Crime & Justice, Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

EUROPE: Still without a ‘Coherent’ Human Rights Policy

David Cronin

BRUSSELS, May 8 2008 (IPS) - More than 50 years after its inception, the European Union continues to lack a “coherent and hard-hitting policy to uphold and promote human rights around the world”, a new report by the EU’s only directly-elected body has complained.

The European Parliament’s latest annual report on human rights in the world argues that whereas respect for human rights and democracy is a principle enshrined in EU law, “substantial progress needs to be made” to ensure that the surrounding policies are respected. The report was approved by the assembly May 8.

Too often, according to the report’s author Marco Cappato, efforts to ensure that the EU delivers a strong and cogent message on human rights are “hampered” by the “predominance of its member states’ national interests.”

This was illustrated last month when the EU’s foreign ministers decided to lift sanctions they had imposed on Uzbekistan following a massacre of unarmed civilians at Andijan in 2005. The sanctions were lifted, even though no official investigation of an impartial nature into the events has yet taken place.

Germany, the EU’s most populous nation, had been pushing vigorously for the sanctions to be lifted; it has a military base at Termez in southern Uzbekistan.

Cappato, a Member of Parliament (MEP) for the Italian Radical Party, noted that clauses relating to respect for human rights are systematically included in the trade and cooperation agreements that the EU signs with foreign countries. Yet “we don’t have effective measures” to ensure that the agreements in question are suspended when serious abuses of human rights occur.

His paper advocates that EU governments and the European Commission should draw up a list of “countries of particular concern” in which attempts to promote human rights have proven especially fraught, and to develop criteria for measuring the performance of particular countries in order to establish priorities for the Union’s work on human rights.

He also criticised the scarcity of tangible results to emerge from the ‘dialogues’ on human rights that the Union has entered into with 30 countries. A “radical intensification” is required of the dialogue between the EU and China, he argued, noting how Beijing has only provided replies to about two-thirds of the individual cases raised by the Union. A separate dialogue with Iran has been frozen since 2004 because no “positive progress” has been made by the Tehran authorities.

Cappato’s criticisms echo those contained in an internal EU paper evaluating the human rights dialogues. The internal paper warned that such consultations are at risk of turning into a “meaningless ritual”.

Although Cappato’s report won broad backing from across the political spectrum in the Parliament, several MEPs queried some of his recommendations.

In particular, Cappato urged that the doctrine of non-violence espoused by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi should become an official policy of the EU. That would require the Union to support campaigners involved in civil disobedience against dictators, he said. He urged too that 2010 should be declared the European Year of Non-Violence.

Richard Howitt, a British Labour MEP, said he respected Cappato’s views about non-violence but said it “cannot be the only guiding principle” of the Union’s foreign policy. Conflict resolution, he added, “sometimes involves military means.”

Vittorio Agnoletto, an Italian MEP, argued that Cappato had been too focused on civil and political rights rather than economic and social rights. “Social rights and economic rights, as defined by the United Nations, are a sine qua non for individual rights,” he argued.

French Green Hélène Flautre said that the EU needs an “integrated policy” on human rights and that violations of “the rights to life, food and housing should be at the top of the list.”

Benita Ferrero Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations, argued that “human rights dialogues have become an increasingly important component of the EU’s efforts to promote human rights in the world.” Yet she acknowledged that consultations with Russia have brought “mixed results”.

Sarah Ludford, a British Liberal, protested that the EU is not doing enough to support the work of the International Criminal Court, the permanent tribunal tasked with prosecuting genocide and crimes against humanity. The Union has “so far been weak,” she suggested, in pressing Sudan to hand over Ahmad Muhammad Harun and Ali Muhmmad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman to the court. Both men have been indicted over alleged involvement in mass atrocities in the western Sudanese province Darfur.

Czech MEP Libor Roucek complained that his country is alone among the EU’s 27 member states in not yet ratifying the Rome Statute, which led to the ICC’s formation. “This is a disgrace,” he added.

Despite the critical tone of Cappato’s report, he claimed that the European Parliament’s own work on human rights is proving fruitful. By taking a strong line against the death penalty, he said, the Parliament had encouraged EU governments to back the moratorium against executions sought by the United Nations General Assembly in December last year.

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