The plight of human rights defenders, the supposed secrecy and double standards in the EU's foreign policy...these are just some issues that Finnish Green MEP Heidi Hautala has championed. As Chair of the EP's Human Rights Subcommittee, the Finnish Green MEP has put herself on the line and given an active face to the Parliament's human rights work. She told us that too often, efforts remain on the shoulders of human rights people, and real action focuses on something else".
Is the EP making a difference for human rights?
Without human rights defenders there are no human rights. In June, Parliament adopted my report on human rights defenders that includes many practicalities. I believe this work will produce results; the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders cannot remain a dead letter. Now the question is very much about setting up the external action service, taking defenders seriously in all delegations and making a local strategy to support them.
It is sad that people who put themselves on the line often are placed, on a variety of excuses, to criminal liability, or are inflicted with administrative sanctions to hamper their activity. This is the pattern worldwide. I recently got a world map on my wall, and when there's an ambassador in front of me, I can tell that oh yes, that's your country there, we understand your situation, but you should stop condemning people for their opinions.
I feel I have received a great gift when I get to do this job, which is probably the best thing I have until now been able to during my lengthy political career. Parliament has influence, and when we appeal on behalf of an imprisoned journalist, it sometimes helps. So many people rely on Parliament. Obviously, it is not always able to meet expectations, but inspires confidence in human rights issues. This needs nurturing.
Parliament awards in December for the 22nd time its annual prize for freedom of thought. Yet neither the Sakharov nor the Nobel Peace Prize have sufficed to protect human rights defenders. How to get countries like China, Russia, Iran and Cuba to honour their international commitments?
There is good news, too. The Sakharov Prize will be awarded to a Cuban; it's a sign of the fact that the Cuban government has begun releasing political prisoners. There are also signs that these people could live freely in their own country. All distinctions have impact. The fact that Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the 1991 Sakharov Prize and is at least currently free is good news. These steps show improvement, but are not enough.
At this very moment it is inspiring to act: the Lisbon Treaty reinforces the importance of human rights in EU policies - both inside and outside. Now is the time to do everything to get human rights fully integrated into all policies in the external action service. We also need to get rid of all double standards; we cannot look at different countries, the EU's external and our own situation through different criteria. We constantly get comments on this. Authoritarian governments love to get us caught on the EU's internal human rights violations.
New social media has given new channels to speak out on human rights violations. At the same time new technology is also used for repression. What can Europe do to make ICT corporations to play their part for human rights?
The Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) and Iran case is an interesting one. Parliament already said in February in its Iran resolution that human rights had been seriously violated with surveillance technology provided by NSN. Human Rights Subcommittee commissioned a study and called Google and NSN representatives to a meeting where Nokia's representative acknowledged that the company had made a miscalculation. This is the way a company must act: not explain too much afterwards.
I have encouraged, together with my colleagues and a written question, the Council and Commission to think about what could be done. This is a "dual use" case; same technology that helps people to share information, can be used by authoritarian governments to monitor communications of up to 50 000 people, with well known consequences.
We aim to continue discussions with network manufacturers and also telecom operators. A U.S. representative visited me recently and asked Parliament to support Hillary Clinton's Internet Freedom Initiative. Clinton has taken a strong stand against China's firewall and censorship.
You have fought for more transparency for the EU's foreign policy. How do openness and diplomacy fit together? What do you think of the Wikileaks way of holding governments accountable for rights abuses?
My name is like a footnote in the EU judicial literature, which is perhaps one of my finest achievements (laughs). Subcommittee has had feisty correspondence with the Council because of its habit of secrecy in foreign policy. We have fought for at least the Subcommittee to be fully informed and allowed to study evaluations such as on the China-EU human rights dialogue. Secrecy is flourishing, but I'm trying to encourage the thinking that foreign policy must be as transparent as everything else.
On the other hand one needs to accept the fact that human security can be compromised. For example, it is not necessarily good for an African human rights defender's security that his name is displayed. In order to know about human rights violations, we need more transparency, and other institutions can not keep the EP in the shade. Wikileaks is a good thing, as long as they make sure that sensitive information, mainly on human security, is removed.