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Press release

Human rights: Iraq, Transnistria, Vietnam

Human rights - 12-07-2007 - 19:08
Plenary sessions
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In three resolutions winding up this week's plenary session, MEPs call for action to help the growing wave of Iraqi refugees; they condemn the abuses of the breakaway regime in Transnistria, Moldova; and they voice concern at a new round of persecution of dissidents in Vietnam.

Iraq: more than four million refugees
In a resolution on the worsening plight of refugees inside and outside Iraq, Parliament calls on the EU Member States and the international community to stop turning a blind eye to the situation. MEPs believe financial aid should be more readily available and asylum applications should be processed faster.
Citing a wealth of statistics, the resolution says that violence, unemployment and poverty are causing many Iraqis to flee, primarily to Jordan and Syria but also to Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Iran. Asylum applications from Iraqis doubled in the first half of 2007.
Four million people uprooted
There are now over 2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq, some 42,000 non-Iraqi refugees in the country and around 2 million Iraqi refugees in neighbouring states, including 560.000 children unable to attend school.
Minorities such as Jews, Mandeans and Christians face increasing discrimination, while the 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq are at particular risk. The EP criticises the attitude of the Iraqi authorities towards the Palestinians and also condemns threats by senior Iraqi officials against members of the Iranian opposition who have been political refugees in Iraq for 20 years and have legal protected status.
On a positive note, the resolution "welcomes the solidarity shown by Iraq's neighbouring countries with Iraqi refugees and invites these countries to inform the international community about the support they need to cope with the situation".  It goes on to call, "together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for a sustained, comprehensive and coordinated international response to ease the plight of millions of people uprooted by the humanitarian crisis".
Speedier processing of asylum applications
However, Parliament argues that "the attitude of most Member States and the US to recognising protection needs of Iraqi refugees has been largely restrictive" and it is critical of the "great disparities in the way Iraqi asylum claims are being assessed in the Member States".
It calls on the Member States to "overcome their position of non-action regarding the situation of the Iraqi refugees and to fulfil their obligations under international and Community law" so as to give Iraqis in Member States the opportunity to lodge asylum applications and have them processed with minimum delay.  Iraqis who do not qualify for protected status but cannot be returned should at least be given some form of legal status.
More aid needed quickly
The European Commission is asked "to urgently explore further possibilities to bring humanitarian support to the IDPs in Iraq, exercising appropriate flexibility in interpreting the relevant rules, and to assist the neighbouring countries in their efforts to host the refugee population".  The procedures of ECHO, the EC humanitarian aid office, are regarded as too lengthy, due to the special constraints of the country.
Lastly, the resolution asks the Commission to inform Parliament's Budget Control Committee at its meeting of 16 July about the use of the funds allocated to Iraq, including how much of the EU funding for Iraq has been allocated to the refugee problem.
*          *          *
Transnistria: Moldova's breakaway region
The resolution on Moldova looks at the "frozen conflict" involving the breakaway region of Transnistria, stresses the EU's interest in seeing this situation resolved and highlights the human rights abuses in Transnistria.
According to the resolution, "the 1992 war in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova led to the establishment of a separatist, illegitimate and authoritarian regime in this region; the situation of the frozen conflict persists and human rights violations continue to be severe and widespread".
Abuses in Transnistria
Parliament "deplores the lack of respect for human rights and human dignity in Transnistria" and "condemns the continued repression, harassment and intimidation of representatives of the independent media, NGOs and civil society".
The resolution cites a number of recent cases, including those of Tudor Popa and Andrei Ivantoc, "who were subjected to degrading treatment and were prohibited from returning to their homes" as well as "the arrest and detention under charges of terrorism of all the members of the so-called Ilascu group", which it says was "an illegal act" of the Transnistrian regime.
Parliament stresses that "the separatist regime of Transnistria allows organised crime, including trafficking in arms, in human beings, smuggling and money laundering activities to flourish" and argues that "this constitutes a considerable risk to the stability of the region".
Firm backing for Moldova's territorial integrity
Looking for ways forward, MEPs call for "a rapid and final settlement to the frozen conflict in Transnistria", while emphasising "the EU's firm commitment to the territorial integrity of Moldova".
Indeed, the EU has forged closer ties with Moldova over the years, including a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in force since 1 July 1998.  An EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Moldova has been appointed and the resolution refers to Moldova's "European aspirations".
MEPs believe the Commission and Council should "envisage measures of greater and comprehensive involvement in the process of negotiation and of solving the above-mentioned conflict". 
Lastly, Parliament "calls on the EU to raise the issue of the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Transnistria within the framework of EU-Russia relations".
*          *          *
Vietnam: hopes of progress on democracy dashed?
In a resolution on Vietnam, adopted by 68 votes to 2 with 0 abstentions, Parliament voices disappointment at the government's apparent retreat from the policy of tolerance and openness which had seemed to be taking shape last year. It urges the government to change tack and believes the EU institutions should apply some pressure.
The resolution mentions "the political opening-up of 2006, which saw the birth of independent and democratic parties" as well as an internet petition for greater democracy signed by a number of intellectuals. It points out that "the Vietnamese regime's tolerance of this spreading of democratic dissidence aroused great hope" and enabled it to join the WTO, be removed from the United States' list of violators of religious freedom and be granted permanent normal trade relations by the US Congress.
However, "since March 2007, more than 15 dissidents have been sentenced to lengthy periods in prison or under house arrest". Religious freedom is also under attack, with religious movements finding it hard to register in order to gain official recognition. In addition, the ethnic minorities of the Northern and Central Highlands, including the Montagnards repatriated from Cambodia, are still "subject to discrimination, confiscation of their land and violation of their religious freedom".
Vietnam urged to meet international norms on democracy and human rights
Parliament therefore "voices its deep concern at the new wave of persecution of dissidents in Vietnam" and calls for "the immediate and unconditional release of all individuals imprisoned for the sole reason that they have peacefully and legitimately exercised their right to freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of religion" (the resolution lists a number of individuals).
Parliament calls on the Vietnamese Government "to put an end to all forms of repression towards people exercising their right to the freedom of expression, freedom of thought and freedom of assembly, in line with international law on human rights" and "repeats its call to the authorities to reform as a matter of urgency national security provisions, either revoking them or bringing them into line with international law".
MEPs want Vietnam "to carry out political and institutional reforms in order to establish democracy and genuine rule of law, beginning with the introduction of a multi-party system, a free press and free trade unions" and "to respect religious freedom and to restore the legal status of all religious communities". They also urge the government to "end the discrimination against the Montagnard community".
Pressure from the EU?
When it comes to human rights, the EU could wield some clout. The resolution points out that Vietnam receives financial assistance from the EU and its Member States, that the EU is Vietnam's main trading partner and that Vietnam already benefits from the EU's generalised system of preferences.  Moreover, in March 2007 the Commission decided to increase aid to Vietnam by 30% for the 2007-2013 period (€304 million), which is largely earmarked for governance and human rights actions.
Parliament therefore takes the view that the "human rights dialogue between the European Union and Vietnam must lead to tangible improvements in Vietnam" and asks the Council and the Commission "to reassess the policy of cooperation with Vietnam", given that the 1995 cooperation agreement is supposed to be based on respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights.
REF.: 20070710IPR09051