Developments within the EU

AuthorEuropean Union Publications Office
Pages9 - 11

Page 9

2.1. Fundamental Rights Agency

The Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights submitted by the Commission to the Council on 5 July 2005, has been extensively discussed by the instances of the Council. Consultations with the European Parliament in form of a Trialogue have also taken place. Most outstanding questions have been solved. Th e European Council on 15-16 June 2006, took note of the progress in the discussions on this file and called for the necessary steps to be taken as soon as possible so that the Agency would be up and running as from 1 January 2007.

The Agency would complement the existing mechanisms of monitoring fundamental rights standards at the international, European and national level. It would collaborate closely with relevant organisations and bodies, including the Council of Europe, the OSCE and relevant Community agencies and Union bodies, in particular the European Institute for Gender Equality. If the proposed Regulation is adopted, the Agency should be operational as from January 2007.

2.2. Role of SG/HR Personal Representative on Human Rights

The Council in December 2005 welcomed the strong contribution which the Personal Representative of the Secretary General/High Representative for Human Rights (PR/HR) had made during his first year in offce to the coherence and continuity of EU policy. The Council noted in particular the PR/HR's activities to promote further mainstreaming of human rights in CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy), and to raise awareness of the EU's human rights guidelines. Concerning additional priorities for 2006, the Council invited the SG/HR to consider the role his Personal Representative can play in supporting EU action within the UN by ensuring that high-level lobbying takes place, and by helping provide eff ective follow-up to that action.

In the annex to the Council Conclusions it was confi rmed that the nomination of the PR/HR helped to increase the visibility and strengthen the role of the Council Secretariat in its continuing action in the areas of mainstreaming and EU human rights guidelines as well as in the participation in dialogues and consultations with third states, the promotion of EU human rights policy in the UN, OSCE and CoE, the dialogue with the EP, in areas of outreach and public diplomacy and special assignments. Th e signifi cant contribution of the PR/HR was welcomed and four areas for action for 2006 were suggested for consideration by the SG/HR. Those comprise continued work on mainstreaming, including with Council geographic and thematic working parties and committees; human rights aspects of EU crisis management; ensuring high-level lobbying in support of EU action within the UN; ensuring follow-up to EU resolutions/action within the UN.

Furthermore, the Council stated in its conclusions on the biennial review of the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) that the appointment of the PR/HR has begun to increase the visibility of human rights issues throughout the system.

During the period covered by this report the PR/HR contributed to the mainstreaming of human rights in the field of CFSP/ESDP presenting the issue in seventeen meetings to geographical and thematic Council working parties/committees. He also promoted the EU positions on human rights and humanitarian law issues during the 60th session of the UN General Assembly in autumn 2005 and the 1st session of the new UN Human Rights Council in June 2006. He further participated in two human rights consultations with the Russian Federation as well as two dialogue rounds with China. Through ongoing regular contacts with the Political and Security Committee as well as its contributing committees and working parties, he raised awareness in particular on gender issues and children and armed confl ict (CAAC). In the field of civilian crisis management the PR/HR contributed a written advice on the Aceh Monitoring Mission. He met with all EU Special Representatives to promote mainstreaming human rights in general and CAAC in particular and updated them on relevant developments when appropriate. He has advocated for the inclusion of human rights advisers or at least focal points in the teams of EUSRs as well as in ESDP operations. Th e PR/HR has continued to meet a number of human rights defenders and NGOs from the Americas, Africa, Russia, and Asia. As part of his close contacts with the European Parliament he provided briefi ngs and presentations in the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and in human rights related hearings. He has regular exchanges and meetings with all relevant actors of the UN, Council of Europe and the OSCE. The PR/HR contributed a fi rst positive input in the field of high-level lobbying; he called on Ambassadors of various third countries in view of promoting the EU's position on the creation of the UN Human Rights Council.

Some member states have appointed Human Rights Ambassadors. In 2006 joint country missions of these Ambassadors took place to Cambodia and the Philippines.

2.3. The European Parliament's actions on human rights

The EP is a strong voice for human rights and democracy issues. It contributes to the formulation and implementation of policies in the field of human rights through its resolutions, reports, missions to third countries, human rights events, inter parlia-Page 10mentary delegations and joint parliamentary committees with third countries, oral and written questions, special hearings on individual questions and its annual Sakharov Prize. Th e President of the EP also regularly takes up human rights issues with the representatives of third countries.

The Subcommittee on Human Rights within the Foreign Affairs Committee, which was reconstituted at the start of the 6th legislative term under the chairmanship of Hélène Flautre (Greens/ALE), has established itself as a hub of human rights questions in the Parliament. It takes parliamentary initiatives in this sphere and provides a permanent forum for discussions with other EU institutions, the UN, the Council of Europe, government representatives and human rights activists on the human rights situation and the development of democracy in non-EU countries.

Its main aim is to mainstream human rights issues into all aspects of the external relations of the EU. It has done so inter alia by issuing guidelines for all the EP's Inter parliamentary Delegations with Third countries. It makes efforts to monitor and evaluate the implementation of EU instruments in the human rights field. In this regard, the Subcommittee puts particular emphasis on the implementation of EU Guidelines on human rights matters, in particular the guidelines on human rights defenders and the guidelines on torture. In this context the Subcommittee commissioned a study on the evaluation of the EU activities in this fi eld and the implementation of the human rights guidelines. It also held exchanges with the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Th omas Hammarberg and the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture Mr. Manfred Nowak.

In June 2006 a Delegation of Members of the Sub-Committee attended the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council and met with the EU Presidency and member states' ambassadors, special rapporteurs as well as with non-governmental organisations.

In view of the Human Rights Council, Parliament adopted a resolution by which it addresses recommendations to the Commission and the Council for the EU position to be taken in the negotiations regarding the HRC. In the resolution of 16 March 2006 Parliament welcomed the retention of the UNCHR's system of independent ‘special procedures'. It also welcomed the establishment of a universal periodic review (UPR) mechanism and the preservation of the practice of participation of human rights NGOs in the debates. The EP is considering how to interact with the new Human Rights Council in line with the development of the latter.

The World Summit on the Information Society, held in Tunis from 16-18 November 2005, was another major UN event to which the EP sent a delegation. The serious constraints experienced by the delegation and other participants mainly regarding freedom of expression, led to the adoption of a resolution and a debate in plenary on 15 December 2005.

More generally, in the reporting period the Subcommittee on Human Rights organised a number of hearings on human rights issues. The topics covered were: human rights issues in the European Neighbourhood Policy with a special focus on Israel and Egypt, human rights in the Euromed area 10 years after the Barcelona Declaration, South-East Asia, Nepal, feminicides in Mexico and Guatemala, EU guidelines on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment, Ethiopia – one year after elections and diff erent EU human rights dialogues with third countries.

In a report prepared by MEP Vittorio Agnoletto (GUE/NGL) 1 the EP has analysed the functioning of the human rights and democracy clauses in agreements with third countries, analysed their shortcomings and made proposals for improving their effciency. (see chapter 3.6 about human rights clauses)

Besides the Subcommittee on Human Rights, a working group within the Committee on Development holds regular meetings on human rights in developing countries or on specifi c subjects such as child soldiers or child slaves with both human rights NGOs and representatives of governments concerned. Parliament also has a regular dialogue with the OSCE parliamentary assembly and the Council of Europe. In this context, there is a continuing dialogue with the offce of the Commissioner on Human Rights of the Council of Europe. Furthermore Parliament's inter-parliamentary delegations regularly discuss human rights issues with a variety of countries.

The main forum for political dialogue between the EP and parliamentarians from African, Caribbean and Pacifi c countries is the EU-ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly. Th e Euro-Mediterranean Assembly provides opportunities for a parliamentary dialogue on issues of human rights and democracy with Mediterranean countries.

By participating in election observation missions, the EP makes a further contribution to strengthening human rights and democracy in third countries (see chaper 4.10 “Democracy and elections”).

The EP carried out an enquiry conducted by Mr Dick Marty, Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Legal Affairs, into alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe Member States. Th e European Parliament Temporary Committee was established in January 2006 to survey the alleged use of European Countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners.

At around the same time as this EU annual report on human rights is published, the EP begins drafting an Annual Report on the human rights situation in the world and EU human rights policy, which in 2006 was drafted by Richard Howitt (PSE). The related resolution2 provided an analysis of the work of thePage 11EU in all its forms regarding human rights and proposals to make the impact more effcient. Topics discussed included the activities of the EU in international organisations, the mainstreaming of human rights into other policy areas including trade and the EU HR dialogues with third countries.

In December 2005, the EP awarded its annual Human Rights Prize, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, jointly to Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White) in recognition of their action in favour of the political prisoners in Cuba, to Hauwa Ibrahim in recognition of her work as a lawyer defending women and children accused under Sharia law in Nigeria, and to Reporters without Borders in recognition of their fight for press freedom in the world.

Damas de Blanco is the name for a group of Cuban women who have been protesting peacefully every Sunday since 2003 against the continued detention of their husbands and sons who are political dissidents in Cuba. They wear white as a symbol of peace and the innocence of those imprisoned. The well known international organisation Reporters without Borders campaigns for press freedom throughout the world. It also champions the protection of journalists and other media professionals from censorship or harassment. As a Nigerian human rights lawyer, Hauwa Ibrahim represents women who face being stoned to death for adultery and young people facing amputation for theft under Islamic Sharia law.

An important aspect of Parliament's activities is the resolutions on particular human rights violations in specific countries and, in particular, on individual cases, which are dealt with in the monthly debates on urgent subjects. Council, Commission and the governments involved are urged to take action. Th e reactions of these governments suggest that they are sensitive to criticism by the EP.

Individual cases raised by Parliament included political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, journalists, cyberdissidents, scientists, trade unionists and human rights defenders in jail, harassed or under threat.

During the period of reporting, Parliament denounced in resolutions, inter alia: the situation of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, the Buddhist Lama imprisoned and sentenced to death in December 2002 on the charge of having participated in some bomb attacks in Tibet; the several cases of imprisonment and violence against journalists, human rights defenders and opposition members in Belarus, namely the situation of Paval Mazeka, Mikola Markievic and Viktar Ivaskievic, all sentenced to between 6 and 9 months' imprisonment as well as Mikhail Marinich, opposition leader and former Minister for External Economic Relations imprisoned in 2004 for politically motivated charges and released on 14 April 2006; the situation of several political prisoners in Burma (Myanmar ), namely Hkun Htun Oo, Chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, held in prison since February 2005 and sentenced to 90 years and General Hso Hten, President of the Shan State Peace Council, held in prison since February 2005 and sentenced to 109 years; Mohamed Benchicou, Editor of the newspaper Le Matin, sentenced to two years' imprisonment as a victim of a campaign against the freedom of press in Algeria; the case of Dr Ayman Nour, a former journalist and lawyer, leader of Al-Ghad Party and member of the Egyptian Parliament, who was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment on 24 December 2005 for having been accused of submitting false signatures in order to register his party for the legislative and presidential elections in Egypt; Altynbeck Sarsenbaev, a prominent politician and the co-chairman of the True Ak Zhol opposition party, murdered in Kazakhstan on 13 February 2006; Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, Chief executive for the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society and Editor in chief for the Nizhni Novgorod newspaper “Pravo-zaschita” (“Human Rights Activism”) sentenced to a two-year suspended jail term; the arrest of several civil activists in Syria, in particular the lawyer Anwar al Bunni and the writer Michel Kilo; Maître Mohammed Abbou, a well-known Tunisian lawyer and human rights defender, sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail on 28 April 2005.

The EP has used its budgetary powers to increase substantially the resources earmarked for programmes dealing with democracy and human rights financed under a separate budget chapter, created at the initiative of the EP, the “European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights” (EIDHR), (see more on EIDHR in chapter 3.7). During the negotiations on the new financial instruments for external assistance, the European Parliament identifi ed the need for a separate regulation for EU action on democracy and human rights as one of the main priorities, in order to guarantee visibility and fl exibility. Th e proposal for this instrument was presented by the Commission on the 26th of June 2006.

Issues concerning human rights within the EU fall under the remit of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Aff airs which deals with the status of respect for fundamental rights in the EU. Th e Foreign Aff airs Committee and its Subcommittee on Human Rights cooperate closely with this Committee to monitor the external effect of internal policies, especially concerning the issues of asylum and migration and the human rights aspects of traffcking in people and organs.

If EU citizens consider that their fundamental rights have been violated, they can take the matter up with the European Ombudsman, who covers maladministration by EU institutions or the Petitions Committee of the EP, who covers infringements of the EU law. The Ombudsman deals with complaints relating to the activities of EU bodies, whereas the Petitions Committee examines petitions concerning breaches by member states of their treaty obligations. Not infrequently, member states are required to modify their legislation to bring it into line with Community law as a result of subsequent treaty infringement proceedings.

An overview of the main EP's activities in the fi eld of human rights in external relations can be found at http://www.europarl.


[1] PE 362.667/v05-00

[2] PE 368.090/v02-00

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