On Human Rights in the World and the EU’s Policy on the Matter

New Europe

Human rights serve as the guiding principle in the European Union’s (EU’s) external action. Hardly are there other state-actors in the world that would place such an emphasis on the spread and protection of human rights abroad.

This is also the area where normally the EU finds a common position and is able to take a consolidated stance. In this regard the European Parliament (EP) is one of the most important players, as it normally takes a strong and principled position on human rights violations wherever they would occur. The famous EP Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which went to Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas this year, has gained reputation as one of the most prestigious human rights awards in the world. In the same way the EP’s Annual Report on Human Rights in the World and the European Union’s policy on the matter is a tool to assess the overall situation of human rights in the world and to exert control over the actions and decisions taken by the EU Council and the European Commission. I was the EP’s Rapporteur for the latest Report that was adopted in the EP plenary on 16 December. This Report, covering the period from the middle of 2008 until the end of 2009, was adopted by an overwhelming majority of MEPs. It was preceded by a discussion with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

European and international context

Being the EP’s Rapporteur I had to take into account a number of turbulent and game-changing developments that had an impact on the situation of human rights in the world and also on the EU’s action in this field.

One of them was certainly the global financial and economic crisis which started at the end of 2008 and which had an especially negative impact on economic, social and cultural rights. In this year’s Report we have clearly recognized that the rights of the poorest people were affected most and because of rising global prices, millions have been struggling to meet basic needs in a number of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Another macro-trend was the ongoing fight against terrorism which continues to cause problems when it comes to reconciling the anti-terrorist measures with the respect for human rights. This year we also stressed the lasting and long-term negative impact climate change has on human rights, especially for vulnerable groups in the developing world, such as indigenous peoples.
Another major development for the EU has been the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon and the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS). The EP has high hopes that the EEAS, headed by Baroness Catherine Ashton, will place a strong emphasis on the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the EU’s external action.

I made this point clear to EU’s High Representative during the denate in the EP plenary. I told Baroness Ashton that primary attention within the EEAS should be focused on strengthening democracy and protecting human rights in the world and this should be reflected both in terms of structure of this service, as well as its funding. It may be a Directorate for Human Rights and Democracy (International Law) or another structure but with the same content. What we should avoid is reducing or sidelining human rights from the main agenda of the EU and the structure of the EEAS. We have also suggested creating within the EEAS the posts of Special Representatives for Human Rights, who would work in different countries or regions, especially where the EU does not have its diplomatic representations. These Special Representatives should have full mandate to defend human rights in places of their work.

Horizontal issues vs specific cases

One of the dilemmas I had to face was whether to concentrate on horizontal issues or to engage in “naming and shaming”. At the end a middle track was chosen where we concentrated on major horizontal issues but did not shy away from mentioning the most conspicuous cases of human rights violations.

A special attention in the Report was given to such horizontal issues as death penalty, freedom of religion and the situation of human rights defenders. The EP reiterated its tough stance against any form of capital punishment and condemned countries like China or Iran, which represent respectively first and second positions in the league table of countries with the highest number of executions in the world. The EU also expressed its deep concern that discrimination based on religion or belief still exists in all regions of the world, and that persons belonging to particular religious communities, including religious minorities, continue to be denied their human rights in many countries. MEPs from different political groups also congratulated the upgrade of EU Guidelines on human rights defenders which should ensure that human rights defenders (NGOs or individuals) in any country would be provided with training, financial assistance or physical protection in the case that they might be threatened by local authorities. EP’s Report is complemented by an extensive supplementary list of specific human rights violations across the world, which was taken into consideration while preparing the Report.

These are specific names, specific countries and real cases of human tragedy and lost lives. One such case – the death of a Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on 16 November 2009, caused considedarable controversy within the EP. Apart from stating that this case is an outstanding example of the serious shortcomings within the country’s judicial system, the EP also called on the Council to “consider imposing an EU entry ban for Russian officials involved in this case” and encouraged EU law enforcement agencies to “cooperate in freezing bank accounts and other assets of these Russian officials in all EU Member States”.

MEPs also strongly condemned the ongoing second trial of former YUKOS oil company chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business associate Platon Lebedev. In the view of the EP, this trial is “representative of unfair trials in Russia” and MEPs therefore called upon Russian authorities to ensure that fundamental norms of due process and human rights are respected in the prosecution of these and all other defendants in the country’s justice system.

The EP, as a scrutinizing institution, also did not shy away from criticising the Council and the Commission about the lack of results from their actions and even the lack of benchmarks to assess whether actions in the human rights area have given any results. In a strong message, MEPs expressed their disappointment at the “lack of progress achieved by the human rights dialogues and consultations”, which are conducted by both Commission and Council officials.

The EP has come a long way to find a common ground on human rights issues, especially the most sensitive ones. This shows that the EP stands united on human rights issues. It also shows that the days when the EP would just applaud the Commission or the Council are over. The EP is now a serious player in the area of human rights and all the stakeholders operating in the field will have to take note of that.

Laima Andrikiene is a Member of the European Parliament from Lithuania representing the largest political group in the EP – the European People’s Party (EPP). Apart from being the EP’s Rapporteur on the Annual Report on human rights and the European Union’s policy on the matter, she is also a Vice-Chair of the EP’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights быстрые займы онлайн быстрые займы онлайн https://zp-pdl.com/apply-for-payday-loan-online.php https://zp-pdl.com/apply-for-payday-loan-online.php срочный займ

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