As the ambassador for human rights, on what issues related to human rights in Belarus would you concentrate in the first place? Are there, in your opinion, solutions to these issues both within our country and at the international level?
Kees van Baar: For us, it is important that in supporting human rights we are supporting society or people who are able to perform to their own society. That’s important because society is not only a society led by government but it is a society of people, human beings. Human rights are also about human dignity.
And of course what is important is that people could express themselves. Freedom of expression is very important. And also to get the information they would like to get. They go on internet or you have your smart phone. You would like to listen to the music you want to hear. You would like to see the movies you would like to see. And there are no restrictions, no blackouts or limited access by the authorities.
That is also important that you can get together with your friends to have fun or make a movie together or do whatever you want without a nervous government that is afraid that people who get together might be a danger to society, which of course it is not.
And another point is that you express yourself like you would like to. If you are part of what is called a minority, if your color is pink, just call it pink. It is not an offense. Or if you as a boy would like to kiss a boy, just kiss a boy. I mean these are not the offenses that undermine security of the state.
And we work at different levels. We work at a local level. We work [at the level] of the European Union. But we also work internationally, for example, in the frames of OSCE. Therefore, right now we have a meeting in Warsaw - it is called Human Dimension Implementation Mechanism. It may sound as an expensive word but it is about people getting together. And this is not only an international gathering by governments (there are 57 member states in OSCE) but also by organizations (human rights organizations, media freedom organizations, organizations that promote the freedom of internet). [There are] lots of organizations and they sit together around the table and express themselves and they criticize their governments, other governments. That is really all done in a very free spirit. It is very important to do these things.
Euroradio: In an interview to Euroradio your predecessor, Lioner Veer, said that “his main task is to set up a dialogue with governments, NGOs, civil society groups from different countries”. Was there progress in this field? Being the Ambassador, will you continue the work of your predecessor or will you have other priorities?
Kees van Baar: Of course. I mean as I said today in Warsaw at this human dimension implementation mechanism where all countries are sitting together with civil society groups and NGOs. That is an example of how we have this dialogue. As I said people have free speech and they are very critical towards one another. And also Belarus takes part in this meeting. It is important.
Another instrument of course is the UN and the Universal Periodic Review for the UN Human Rights Council.
Euroradio: You worked in Africa for a long time. What are the differences in human rights violations - in terms of trends - in the West, Africa and Eastern Europe? What is common and what is different?
Kees van Baar: Talking about human rights, it is all about human dignity. Human dignity is the same all around the world. As I said in respond to your previous questions, it is about the rights for minorities, for women. It is very important. But it is not that we demand different rights for different groups. No. What it is about is that human rights are the same all over the world for minorities, for women. They don’t have special rights. The only thing that we ask and that should be done is that human rights also apply to women, minorities – sexual or national whatever. And that is an important one.
What is common in the world right now and as I said as well here in Warsaw is that it is not just normal that NGOs cannot do their work in all kinds of society all over the world. Their work is really under pressure.
Euroradio: economic sanctions against Russia can negatively influence not only the Russian economy, but also that of the EU. Are the human rights worth the economic losses?
Kees van Baar: For us, the Netherlands, our foreign policy has three pillar: prosperity, security and human rights. You cannot divide them. You cannot work on only one. They always come together. That’s why we also support other organizations in OSCE member countries like Belarus who also would like to have space to operate. Of course what we don’t want to have is that Belarus is an example for other countries to follow: you know, that you limit the space for NGOs, that people have difficult access to internet; you know, they have a smart phone but what can they do with a smart phone if there is a government who decides what they can do with their smart phone or their computer and their access. We see this as a wrong development, because it doesn’t help people, human rights and human dignity.