"There can be no cultural relativism where human rights are concerned," said Louis Michel (ALDE, BE) on Monday, at the start of the 29th meeting of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, in Suva, Fiji. He said human rights could not be breached in the name of cultural diversity, adding that this issue was at the heart of discussions in Europe, as well as in the ACP states.
During the opening sitting, attended by Prime Minister Josaia Vorege Bainimarama of Fiji, Mr Michel and his ACP co-chair, Fitz A Jackson, expressed their condolences to the victims of Cyclone Pam, which had devastated Vanuatu and also hit neighbouring countries in March, and was the subject of an urgent resolution to be voted by the Assembly on Wednesday. The JPA meeting was an opportunity to address the specific needs and particular challenges faced by the Pacific region, they said, thanking the Fijian authorities for hosting the Assembly.
The JPA agenda also included natural resources, the challenges of climate change for island states and the need for elections to ease the transition in the Central African Republic.
Cultural diversity and human rights
Mr Michel told the Assembly that cultural diversity could not be used as an argument for violating human rights, which are enshrined in international law, He stressed that "cultural relativism" was not acceptable and said people should have the courage to remember that in human society this sort of equation was not possible. Cultural diversity and human rights in ACP and EU countries is the subject of a resolution by the JPA's political affairs committee to be voted on Wednesday.
Problems faced by the Pacific region
Small island states are severely affected by climate change and the Assembly's keynote debate will focus on seas and oceans, including the exploitation of natural resources in this environment.
"The decisions taken in international fora", such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the COP 21 Climate Change Conference and the European Union, "can have major consequences for the development of these countries, which are so far away from the centres of power," said Mr Jackson. He stressed that the JPA "is uniquely placed to be the advocate of development for the people of the South and the North”. It was a platform, he said, that could be used to show the world that "development is not a zero sum game: it can and must be a win-win cause”.
Central African Republic
Mr Michel told the Assembly that elections must be held in the Central African Republic as close as possible to the date initially scheduled. He stressed that "peace in CAR will not be possible without a sustained international effort" and paid tribute to the transitional authorities, calling for elections to be held as swiftly as possible in order to give them democratic legitimacy.
Mr Jackson stressed that CAR was "a country with enormous development potential" that "needs a solution that guarantees lasting peace, not a patchwork agreement that could fray at the smallest crisis".
The Assembly will pass a resolution on the situation in Central African Republic.
Mr Michel congratulated the prime minister of Fiji on the positive developments and recent progress that were benefiting the people of Fiji. He called for the success of the democratic elections in September 2014 to be preserved and hoped that Fiji would continue along the same path and would prosper.
29th ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly
The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) brings together elected representatives of the European Union (EU) and the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP), with MEPs and MPs from the 78 signatory states to the Cotonou Agreement, which is the basis for ACP-EU development cooperation.
The Assembly will vote on Wednesday, 17 June on three resolutions:
Two urgent topics will be debated and wound up with resolutions: