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Important points 1994-1999

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Steady backing for human rights

 

If any cause has received Parliament's steady support over the years, it is human rights - both inside and outside the EU. The EP has been a tireless campaigner on this issue and as a result of its efforts human rights are now at the heart of the Union's foreign policy.

 

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From the "standard clause" to the "social clause"

It was Parliament which in the early 1980s first called for a standard human rights clause to be included in all agreements signed with non-EU countries. The Council was initially reluctant to follow Parliament's lead but eventually came round to its point of view. Human rights clauses are now a standard feature of treaties signed by the Union and can be invoked to suspend agreements in the event of serious human rights violations. These clauses are thus a key tool for defending human rights - whether political, civil, economic or social - throughout the world.

Always alert to developments in the world, Parliament has spared no effort to have sanctions imposed on countries guilty of persistent human rights violations. It is largely due to pressure from the EP that the Union is currently applying sanctions of various kinds to countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Serbia and Equatorial Guinea.

Social and labour rights are a key component of human rights and Parliament is doing its best to combat the use of forced labour. It believes that new international labour standards are needed as a result of globalisation and has called for a "social clause" to be included in international trade agreements. It has been pushing since 1994 for the EU to act on this demand, especially on child labour and recognition of trade union rights. In response to Parliament's prompting the Council decided to include in the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for 1995-98 new provisions to encourage countries which observe certain labour standards. As an illustration of the need to keep up the pressure, in the case of Myanmar (Burma) Parliament called on the Commission in 1996 to respond to complaints lodged by trade union bodies on behalf of victims of forced labour. The Commission agreed a year later and the result was that GSP privileges for Myanmar were suspended. Recently Parliament gave its backing to an EU plan to help combat child labour. The countries where this is a problem need aid to provide education and vocational training for young boys and girls. The 1999 EU budget provides funds for NGOs which set up projects to enable families to earn money to make up for the loss of earnings caused by the fact that their children are no longer working.

Budgetary measures

Parliament also wants the EU to take practical measures to help safeguard human rights and has managed to have a special budget heading introduced, known as the "European initiative for democracy and the protection of human rights". This has provided funding for programmes to aid victims of human rights violations, in particular women and children, and to help strengthen the rule of law (e.g. judicial reform programmes, training for security and police forces and measures to support freedom of the press). In 1995 it rejected a Council proposal to cut expenditure on human rights and democracy by half. Without Parliament's intervention, many programmes designed to help people in some of the world's poorest countries could not have continued.

Another move by Parliament to protect the physical wellbeing of ordinary people - and also safeguard economic development - has been its efforts to eradicate anti-personnel mines. It was largely due to Parliament's prompting that the Union adopted a common position seeking to ban the production of landmines and provide aid for mine-clearance schemes and victims of landmines.

Action on the ground

Parliament has also striven to ensure that the EU makes an effective contribution to reconstruction and the consolidation of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Anxious at the delays in implementing the reconstruction programmes designed to help the return of refugees, it sent a delegation to Bosnia- Herzegovina. Partly at Parliament's urging, the Council regulation on reconstruction aid was amended, leading to better management of the programmes, which were made more responsive to needs and more flexible.

Similarly, at the height of the crisis in Algeria, Parliament sent a delegation there to try to breathe new life into the dialogue between that country and the EU, which had by then largely fizzled out. It also wanted to encourage some of the Algerian parties to resume dialogue with each other. Despite problems, the delegation managed to hold talks not only with representatives of all the political movements but also with a broad cross-section of civil society. This mission to a country which was virtually closed to the outside world enabled Europeans to view the Algerian conflict from a different angle. It also paved the way for contacts between Algeria, the Member States and the Council itself, as well as the international media.

Support for human rights campaigners

To defend human rights one needs to mobilise international opinion. This is why, every year since 1988, Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to someone who, by standing up for freedom of speech, has made a notable contribution to the fight against intolerance, fanaticism or hatred. The prize was named after Andrei Sakharov because at the time it was established he was seen as the outstanding embodiment of these ideals. By awarding the prize to high-profile individuals, Parliament has helped prise open the grip of governments over these people. Two past winners, Nelson Mandela (1988) and Aung San Suu Kyi (1990), have since received the Nobel Peace Prize. Aung San Suu Kyi's movements are unfortunately still restricted. However, the award of the prize in 1996 to the Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng was almost certainly a factor in his release last year.

Support for an international justice system

There can be no meaningful protection for human rights without an international justice system. Parliament has therefore urged the EU Member States to push for the setting up of an international court. It was also instrumental in persuading the Union, despite reluctance by some Member States, to contribute to the costs of the courts at The Hague and Arusha.

Further information: Jacques NANCY - tel. 0032.2.284.2485 or e-mail: jnancy@europarl.eu.int

 

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