President. – The next item is the report by Richard Howitt, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on human rights in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter.
Richard Howitt, rapporteur. – Mr President, our debate on the annual human rights report this year – although delayed – comes at an even more important time, because it allows us to make an input into the strategic review, which represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make human rights even more central to what we are about in the European Union. If human rights are indeed a silver thread, the review must demonstrate that there is a silver bullet.
In our vote tomorrow, we shall ask Baroness Ashton to appoint a special representative to ensure that Europe’s voice on human rights is heard clearly on the world stage and that human rights are put on an equal footing with other foreign policy working groups in the Council. Indeed, we warmly thank her for adopting these proposals in the course of our joint discussions.
We shall ask for a timetable to be set so that human rights focal points are designated in all our delegations worldwide. We ask for human rights organisations to be treated as partners and not simply as agents of delivery. We ask for concrete mechanisms so that allegations of human rights violations within Europe do not compromise our ability to promote human rights outside. Although it is always right to seek to protect those whose lives are at risk, there must be a major increase in the transparency of EU human rights policies, as accountability for those who abuse human rights can only be achieved if there is also accountability for those of us who seek to promote them.
In this report, we name six EU countries which have failed to legislate for the International Criminal Court. We say that the European Neighbourhood Policy is wrong to tolerate thirteen countries which have failed to either sign or to ratify the UN Protocol against Torture, and we name my own country – the United Kingdom – which has shamefully obstructed EU ratification of the EU Convention on Human Rights.
To the High Representative: I understand why you advocated ‘more for more’ in the wake of the Arab Spring, but we were negotiating improved trade terms with Gaddafi just four weeks before we started dropping bombs on him. Today, we ask you to address the harder question of ‘less for less’. Suspending the EU’s international agreements is too blunt an instrument, and one which is too rarely used. We ask for country-by-country human rights benchmarks and indices and for mechanisms to enable their use for a real escalation of response.
Mr President, I have long argued that speaking up for human rights is more important than staying silent for the sake of European unity. This is why we should congratulate Belgium and Austria for voting for the inquiry into settlements in the Palestinian territories, and why we introduced an amendment maintaining support for the investigation of war crimes in Gaza. Whilst sincerely welcoming the cooperation of the shadow rapporteurs in not-always-easy circumstances, I regret that there was a left/right split in the votes at committee on this and on the issues of women’s rights, on discrimination against all religions and on justice for the victims of extraordinary rendition.
I hope that tomorrow, all of us will vote together for human rights. In this report, too, I have particularly examined the issues of social media and of business and human rights. Just as there is a constant race for new technologies, there is a race between those harnessing new media for the purpose of liberation and those who seek to use it for repression. I do not hesitate to say that Vodafone must learn from doing Mubarak’s bidding or to give due credit to Google for refusing to be complicit with censorship in China. I hope to come back to all these issues in my report on corporate responsibility later this year.
Finally, we call for a new human rights tsar to be appointed in order to put Europe on an equal footing with the United States, where the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights exists; mechanisms to ensure full compliance with human rights by the European Union within our own borders; concrete measures to demonstrate that we have learnt from past mistakes from before the Arab Spring; and an understanding that freedom of expression has a new meaning in a new media age. These are some of our key conclusions this year, and I commend them to the House.
Cristian Dan Preda, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Development. – (RO) Mr President, as rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Development on this topic, I wish to congratulate Mr Howell, and I welcome the fact that almost all our suggestions have been incorporated in the final text. This is a mark of recognition of the importance of integrating human rights effectively into development cooperation, in keeping with the rationale from the Lisbon Treaty of pursuing a consistent foreign policy.
In this regard, I welcome the new approach featured in the joint communication on human rights and democracy at the heart of the European Union’s external actions. This is an integrated human rights strategy covering the whole gamut of EU policies. However, a great deal still needs to be done to make the strategy a reality. Budget support should be linked more closely to the situation regarding human rights and governance in the beneficiary countries, and I believe that detailed criteria must be set out for granting this support.
Although it is a difficult subject to raise at a time of economic crisis, another key aspect is to increase the funding for European mechanisms for supporting democracy and human rights. They provide the EU with practical tools for promoting democracy and human rights in third countries.
IN THE CHAIR: ROBERTA ANGELILLI Vice-President
Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Madam President, since 1983, when the European Parliament began adopting an annual report and resolution on human rights, this House has done more than any EU institution to focus on such issues.
While we may sometimes disagree about how best to champion respect for human rights globally, we stand united in our aim: to see a freer world, where people’s dignity is respected – wherever they may be from – and for the EU, and the External Action Service in particular, to play a key role in supporting people’s struggles for their rights.
Allow me now to turn to the report by Richard Howitt which is before us today. First of all, I want to congratulate him for achieving consensus across the political spectrum on this report. I believe it is essential reading for me, my colleagues in the Commission and my colleagues in the Council. The very first paragraph of the report is about coherence between the internal and external policies of the European Union – one of the main themes from the Communication of December. It is a particularly important theme for Parliament this week, since on Thursday, it will hear statements from the Council and the Commission on the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Honourable Members, ‘coherence’ might sound dry, but this really does mean that human rights can be woven into everything we do, in Europe and beyond. It means making sure that people everywhere benefit from the same universal rights, regardless of who they are or where they live.
The report also highlights the importance of accountability and the importance of our work in developing, in serious situations, the accountability that we have. I will pick out two themes that, in a sense, are very important both for coherence and accountability. Firstly, the role of women, especially as yesterday, I met Michelle Bachelet to talk about the role of women and to sign agreements with UN Women on how to go forward and support women across the world. Secondly – especially at the present time – discrimination against people of faith, including Christians, and those who have other beliefs. Tolerance is at the heart of the European Union, and that is why we need to strengthen our policy on the freedom of religion or belief, which is fundamental to a free society.
The European Union must work continuously for the widest possible ratification, acceptance and approval of, and accession to, the Rome Statute. That work is progressing. So far, we have signed three bilateral agreements, including ICC clauses, and initialled another three, and we are negotiating another 15. We have also included ICC clauses in many of our ENP action plans.
We have the power to promote human rights by placing countries and regimes on a scale stretching between engagement and isolation and using human rights as a method of measuring how we should address our relationships with different countries.
Human rights have never been more important than they are now, nor indeed have they ever driven so many changes. If we simply look, for example, at what is happening throughout the Middle East and North Africa, men and women, young and old, representing the whole of society, have found the courage to assert their fundamental human rights. Some have been prepared to give their lives for freedom, dignity and a better future. I should like to pay tribute to all of them now.
The changes that they have brought, as Mr Howitt has said, required the EU to develop a new response to a changing neighbourhood. I believe we have risen to that challenge. Human rights and deep democracy are at the heart of our new approach, and I believe our partnerships with our neighbours are stronger and healthier as a result.
Our work at the UN Human Rights Council has also helped to reinforce and support these positive and domestically-driven developments. At the 19th session, which concluded on 28 March, the European Union resolution on Syria was adopted with a record vote of 41 in favour, out of a possible 47. Our resolution on human rights in Burma/Myanmar was adopted by consensus, as was the resolution on freedom of religion or belief.
The session was a success for the rights of individuals, who too often find themselves marginalised and ostracised. The successful panel on ‘Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ was a remarkable achievement, for which all credit is due to South Africa’s leadership, together with Ban Ki-moon. It is unacceptable that 80 states still criminalise same-sex relations between consenting adults, and that seven even foresee the death penalty. This is totally incompatible with international human rights law.
I believe it is very, very important that Barbara Lochbihler and Laima Andrikienė were able to attend the Human Rights Council, where they addressed EU Heads of Mission and met with a wide range of international representatives. This is just another example of the important role of the European Parliament and the important way in which it is seen to promote human rights in the world.
My communication of last December was designed as a contribution to what is an ongoing discussion within and between EU institutions on a more effective and comprehensive approach to human rights and democracy. Now that there has been time to consider what I put forward, I look forward to working with you on the shape of our future strategy.
As I confirmed to the Committee on Foreign Affairs on 20 March, work is in hand to pave the way for the appointment of a Special Representative for Human Rights as part of a package to put into practice the joint communication. It is important that this person be someone with a strong track record on international human rights.
At the same time, as was discussed at the ‘Gymnich’ meeting of foreign ministers, we want to agree a political declaration on what we want to achieve, and we want an action plan on how to put this into practice. This will bring together new initiatives as well as others that we have already launched. I am happy to confirm that the network of human rights focal points is nearly complete: 116 EU Delegations now have someone, and many have two, in both their political and cooperation sections.
On all of this, I want to work closely with the honourable Members. The review of EU human rights policy was first announced in this House. The appointment of a Special Representative was championed by this House. It is therefore natural that ongoing work on human rights and democracy should be in full cooperation with this House. I have written to the Chair of the Human Rights Sub-Committee to ask her to work with me to ensure the fullest possible participation in the drafting of the Joint Declaration.
To end as I began, I pay tribute to Mr Howitt for his work and I pay tribute to the European Parliament for its continuous work in support of human rights.
Andrzej Grzyb, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (PL) Madam President, even though we should have adopted this annual report in December 2011, we are discussing it in the spring of 2012. This is justified, however, because we are considering this report in conjunction with the new European policy on democratisation and human rights, which follows from the communication to Parliament by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, in December of last year.
There were many developments in the field of human rights in 2010. At the same time, while adopting this report, we are bound to be affected by the impressions made on us by the Arab Spring, which prompted us to revise our view on supporting the processes of democratisation and respect for human rights. It seems to me that the synergy of the Arab Spring experience provides a new approach to support the processes of democratisation, as does the new approach that stems from the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon.
I welcome the opportunity to comment on the contents of the report prepared by Richard Howitt. On behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party, I would like to express my gratitude for the excellent cooperation. In particular, I want to emphasise the critical reference to human rights violations in Belarus, including the rights of convicted persons. This has also been discussed here in Parliament: persons sentenced to death are entitled to decent treatment, and to a fair trial. In addition, their families have the right to information about their relatives and the right to a dignified burial.
In this context, I also note with satisfaction the positive development in Belarus involving the release of two political prisoners, Andrei Sannikov and Dmitry Bondarenko. Also encouraging is the most recent Euronest resolution adopted in Baku, which relates to human rights in Partnership Countries, including Ukraine. I welcome the very positive reference to the establishment of a European fund for democracy. This is an instrument which will support democratic processes, both before, during and after the process of transition to democracy.
The report deplores the heightened persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians, across the world. We cannot tolerate the burning of places of worship, murder, or any other type of persecution of Christians and other religions in the world. The report emphasises the special role of the Eastern Partnership Countries Ombudsmen Cooperation Programme, an initiative by the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection of the Republic of Poland and the Mediator of the French Republic. This promotes good practices which will help to foster respect for human rights.
Finally, reference should also be made to corporate social responsibility, especially in the context of human rights, and most particularly in the context of trade relations with countries that are neighbours of the European Union.
Maria Eleni Koppa, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (EL) Madam President, I should like to congratulate Richard Howitt on the content and level of detail in his report and the High Representative, Baroness Ashton, on her firm commitment to human rights. We now need to learn the lessons of our times and engage in a little self-criticism. We need to show that we have learned from our mistakes. Unfortunately, the West and the Member States of the European Union have actively or passively supported dictatorships in North Africa for years in the name of an artificial stability. It has now become clear, and I think that we all understand, that long-term stability is impossible without respect for human rights and democracy. If we really want the European Union to be a reliable player on the international stage, it is high time that we stopped applying double standards to human rights.
All aid offered to third countries should be accompanied by effective pressure to make real improvements in this sector. Within this framework, the human rights clause in trade agreements between the Union and third countries is an important instrument and suitable use should be made of it, while it should generally be made clear that the ‘more for more’ approach also means ‘less for less’. It is also important for the Member States to present a united front at the UN and in other important international fora. We therefore welcome the adoption of general guidelines on statements by the European Union at international fora. However, we must, at the same time, repeat our call for regular consultation between ambassadors of EU Member States, in order to improve coordination in the common endeavour to promote and defend human rights.
I should like to make two final points: first of all, the need to defend religious freedom is self-evident. However, we must fight for the freedom of all religious groups without exception, not only Christian groups, as called for by certain groups in this Parliament. Finally, I wish to comment on the question of women’s reproductive rights. A woman’s right over her body is a very important human right. It is a right to dignity and freedom. For all of us for whom freedom is a non-negotiable right, a woman’s right over her body is crucial.
Leonidas Donskis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, first and foremost, I would like to congratulate my colleague, Mr Howitt, on an excellent report. I believe that reaching agreement on political and moral matters on all sides of the spectrum of the European Parliament is a challenging and difficult task.
The report raises the question of whether human rights have become a central issue for the EU and whether we have succeeded in mainstreaming them as a pivotal aspect of foreign policy. At the same time, the question remains as to whether human rights have become a common denominator in a political and moral consensus across the political spectrum of this House and of the European Union.
With regard to obvious and outrageous violations of human rights – such as killing, the death penalty, torture, violations of freedom of expression, belief and conscience, and contempt for, and persecution of, LGBT people – I believe that we have common ground and that we share values and attitudes. Yes, I believe that the challenge of the future lies in our ability to identify and tackle less obvious, vague and elusive – not to say subtle – violations of human rights, such as selective justice, politicised trials and endemic corruption – all of which undermine any kind of fair and equal treatment of people – as well as illegitimate surveillance, abuse of psychiatry, government sponsored and state-coordinated campaigns of defamation, and slander and blackmail against dissenting individuals and human rights defenders.
In any case, I believe that the rapporteur has done an excellent job within the remit given to him. I believe that the report covers an immense territory of our agreements, sensibilities and expectations, for which I wholeheartedly congratulate Mr Howitt.
Rui Tavares, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (PT) Madam President, I must admit that I was quite stunned to hear Baroness Ashton’s first speech on the expropriation of Repsol in Argentina.
This came in a debate on human rights and in a week when there was a coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau, a country much closer to the European Union, which has served as a platform for arms and drug trafficking into the EU and which received no more than a mere press release from her office, when it deserved more; a country from which our EU delegation was withdrawn and where Baroness Ashton has still not reinstated that delegation.
It is a West African country that is at risk of becoming a failed state – if it is not one already – and I wish there were as much urgency in dealing with these issues as there has been in dealing with Repsol, at a time when the EU has vessels flying German flags sailing through Cypriot ports and exporting arms to Syria, at a time when the EU has companies selling Internet censorship and monitoring software to dictatorial regimes, and at a time when international agreements with only the vaguest of references to human rights continue to be concluded.
I would like to see the same kind of readiness to accede to our requests to punish these companies as there has been to come out in Repsol’s defence. There has been enough playing around with human rights. Let us make the new strategies public. Let us be consistent in how we deal with the internal and external dimensions of fundamental rights.
In fact, the report by Mr Howitt, whom I thank for his collaboration and the extremely concrete and practical suggestions he has included therein, is a valuable tool for the Commission’s future action. As shadow rapporteur for Mr Howitt and as rapporteur for the political and strategic review of fundamental rights in Europe, I hope that the farces can end and the real work can begin. For this I am ready, Baroness Ashton, but for the rest, I am not.
Konrad Szymański, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, this year’s report on human rights represents clear progress in some areas in relation to previous reports. This is particularly evident in the recognition of the issue of freedom of religion. Religious freedom is an inalienable principle of human rights. Its fundamental nature is confirmed by the UN and Council of Europe conventions. Widespread violations of this right, particularly apparent against Christians, constitute a dramatic violation of human rights worldwide.
One year after the beginning of the Arab Spring, there is an increasing number of real threats to the entire Christian community in the Middle East. We must constantly remind our political partners in the region of this. It would be tragic if Christians were to become the first victim of the democratisation process that was so yearned for in this part of the world.
We cannot agree with the criticism of France and the United Kingdom regarding the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. There is a danger that this action could result in a conflict of jurisdiction between the courts in Luxembourg and Strasbourg, and it may also result in uncontrolled expansion of the competence of European courts.
The report should not contain any references to so-called reproductive health. Such provisions are a pretext for the promotion and financing of abortions all over the world, even in countries where this procedure is illegal. This is a huge abuse of trust of the citizens and the Member States, who never granted the European Commission any such competence.
Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (NL) Madam President, in the past few days, we have been able to see and listen to shocking reports on Dutch television and radio about the kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam of Christian girls and women in Egypt. Take, for example, the images of the sign of the cross carved into the hand and wrist of a 27-year-old married Egyptian woman who managed to escape her kidnappers and torturers.
To my knowledge, the High Representative responded on 9 December 2011 to previous questions about this extremely serious violation of the legal rights of Egyptian Christians. She mentioned then the difficulty in proving the charges of kidnappings, abuse and forced conversions. At the same time, the High Representative wrote that she would keep urging the Egyptian authorities to take action regarding these heartbreaking cases. Madam High Representative, I would very much like to hold you to this pledge.
The poignant programmes from an evangelical broadcaster in my country, which are supported by actual evidence, give you every reason to do so. Speaking of evidence, the oldest and largest Egyptian human rights organisation, Euhro, officially reports that, in the last 10 months, over 1 500 Christian parents have come knocking on its doors regarding the abduction of their daughters. In 80% of the cases, this concerns underage girls, only 10 of whom have been returned so far.
Madam High Representative, I have seen images of a married Egyptian couple watching a video, alongside their tearful nine-year-old daughter, of their 15-year-old daughter Nabila who has been kidnapped. ‘If you want me to come home, you must first convert to Islam!’ implores Nabila. This new, publicly available evidence about the kidnappings and forced conversions of Egyptian girls and women calls for appropriate action. Continue to exert European pressure on the Egyptian authorities to investigate violations of the law, so that we can inspire confidence in the legal system for the country’s significant Christian minority.
Baroness Ashton, what specific action can I expect you to take and would you please let me know what action is taken through your office?
Marie-Christine Vergiat, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FR) Madam President, first, I would of course like to thank our rapporteur, Richard Howitt, because I do not believe that I have ever had the opportunity to work in such an environment and, up to now, I do not believe that I had ever seen a rapporteur encourage the desire for compromise to such an extent, even sometimes trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.
This report is important because it shows a strong desire to make progress on the demands that Parliament and, more generally, the European Union, ought to have with regard to human rights. In particular, it stresses the need to bring into line the internal and external policies of the European Union in this area, and we know that there is every reason to do so. For, before lecturing the whole world, we must start to effectively put our own house in order and hypocrisy is often to be found in this House.
The report places much emphasis on the need to effectively implement the clauses on democracy and human rights, which should not be there just to ease our consciences. They serve no real purpose if they are systematically and constantly sacrificed on the altar of economic liberalism. There too, in reality, we know what this is all about.
I do not agree with all of the gold stars which our rapporteur has awarded, Baroness Ashton, and I do apologise, in particular concerning the European Neighbourhood Policy.
Finally, I want to share some of our concerns with regard to the creation of the foundation for democracy and the risks of political interference and manipulation that may be involved.
Philip Claeys (NI). – (NL) Madam President, it is impossible to comment on all the elements of this left-inspired human rights report. I would therefore like to focus on an element that is not mentioned in the report and that is the situation in South Africa, principally the murders of white farmers.
South Africa faces a huge crime problem. All ethnic groups are affected by that insecurity, but the systematic nature of attacks on white farmers and their families is very obvious and therefore deserves our special attention. In the past fifteen years, 3 000 farmers have been murdered in South Africa, often in horrific circumstances, and even children have not been spared.
This is a very vulnerable section of the population, not only because it is a very small minority, but also because of its geographical distribution and the extreme remoteness of many farms. The American NGO Genocide Watch has warned of several factors indicating that this is a potential genocide in the making. This is not just part of the existing culture of crime; this is a campaign targeted against farmers and it is likely that the land reform which is being planned will result in a witch-hunt that will escalate the violence further.
We will then have even more murders, even more farmers will leave South Africa and then we will reach a situation reminiscent of that of Zimbabwe. It is therefore high time that the silence around this situation was broken and I therefore urge you, Baroness Ashton, to strongly condemn the violence against farmers and suspend aid to South Africa if the country fails to take effective action.
José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra (PPE). – (ES) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, the report by Mr Howitt concerns human rights, including political, social and economic rights. That is why I should particularly like to thank you, Baroness Ashton, for the statement you made on the situation that has arisen in the Repsol company before we began our debate on this report.
You said a great deal in a short time. You mentioned a wrong decision; a threat to investments and the future of Argentina; the need to comply with the commitments that were made; the measures you took to include this issue on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council; the postponement of the meeting of the EU-Argentina Joint Cooperation Committee; as well as analysing possible measures.
With regard to Mr Howitt’s report, Madam President, I believe it is a reasonable report in general terms, although clearly some matters still need to be addressed, such as the decision to send a fact-finding mission to Gaza – which is a request that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) obviously cannot accept, as the rapporteur is well aware – and Mr Howitt’s position on Colombia, which is quite simply delusional.
That amendment was already rejected in the vote taken in the Committee on Foreign Affairs and, for us, at a time when we are waiting for the Multipart Trade Agreement between Peru, Colombia and the European Union to be ratified, it is unacceptable.
Madam President, Baroness Ashton, I would like to highlight a fundamental aspect of our human rights policy, one with which Parliament has an irrevocable and unquestionable commitment. I am referring to the appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights.
Parliament will vote on this issue in a resolution, and we would like the selection procedure for this individual to be objective, Baroness Ashton, so that the person appointed can truly have the merit and capability to fulfil this important role to the high level it certainly deserves.
Joanna Senyszyn (S&D). – (PL) Madam President, my sincere congratulations to Richard Howitt on an excellent, multi-faceted report. It is impossible to comment on all its important aspects, so I will focus on women’s rights. Women all over the world are the victims of discrimination and inequality. They are humiliated and the victims of violence. Although gender equality is reflected in the EU priorities on human rights, the treatment of women as second class citizens continues to be tolerated and insufficient action is taken to combat it.
I therefore call for the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights to be used to combat all aspects and forms of violence against women, including physical, psychological, social, economic and political violence. Women’s rights should be made a priority subject in negotiations with all candidate countries. It is necessary to constantly remind the Turkish authorities that the continuing scale of violence against women – including honour killings and early and forced marriages – are a crucial obstacle to Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The prevention of selective abortion is also important, as is the prevention of female infanticide and the genital mutilation of girls, the promotion of health education and programmes on sexual and reproductive rights and health, all of which are considered a priority in the development policy of the European Union.
I urge the European Commission and Member States to address violence against women on an international level and the gender dimension of human rights violations.
Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Madam President, I am pleased that the rapporteur is backing the amendment that I originally tabled in committee on the need for European accountability for rendition and torture abuses if the EU is to lead in the promotion of human rights in the world. I hope it will get wide support in plenary and that we will also push all EU states to sign and ratify the Convention against Forced Disappearances.
The EU is taking an international lead on the abolition of the death penalty, but a reply to a written question that I put to the High Representative has not reassured me that EU funding for a regional partnership in central Asia and neighbouring countries against drug trafficking avoids indirect facilitation of the execution by Iran of drug smugglers. I have had the chance to mention this to her and I will take it further.
I applaud her work on amending the Torture Goods Regulation last year to require export controls on pharmaceutical drugs, like anaesthetics, which are being outrageously misused in lethal cocktails for executions, principally in the United States.
Finally, I would stress to Richard Howitt that I sought and obtained assurances that it is UK Government policy for the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. They are, perhaps, being a little anoraky about the details. I cannot speak for France, but I am told that in London, there is no reneging on a policy commitment on the EU acceding to the Convention.
Struan Stevenson (ECR). – Madam President, Baroness Ashton will not be surprised that I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without mentioning Camp Ashraf. As you know, Baroness Ashton, 1 600 of the residents of Ashraf have now moved to Camp Liberty near Baghdad, which was supposed to be a temporary location where people would spend no more than a few weeks. In fact, some have already been there for three months, and it looks as if they may be forced to stay there for much longer.
The camp is insufficient to accommodate this number of people. They are living in dilapidated containers; the infrastructure has broken down, and yet the Iraqi Government is not allowing them to conduct their own repairs. They are not being allowed to bring ambulances from Ashraf, to build ramps for disabled people or to build pathways over the gravelly surface to allow elderly and disabled people to communicate and walk around the camp.
Now, to make matters worse, the Iraqi Government has allowed representatives of the Ministry of Intelligence from Iran to take up location next to the camp. This is a breach of human rights. Please, Baroness Ashton, take some tough action against the Iraqi Government: tell them that they must accede to the demands of the residents of Ashraf.
Frank Vanhecke (EFD). – (NL) Madam President, this report reads, first and foremost, like a catalogue of generally good intentions, but some of them are rather naïve and, indeed, the author largely assumes that spending even more money on all kinds of European bureaucracy will improve the human rights situation around the world. I must admit that I have very serious doubts about that.
What is much worse is the political correctness that weighs down this report. For example, it quite rightly highlights the precarious situation of religious minorities and women in Muslim countries, as it does the paradox of the so-called Arab Spring, but it studiously avoids using the word ‘Islam’ to indicate the problem. Islam, however, lies at the heart of the problem.
Finally, I would be able to accept the paragraph where the EU is called upon to organise mass rescue operations at sea for the benefit of illegal immigrants if there were also a call for those illegal immigrants to be sent back to their country of origin. However, that is obviously not politically correct enough for this Parliament.
Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Madam President, I quote the rapporteur: ‘For the EU to be a credible actor, […] it must act consistently […] and avoid double standards […] between internal and external policies’ – that is, it must not itself practise what it condemns in others.
Tyrannies ban or seek to ban political parties, but then so do Belgium and Germany. Tyrannies ban heretical opinion on academic subjects – but do not think that begins and ends with the prosecution in Turkey of Orhan Pamuk; France passed a history heresy law only this year, and several other EU countries have similar laws. Tyrannies lock people up for expressing different political opinions from those of the political class. The unsuccessful prosecution of Geert Wilders had scarcely passed when we saw in this Parliament the unlovely spectacle of the ‘Commissar’ for Justice, no less, drooling over the possibility of jailing Wilders for his website.
Before the countries of the EU seek to spread the appreciation of human rights beyond their borders, they should put their own houses in order.
Elmar Brok (PPE). – (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, firstly, I would like to thank Mr Howitt for doing such an excellent job. Secondly, I would like to say that we often have a problem when it comes to putting into practice the human rights policies that we largely agree on. Therefore, I am pleased that there is obviously a plan to appoint an EU Special Representative on Human Rights as part of the European External Action Service and to set up a special department for religious freedom. We must make sure that this is one of the major aspects of a preventive human rights policy.
Given the current situation in Egypt and the fact that the Christian minorities there are very much afraid – it is said that 1 million Christians are preparing to leave – and given the constitutional process in Egypt and the 15 million Copts who established a modus vivendi with the Muslims which lasted centuries and now live in completely different circumstances, it is clear that major and dramatic developments lie ahead and that we must begin taking action today, particularly as these circumstances could lead to high levels of migration. This factor also needs to be taken into consideration and we must not be afraid of saying that the persecution of Christians is also a difficult issue.
However, it is also important for us to check our trade agreements. I am grateful that the association agreement with Ukraine has not yet been signed. Opposition politicians are still in prison and the leader of the opposition, who is seriously ill, is being pressured to submit to interrogation and is being refused painkilling medication until she is prepared to continue being interrogated, which means that this is being used as an instrument of torture, as investigations carried out by doctors have recently established. It is clear that this imposes restrictions on all our practical and strategic considerations and that, despite all these considerations, we must not forget our principles.
Ana Gomes (S&D). – Madam President, ahead of a political declaration by the EU Foreign Ministers on a new EU human rights strategy and the appointment of a special representative on human rights, I urge Ms Ashton and the EU Member States to consider Parliament’s concerns and demands included in this important report by my colleague Richard Howitt, for which I thank him.
I second his call for colleagues on the right in this House to reconsider their vote on re-tabled amendments on LGBT, people’s human rights, women’s sexual and reproductive health, European accountability as regards torture renditions and secret prisons and war crimes in Gaza. I believe we need to be coherent and consistent in order to ensure that the promotion of human rights and democracy is indeed at the core of our external action.
We have lessons to learn from the Arab Spring and we need to put an end to the support for oppressive regimes under the pretext of security, stability and economic interests. Take Ethiopia for example: an oppressive regime that is a main beneficiary of EU development assistance.
‘More for more’ must also mean ‘less for less’, as we say in this report. This means that we need smart, more active support for civil society. All actors of democratisation must ensure that security, trade and development and other policies take account of efforts in human rights and democratisation.
All levels of EU staff, including staff in the EU delegations and the heads of delegation, must have adequate training in human rights. The new strategy must bear scrutiny from Parliament, the media and civil society. Country strategies, papers and human rights benchmarks must provide for timely consultation with civil society and must be made public.
I hope that you, Ms Ashton, and our ministers, when they visit any of these countries where human rights defenders and activists face difficulties, make a point of meeting them and reporting back on their concerns.
Paweł Robert Kowal (ECR). – (PL) Madam President, my initial, and perhaps most important comment is as follows: we often talk about countries in the process of transformation, and about the need for economic and other reforms. Last week, I heard a very intelligent statement made by Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Luzenko in prison. They said that the basis for ensuring good human rights standards is judicial reform. We should discuss judicial reform before discussing other reforms in all countries where we note violations of human rights.
Secondly, I am very pleased that the report refers to a European fund for democracy. My only fear is that this fund will be mired in bureaucracy before it comes into being. We must act quickly in the case of Belarus, and we must take decisions concerning North Africa. A little more dynamism and a little less bureaucracy are called for, and we should say so.
There is another issue that I consider to be extremely important. We must state clearly – and here I appeal to all Members: we must not be afraid to state that Christians are a particularly persecuted group. This should be included in this report. Our ability to call a spade a spade in straightforward cases is a measure of our credibility in many other matters.
Fiorello Provera (EFD). – (IT) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, freedom of worship seems increasingly in danger and, in particular, cases of discrimination and persecution against Christians are becoming increasingly widespread in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, recently in Nigeria, in South-East Asia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. In these countries, there are numerous cases of forced emigration, attacks and arson against places of worship and religious structures, torture and killings, kidnappings and forced conversions.
Not less than 10% of Christians around the world, in other words, 200 million people, are minorities in their own countries and potential victims of discrimination. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, as we all know, but both the European Union and international human rights organisations are, unfortunately, still not very effective at reporting violations and protecting this right.
I therefore wish to reiterate the proposal already advanced on other occasions, to set up a specific, accurate, and annual report by the European Parliament to monitor the status of religious freedom in the world and strongly denounce violations where they exist.
Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE). – (PL) Madam President, I will begin by thanking Mr Howitt for his report, which is a good starting point for dealing with this difficult topic. The report brings all aspects of the topic into the context of the policy pursued by the European Union.
In the context of the fight against the global economic crisis, high unemployment and inflation, it is particularly easy to lose sight of fundamental values such as human rights. Nevertheless, the values encompassed by this broadly defined term must always be respected by third countries cooperating with the European Union in various ways. Economic gain – although important and impossible to ignore – cannot be bought with consent to violation of the fundamental rights of individuals and of society that are included in the catalogue of values adopted in the European Union.
At present, this problem is particularly pertinent, especially since we are conducting both commercial and accession negotiations with countries that do not always share our interpretation of the concept of human rights or that knowingly violate them. The European Union cannot assume the role of global guardian of human rights, but in cases where we do have effective instruments for that purpose available to us, and especially in the context of cooperation with third countries, protection of the values which we all advocate here in Europe should always be our utmost priority.
Véronique De Keyser (S&D), Blue-card question. – (FR) Madam President, my blue card is not malicious, Mr Provera, but when you talk about the freedom of religion, I myself, as an agnostic, always expect us to talk about freedom of belief as well. Yet, when you call for a report on the freedom of religion and religious rights, I want to ask: ‘What about the rights of belief?’ It always seems to me that we cut off at least some, if not half, of the beliefs of this House. I would be prepared to say, ‘Yes, Mr Provera, let’s do this report’, if you at least allow us secular people to talk about our philosophy of life, our spirituality, which is probably not the same as yours. If we do that, then I agree with you. However, if we do not do that, I feel rather violated and also very upset by the attack made by one of your colleagues against Islam.
Fiorello Provera (EFD), Blue-card answer to Véronique De Keyser. – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, what I hope we can do is draw up a thorough report on any violation of freedom of worship, wherever it occurs, and whatever religion is prevented from being upheld, practised or pursued by anyone in the world. Not a discriminatory report against any one religion, but a report that starts from acknowledging the growing number of attacks on Christians around the world, which are becoming more severe and more numerous, as I have already said.
I believe, given that this Parliament regards the protection of human rights and of all human rights as fundamental, that the protection of religious rights is perhaps the most fundamental, since they are based not only on human needs but on morals, and therefore we must be united in defending them, and in doing so, we are consistent with the objectives of this Parliament and are consistent with the defence of human rights, which has repeatedly been hailed around the world as a victory for civilisation. I am sure you will be on my side, as I am on yours.
Véronique De Keyser (S&D). – (FR) Madam President, I think that I will have a coffee with Mr Provera in order to continue this discussion. On a more serious note, I would like to say a few words about the report by Richard Howitt, which, in my opinion, is excellent. It might be possible to pass nearly all the amendments.
However, I would like to raise two points. The first point is the defence of gays and lesbians. This point has been ignored in the new draft and I find that regrettable. I think, Baroness Ashton, that the European External Action Service, everyone in fact, has strived to ensure that the rights of gays and lesbians be fully respected, in our partnerships at any rate. There is still a lot of work to do and we encourage you, Baroness Ashton, to resume work on this issue.
The second point that I would like to come back to is the European Neighbourhood Policy and the ‘more for more’ principle. We have complete confidence in the Council, the Commission and your services, but nevertheless, we fear that this new neighbourhood policy sometimes remains just as blind as the previous one with regard to the situation in the countries where we have interests, in cases when they are allies. That is why we want to make it operable. Richard Howitt put it very well. We want a method, we want criteria, we want to measure improvements in democracy and human rights and we really want to see some genuine ‘more for more’, which is both measurable and has teeth. I believe that it is absolutely essential and that it represents a genuine will for change, something which Parliament will affirm when it votes on this report.
Bernd Posselt (PPE). – (DE) Madam President, Baroness Ashton is right when she says that one of the finest achievements of this House is its systematic human rights policy, which has been in place ever since the first direct elections in 1979. However, we would like to see the Council and the Commission performing the same role. You are responsible for this, Baroness Ashton, and that is where the significance of today’s debate lies. I would like to touch on a few specific points.
The first is the persecution of Christians. You are right, of course, Ms De Keyser. We also support freedom of conscience and of religion for Muslims and agnostics. However, Christians all over the world are being persecuted in a very specific way and Europe, as a primarily Christian continent, must be seen to be protecting Christians throughout the world in a very specific way. That is our duty, but it does not mean that we are neglecting anyone else. I cannot accept it when you say that we must do something for homosexuals – I am also in favour of this – but we are not allowed to mention Christians. The specific target group of our human rights policy is Christians.
Secondly, I would just like to say that we need to have the same standards for everyone. We must not simply criticise small states for breaches of human rights and make an exception for the large ones, such as China and Russia. We need to apply the same strict standards to the large countries as we do to the small ones, even if this has an impact on many of our economic interests.
My third and final point is that it is crucial that human rights are not misused for ideological purposes. I am in favour of defending the human rights of all people and all groups. However, misusing human rights in order to impose certain socio-political ideas puts human rights at risk and is not worthy of the human rights activities of this House.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Ivo Vajgl (ALDE), Blue-card question. – (SL) Madam President, I am sure Mr Posselt will be able to answer my question creatively. Namely, does he not think that we in Europe will only be seen as credible global advocators of Christian rights if we are equally careful to respect the rights and dignity of members of other religions who live among us in Europe and in the Western hemisphere? We have seen many cases where representatives of other religions were justifiably aggrieved after suffering humiliation and abuse of their religious feelings.
Bernd Posselt (PPE), Blue-card answer. – (DE) Madam President, we are talking today about human rights all over the world, in other words, outside the EU, and here there is a particular problem involving the persecution of Christians. However, we must, of course, also support Muslims and other people throughout the world. I believe that the repression of Muslims in Serbia, which is a European Union accession candidate, for example, in Novi Pazar in the region of Sandzak, is an enormous problem, along with many other problems that we currently have. Of course, human dignity is inviolable. That applies to everyone, regardless of their religion or their opinions.
Emer Costello (S&D). – Madam President, I welcome this report and would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Richard Howitt.
There are two issues in this report that I specifically want to address. First of all, the importance of the EU seeking accountability for breaches of international law, to which Baroness Ashton has already referred. In this respect, I want to offer my full support for Amendment 4 in relation to Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As I have said previously in this House, I believe that the EU must demonstrate coherence between its policies and policy resolutions, on the one hand, and our external and bilateral arrangements, on the other.
Secondly, I would like to raise the issue of LGBT rights, and specifically the issue of gender identity. I specifically want to support Amendments 7 and 8, which I believe would strengthen the report in this regard. I support the call for the withdrawal of gender identity from the list of mental and behavioural disorders. It is unacceptable that transgender people have to be diagnosed with a mental disorder in order to have their identity recognised and have a passport issued in their new identity. That is a complete violation of the rights of transgender people.
Francisco José Millán Mon (PPE). – (ES) Madam President, first of all, Baroness Ashton, I would like to thank you for what you said about the arbitrary and unlawful expropriation that the Repsol company in Argentina is undergoing. This measure goes against international law and the principle of legal certainty that affects all Europeans. I welcome your response and, once again, I thank you for your words, Baroness Ashton.
I would now like to talk about the Howitt report. Articles 3 and 21 of the Treaty on European Union show very clearly that human rights are an extremely important part of the EU’s external relations. That is because the rule of law and human rights are a constituent part, so to speak, of this Union and its Member States, but also because in today’s world, the international community as a whole considers that human rights are universal and indivisible, and that defending them can no longer be hindered by the old principle of non-interference in Member States’ internal affairs.
The report we shall vote on tomorrow shows how important human rights are for Parliament; this can be clearly seen, I believe, from the Sakharov Prize that we created in this House many years ago, and also from the support we are giving to the appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights.
Ladies and gentlemen, respect for human rights is a highly topical issue. This can be seen from the brand new role being created, which will be responsible for protecting human rights, and from the changes and revolutions that broke out last year in the Arab world – one of the main goals of which was to recover human dignity and respect for human rights. Baroness Ashton, we must all do our utmost – Parliament, the Commission and the Council – so that those political processes can consolidate the noble aspirations for which they were initiated, and so that the expectation of freedom, pluralism, tolerance and respect for minorities is not jeopardised.
Antigoni Papadopoulou (S&D). – (EL) Madam President, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the European Union needs to learn from past mistakes and not to apply double standards in its policies. It has quite rightly proposed that control over respect for human rights and democratisation in third-country actions should be at the heart of its foreign policy. However, it should not turn a blind eye when, within the European Union itself, there are countries, such as Cyprus, where human rights are being infringed by the occupying Turkish forces with impunity. The European Union should impose clauses protecting and applying human rights in all its trade and sectoral agreements with third countries. It should impose sanctions in order to eliminate discrimination against women and minorities. It should put a stop to the persecution of parliamentarians, trade union activists and journalists in Turkey. It should combat impunity by making use of the International Criminal Court. It should use education to build a real culture of respect for human rights. Finally, it should strengthen the role of Parliament, accountability and transparency and find effective mechanisms for applying human rights everywhere.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Bernd Posselt (PPE), Blue-card question. – (DE) Madam President, I would like to ask Ms Papadopoulou whether she will work with us to ensure that the Cypriot Presidency, which we are already very much looking forward to, will call much more openly on Turkey to respect human rights and the rights of minorities. Parliament has made its position clear. Baroness Ashton, we need the same clear approach to Turkey from the Council and the Commission. Can Ms Papadopoulou help us with regard to Cyprus?
Antigoni Papadopoulou (S&D), Blue-card answer. – (EL) Madam President, the position of the Republic of Cyprus is perfectly clear. Cyprus has not vetoed Turkey’s accession prospects at any point. However, Turkey needs to implement the Ankara Protocol, to recognise the Republic of Cyprus and to stop human rights abuses in Cyprus. If it does all that, which it is obliged to do as a candidate country for accession to the European Union, Cyprus will not have any problem doing what it has to do in connection with Turkey’s progress towards accession. The ball is therefore in Turkey’s court.
Kinga Gál (PPE). – (HU) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, over the past years, the European Parliament’s human rights report has become a serious instrument to which attention is paid both within the European Union and in third countries. For that reason, the content and quality of the report are of considerable importance. I therefore congratulate Mr Howitt on his excellent work and on another report having been produced that is worthy of attention. I feel it important to emphasise in the presence of Baroness Ashton that, going beyond fine rhetoric, it is vital that at least the EU instruments and initiatives mentioned before – and I am also thinking here of financial means – that can make a concrete impact on the lives of those suffering human rights violations be strengthened in the coming period, both in neighbouring countries and elsewhere in the world. I also wish to draw attention to the communities, such as those of national minorities and children, that, as we also heard earlier with regard to religious communities, tend to suffer the most from human rights violations.
Barbara Matera (PPE). – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the report is an annual assessment of how far EU policies are aimed at the promotion of human rights worldwide. I am particularly in favour of an approach that is critical but, at the same time, constructive, regarding the strengthening of policies for the promotion of the human rights of women, who all too often represent a minority that is weak and lacking guarantees, even though, in many rural areas of the world, women are the heart of the economy and are the main source of income for the family.
The European Union must strengthen cooperation with those international organisations that deal with this issue, through a targeted funding policy, such as that of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.
Any form of discrimination and violence against women cannot be tolerated or be justified on religious, political or cultural grounds. While the High Representative is in plenary, I would like to take the opportunity to call upon her in the strongest of terms to do something for the two Italian sailors.
Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE). – (IT) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, we are all saying what a wonderful report this is, and how could we say otherwise? We are all queuing up to point out some rights that are systematically violated: we have talked about acts of discrimination and violence against women, political rights, selective abortion, homosexuals, religious discrimination.
I would like to bring to the attention of Baroness Ashton a category that receives no attention from Europe. I have tabled a written statement along with my fellow Members, Mr Casini, Ms Záborská, and Mr Takkula, to highlight the rights of the unborn, the many children who are not born because pregnancy is often accompanied by social and economic hardship that does not allow the woman to bring it to fruition.
The rights of the unborn, not only of women – first and foremost to see the light of day, to come into this world, to have a life – rights with which Europe does not concern itself. My written statement was rejected by the Presidency, saying that this is not an issue we can deal with. I would like to ask how many years, how many decades, how many centuries it is going to take in Europe for us to be able to consider the possibility of simply discussing the rights of the unborn child and then to recognise natural rights that are often denied on such a vast scale, here in Europe, even to a creature who is simply waiting, asking only to come into this world.
Eduard Kukan (PPE). – Madam President, congratulations to Richard Howitt for his hard work and excellent cooperation with the shadow rapporteurs, which produced the good report which we have in front of us.
Human rights have, for a long time, been at the centre of discussion in this Chamber. We had an overall agreement that human rights and democracy needed to be placed at the core of the EU’s internal and external policies. It is appropriate therefore that a substantial part of the annual report was devoted to stressing the crucial link between the two. Lessons learnt from the past show that the EU has a chance to make a difference in its external actions only with a consistent approach to democratisation and human rights protection.
I am glad the EU has a consolidated position on the death penalty. I call on the High Representative to use all available diplomatic and policy instruments to urge those countries that still use capital punishment, such as Belarus, to abolish it or put a moratorium on its use.
Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, practical actions and measures need to be taken to promote human rights effectively around the globe. This is why I support the proposals in Article 8 for establishing clear criteria for examining the progress made in this area.
I wish to highlight again the situation of those living in areas affected by unresolved conflicts. I have repeatedly stressed the need for their rights to be protected by calling on the High Representative to make additional efforts to this end. I am thinking, in particular, of the Transnistria separatist region where new incidents took place a few days ago at the Vadul lui Vodă checkpoint.
At the same time, we must not tolerate fundamental rights violations within the European Union. I wish to take this opportunity to call on the Commission and Council again to take robust measures against the xenophobic anti-immigrant websites launched by extremist parties in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D). – (RO) Madam President, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights reflects the European Union’s commitment to promoting and supporting democracy and human rights through its backing for civil society and human rights organisations at a global level.
The Commission has proposed EUR 1.4 billion in funding for the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework, compared with EUR 1.1 billion for the 2007-2013 period. I should stress the potential offered by using information and communications technology to promote human rights. We call for increased support for promoting freedom of the mass media, protecting independent journalists and bloggers, narrowing the digital gap, as well as facilitating unrestricted access to information and communication, along with uncensored Internet access. I should emphasise how important the gender aspect is, as well as the involvement of women in conflict resolution processes.
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). – (SK) Madam President, I would also like to thank Richard Howitt for the excellent report he has tabled. I would like to pinpoint the fact that, when talking today about human rights globally and the European Union’s policy in this area, we should, besides the most basic rights which have all been mentioned here, also talk about social rights in the context of human rights. Of course, I personally consider social rights to be the fundamental rights of citizens, and I will try hard to ensure that they are incorporated in the report on respect for fundamental rights, since I am the rapporteur, but I would also, at this time of economic crisis, when legal as well as illegal migrants who come to the European Union, often for economic and social reasons, are criticised, expect emphasis to be placed on reflecting the issue of the protection of social rights not only in the report to which I have referred, but also in all of the European Union’s policies.
Ivo Vajgl (ALDE). – (SL) Madam President, even a report as excellent as that presented by Mr Howitt cannot cover all the problems and cases of human rights violations. However, I think it is right to draw attention to a genuine violation which has been going on for decades now in the Western Sahara. The way of life in refugee camps is an unacceptable way to have to live and I think it is essential to draw attention to this problem and to the stalled political process.
Baroness Ashton, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there are 83 political prisoners from the Western Sahara in Moroccan prisons and that there is to be a debate in the United Nations Security Council on the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the only United Nations mission not mandated to monitor human rights. I urge you to push for this to be rectified.
Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE). – (FI) Madam President, it is at least a year ago that in this same Chamber, we discussed the situation regarding the city of Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. At that time, the Commissioner representing the European External Action Service said that the EU would do all it could for the good of this region and its people.
It is important that the EU keeps its promises and, furthermore, that the Commission’s work is monitored. I would therefore now ask what Baroness Ashton has done to ensure that the city of Kashgar is made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and how the human rights of the people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been promoted by the EU in recent times. Or was the situation in Kashgar simply a case of empty words?
Barbara Lochbihler (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, this human rights report is a very good and comprehensive document which I hope a large majority of us will vote in favour of this week. I would like to talk about the differences of opinion that we had and still have in Parliament over the calls made in this report concerning the process of exposing, clarifying and resolving violations of human rights, such as abductions and the establishment of secret prisons in Europe. If we do not do this, we will lose our credibility. We must encourage individual Member States to take joint responsibility and joint action. We have held a comprehensive hearing on this subject this week in the Subcommittee on Human Rights. Therefore, I would like to call on all the Members of this House who are still undecided to vote in favour of these demands, in order to ensure that we do what is required and that we have the courage to develop a policy which will prevent violations of this kind in future.
Ulrike Lunacek (Verts/ALE). – Madam President, I would like to thank Lady Ashton for the comments she has made today on the report. I would also like to thank my colleague, Mr Howitt, for a very good report.
Let me refer to one issue that I am glad the committee accepted as an amendment, namely, the need to set up civil society consultation mechanisms for all our instruments. I would like to speak specifically about the two amendments that some of us are going to table again for the vote tomorrow. These are Amendments 7 and 8 on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
As an openly lesbian woman myself, I have seen so many such women around the world who are afraid, who cannot come out to their families, who cannot be open in school, in society or at work. I would urge EPP Members and others in this Parliament who voted against the part that was already in the report to vote in favour of these amendments, because the issue at stake is our common human rights. It is about the European Charter of Fundamental Rights – which I hope all of you subscribe to – which makes clear that discrimination is not part of what we should have in the European Union. So please vote in favour of that, and support all that the External Action Service – with the toolkit, Lady Ashton and others – is doing in order to make it possible for LGBT people to live without fear in this world.
Ana Miranda (Verts/ALE). – (ES) Madam President, Baroness Ashton spoke forcefully about the situation of a private company whose nationalisation in Argentina has just been announced – and which should not be confused with state interest – and she should do the same when she tackles the defence of human rights with regard to the 15 Kurds who are currently on a hunger strike here in Strasbourg, the situation in the Western Sahara, the situation in Gaza and the occupied territories, and so many other circumstances about which we, as Europeans, should feel truly ashamed.
Above all, however, she should do so with regard to an issue highlighted by Mr Howitt in his excellent report – the participation of civil society and the mechanisms for participation in the negotiation of trade agreements with regard to the right of groups such as indigenous peoples to free, informed prior consultation.
João Ferreira (GUE/NGL). – (PT) Madam President, every day, and within its own borders, the same European Union that claims the right to teach the world lessons on human rights tramples on human rights contained in its Universal Declaration, such as the right to social security, unemployment protection, fair wages, food, medical assistance and free education. These and other rights contained in its Universal Declaration are under attack in Portugal and other Member States from the IMF-EU ‘pact of aggression’ and so-called austerity measures. The same European Union that claims the right to teach the world lessons on democracy has just made it clear that its idea of democracy is to disregard and contradict the will of the people in a Treaty drafted in defiance of the most elementary democratic rules and principles.
Unfortunately, what is becoming clear is that human rights are increasingly being used as a pretext for foreign intervention and interference, violating the letter and spirit of the UN Charter. For our part, we reject this instrumental and restrictive view of human rights.
End of the catch-the-eye procedure
Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Madam President, the honourable Members have ranged across a whole, important set of issues that fall under the universality of human rights. There are many, many points that we can reflect upon. Let me, in the short time I have, try and pick up on a few of these.
First of all, may I say how pleased I am that Mr Sannikov and Mr Bondarenko have been released from prison in Belarus. We are in touch, and I hope that we may be seeing an opportunity with Belarus. This shows the strength of the European Union; it shows the importance of being decisive in what we do, and it shows more than anything that standing together is so important.
A number of honourable Members have rightly raised the importance of faith, belief, conviction; the ability to worship and exercise belief, faith or none. I agree with all the concerns that have been raised about the importance of making sure that this is a core part of the work that we do on human rights. This is why we will dedicate a chapter in the annual report specifically to that, so that it becomes part of our human rights work but is highlighted appropriately.
I hear what a number of colleagues have said about the situation in Egypt, and we will continue to keep a watchful eye on how this is evolving.
Mr Donskis talked about the subtle undermining of human rights. The challenge is to make sure that we focus not just on the most obvious ways, for example, the abolition of the death penalty (which is, as you know, something I consider to be a fundamental part of the work that we do), but also on the ways in which people are prevented from exercising their rights in more subtle ways. These two things are very important. They lead to that lack of dignity and respect that is core and fundamental to how we feel.
Mr Tavares, I just want to say to you that my message on Argentina had nothing to do with this debate. I was asked by Mr Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra if I would say something before the debate began about Argentina because I cannot be here tomorrow.
I agree with you about the terrible situation in Guinea-Bissau. It is why, even before the coup last Thursday, I put out a statement and called on all parties to respect the legitimate government, and I have been very strong in my condemnation of the coup. Those who are in prison should be released immediately, and we have suspended most of our aid to Guinea-Bissau.
We are, of course, looking at how to make sure we can continue to give direct support to the people. But we will not support an illegitimate government, and I completely agree with you on that – but please do not think that I was trying to bring one issue into another. I really was not. It was a separate discussion before the debate.
I agree, too, that honourable Members have been in the forefront of wanting to see a special representative and, as you know, I am currently working on the mandate for that person. We are looking for someone of enormous integrity and with great ability in this field. It will be an important role, and the appointee will need to have a good relationship with this House. This is something we want to continue to discuss.
I was very pleased to see that so many people mentioned the issues of women’s rights and the importance of continuing to support women, especially women going through extreme circumstances of horror and terror, but also women trying to engage in the political and economic lives of their countries. Very simplistically, we know that when women are engaged in society, societies are richer in every possible sense: economically, socially and politically, and the issue of forced marriages is one that affects many countries.
When I was a minister for human rights in the country I came from, I did legislation on forced marriages there. This is something we need to take seriously everywhere.
Ms Ludford, I have already said before that we will look into that, but you know that I am deeply concerned about the use of the death penalty everywhere, especially, as I said to you earlier, over the 100 instances of the death penalty in Iran so far this year.
Mr Stevenson, you have been a champion on the issue of Camp Ashraf because of your concern for the people there. We are still in touch with Martin Kobler and are still pushing hard on Member States, and I need the help of MEPs to make sure that we can resettle as many people as possible. This is crucial, but we are also offering to support the UN financially in moving forward on this. So, in a sense, the more I can rely on help from this House, the more I will be able to do. But you know how much I am concerned about this and how engaged we are on this.
In terms of South Africa on the point that was raised, we have agreed to launch a human rights dialogue with South Africa where we can raise a number of different issues.
I agree with what Ms Gomes said about the importance of meeting with human rights activists. I try to do that in every country I visit in order to listen to them and hear from them about the situation on the ground and the realities of the life that they lead. I support fully the rights of lesbian, gay, transsexual and bisexual people, and this should be fully reflected in everything we do on human rights.
Such rights are universal. In terms of how we work with different countries, I have talked before about the spectrum of engagement to isolation and the importance of ensuring that human rights is one of the indicators of how we work with countries. We are often, as the honourable Members know, trying to work with people in countries in order to support them while also trying to isolate and put pressure on their governments. The spectrum really matters in that we do not abandon people who are desperately trying to obtain their rights, but we engage where we can. On that spectrum of engagement to isolation, where engagement can be more effective (and it very often is), we need to make sure that we are there, willing to put the pressure on to try and make the difference.
My final point is a bureaucratic one: benchmarking. We are working now on how to develop the methodology for this. We want to measure the performance, as a number of honourable Members have indicated. There is quite a long way to go, but the action plan may also be an opportunity for us to examine.
My final comment is to thank Richard Howitt again for the work he has done on this very important report. I know his personal conviction and commitment to this, and I pay tribute to that.
Richard Howitt, rapporteur. – Madam President, firstly, I would like to thank Baroness Ashton for the commitment she has shown in this debate and her comments on her strong track record, her recognition of the importance of accountability, her commitment to involve Parliament in the interinstitutional declaration on the review and what she has said on forced marriages and measuring performance. I pay due credit to the EU’s positions in the United Nations, including on the death penalty, reflected in this debate and achieved under her leadership.
I would also like to repeat my thanks for all the compliments given in the debate – not least from the shadows – and place on record my support for Mr Grzyb’s proposal for business and human rights to be integrated in EU trade policy. I welcome both his and other contributions from the EPP Group: from Mr Brok, Ms Matera, Mr Kukan and Ms Gál. They have shown that we can have cross-party consensus on the issues in this report.
To Ms Ludford, I would say that the regular reports on the internal Council meetings on accession to the European Convention on Human Rights discussed both in this Parliament and in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe make quite clear the UK’s opposition, and I am sorry that once again, her party are making excuses for conservative anti-human rights positions. I hope that may change later his week, but I am not holding my breath.
Madam President, my thanks go to all who have quoted from my report stating that I am against double standards in human rights – they are right, and I have to say that goes for this debate; to Mr Claeys, who would win greater respect if he condemned both black and white murders in South Africa; and to Mr Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, who appears to support the rule of law in Argentina but not Colombia. Whilst I and my text strongly agree with the concerns expressed by MEPs Szymański, Belder, Kowal, Provera and Posselt on the persecution of Christians, it is important to say that this did not start with the Arab Spring. I hope they will join with me in condemning discrimination against all religions and beliefs in all countries at all times.
I welcome the contributions from my colleagues, Ms De Keyser and Ms Costello, on LGBT rights. It is wrong that homosexuality could be classified as a disease, and I hope that MEPs will vote for Amendments 7 and 8, which I have tabled to condemn this. I welcome the contributions from Mr Tavares and Ms Miranda on indigenous peoples’ rights, and I indicate to you my support for your oral amendment.
Finally, if High Representative Ashton’s arithmetic is correct, I have served as the 28th annual human rights rapporteur of this European Parliament since the first direct elections. I would like to thank colleagues sincerely for giving me the privilege of undertaking this role.
President. – The debate is closed.
The vote will take place on Wednesday, 18 April 2012.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D), in writing. – Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the EU and its founding Treaties. The Union’s commitment to supporting democracy and human rights in its external policies is affirmed by the EUR 1.1 billion committed to the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (2007-2013). While the EU’s contribution is certainly important, so is our interest to ensure that tax-payers’ money properly serves citizens of recipient countries and the EU’s interests and values. Our past experience shows that EU funds allocated to this purpose, in many cases, have yielded limited results for various reasons concerning time and effectiveness of the instruments used. With this in mind, I welcome the review and analysis of the Union’s policy on related matters, as presented in the EU’s annual report on human rights and democracy. One desirable outcome from the annual report would be the formation of a common EU strategy on human rights with clear definitions of the actions, timetables and responsibilities of each of the European institutions. Such a strategy will certainly point the way forward to setting and attaining ambitious goals, while holding the EU and recipient countries to greater accountability on the usage of funds and the results accomplished.
Tunne Kelam (PPE), in writing. – Today’s debate is important because the European Parliament can send a practically unanimous message to the EU foreign ministers’ meeting next June which will adopt a Declaration on a new EU human rights strategy. What we need today is much more coherence in conducting the CFSP. That means moving human rights issues to the centre of our foreign relations. The role of the EU Member States in implementing the EU human rights policies should be clearly and bindingly articulated because the new strategy will bite only if all the 27 governments back it by their practical and coordinated policies.
I welcome the news that human rights focal points have been established in 116 EU foreign delegations by now. However, this has to be guaranteed by obligatory human rights training for all levels of the EEAS staff, including heads of delegations. Also, performance reviews on human rights should become an integral part of annual evaluations of all EU diplomats. Finally I am satisfied that the aspect of freedom of religion has been included in the training provided to the relevant EU staff. This should be even more strongly reinforced and become one of the core issues in the human rights dialogues with third states.
Ádám Kósa (PPE), in writing. – (HU) As you know, on 23 January 2011, the European Union acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which is of historical importance not only because it is the first human rights convention that the EU has joined as a regional organisation, but also because the convention is of central importance in my report adopted by the European Parliament last October. In order to ensure that this UN convention and the EP report on mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities and the European disability strategy 2010-2020 really achieve results in the world, it is necessary for this commitment to also appear in the EU’s international relations, in line also with item 106 of my report. My question is whether, in the EU’s international relations, the human rights review and related political declaration and action plan will contain criteria and assessments in order to enforce the rights of people with disabilities.
Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska (PPE), in writing. – (PL) Acting in accordance with the fundamental values of the European Union, the European Parliament supports human rights in the international arena, which is clearly facing new challenges in our changing world. Parliament is appealing for greater weight to be accorded to clauses concerning human rights and conditionality in programmes supported by the EU and, at the same time, calls on EU Member States to engage fully in this process and to apply its results on both the national and the European level. In this regard, it is an EU priority to support governments, parliaments and civil society and to support their active involvement in the process of respecting and monitoring human rights.
A key factor in this process is to learn from past mistakes and to make rapid, transparent and integrated progress in the direction of an ambitious joint EU strategy that ultimately includes clear actions, timeframes and tasks, and which is drawn up with the full participation of interested parties in order to make a positive contribution to this interinstitutional process. The culmination of this process should be the adoption by the institutions of a joint strategy and templates that clearly define the role and responsibilities of each institution – templates that will be used to evaluate implementation on an ongoing basis.
Alexander Mirsky (S&D), in writing. – We should not only monitor obligations and rules governing adherence to human rights in the EU, but take into account the specificities of separate countries. For example, in Latvia, the parliament, by recommendation of the government, decided to increase the retirement age of Latvians just because of lack of funds in the social budget while ignoring the fact that, if Latvians retire at the age of 65, then the majority of them will not live to retirement age because the average age is 68 years for men in Latvia. What is more, after 55, it is very difficult to find a decent and well-paid job. I think that step by the Latvian Government and parliament violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of Latvian people since they are subject to unequal conditions in comparison to pensioners in France, Germany and other EU countries, where the average life duration is 80 years old, and the retirement age is 65. It means that on average, throughout the EU, a pensioner receives a pension for 15 years, but in Latvia, from one to three years. To stop injustice it is necessary to take immediate measures on the reallocation of EU social funds in order to level the difference in pensions between old Member States and new Member States.
Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE), in writing. – Although I support the adoption of the European Parliament annual report on human rights in the world in 2010, I regret that it has been delayed to such a late date. I hope that in the future, we will be able to be timelier in addressing the human rights situation in the world. Nevertheless, the report outlines a great number of issues that ought to be discussed in the Council. For example, the case of Sergey Magnitsky has not been properly brought up in the Council as it should have been after the adoption of the previous annual report. Instead, the Russian authorities continue to persecute Sergey Magnitsky’s family and avoid bringing those responsible for his death to justice. I would call the High Representative to consider further action with regard to the case of Sergey Magnitsky, in particular, setting targeted sanctions against the Russian officials who are to blame in the demise of this brave man who uncovered rampant corruption within the administration of the Russian Federation. The annual report is far too important to allow it to become another impotent document; therefore, it must be backed up by concrete action.
Sirpa Pietikäinen (PPE), in writing. – (FI) The debate on the implementation of human and fundamental rights in the European Union should continue. The EU must, above all, ensure that it shows consistency in its human rights policy and must categorically insist that these rights are respected both within the EU and in its relations with third countries. For the sake of setting an example, it is important that the EU signs up to the European Convention on Human Rights as quickly as possible.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which acquired legal force two years ago, is an instrument that should be used more frequently and more effectively. A report on its implementation out this week says that the Charter is referred to by the courts more frequently than was the case earlier, which is a good thing. At the same time, though, the report states that it is still unclear to citizens as to when it is to be applied.
In order to safeguard the fundamental rights of EU citizens, the directive on equal treatment must be adopted as soon as possible. The fact that there is no ban on discrimination outside the workplace means that it is precisely the most vulnerable groups, such as older people, who do not enjoy the protection of the law.
Monika Smolková (S&D), in writing. – (SK) I welcome the well-prepared report by Mr Richard Howitt. At each plenary session of Parliament, we discuss specific cases of breaches of human rights worldwide. Most human rights violations are associated with extreme poverty, and it is therefore essential that we develop a set of principles on the application of standards and criteria relating to human rights in the context of the fight against extreme poverty. Similarly to the rapporteur, I see the Annual Report on Human Rights in the World presented by the European External Action Service as being largely descriptive. Following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty and the creation of the European External Action Service, more specific, longer term measures and objectives were needed for the promotion of, and respect for, human rights globally, to which the report could have referred. The EU supports many development programmes in which it should set specific, measurable and time-bound objectives for human rights and democracy.
Bogusław Sonik (PPE), in writing. – (PL) I would like to say how pleased I am that human rights are becoming a priority in the formulation of European political strategy, particularly as regards external relations. A strong role for the European Parliament is required to ensure the effectiveness of EU policy in this regard and this should be brought about through the creation of a strong mechanism for implementing its decisions. Involvement of Member States is vital to take full advantage of the potential of this strategy. Above all, however, civil society must play a central role in its implementation. For this reason, I am delighted to see that the role of the Sakharov Prize is being strengthened.
I appeal to the Council and to the Commission to provide – as far as this is possible – protection to winners of the Sakharov Prize in situations where they are being persecuted. I would remind you that activists in the Memorial organisation, who won the prize in 2009, were arrested shortly after their return from Strasbourg. Members of the European Parliament should meet with defenders of human rights when they are visiting and should initiate and maintain a constructive dialogue with them. ‘Digital democracy’, when used in the right way, can also play an important role in supporting activists working for democracy and human rights, as we have seen in the Arab Spring.
Janusz Władysław Zemke (S&D), in writing. – (PL) The European Union is right to treat respect for human rights in the world as one of its most important tasks. I do not want to speak about the Union’s activity in this area, but rather to flag up some problems that are coming to light.
The first problem is that the Union is actively involved in this area in its contacts with small and medium-sized countries. It is considerably more restrained when large countries are involved. Secondly, despite the creation of a European External Action Service, problems continue in policy coordination across EU institutions. A key role in this regard should be played by Union representations in individual countries, including diplomats, who specialise in the defence of human rights and who keep in contact not only with representatives of the local authorities, but also with representatives of the opposition and activists fighting for the protection of fundamental human rights. Thirdly, the Union should support those academics, publicists and students who wish to devote themselves to the protection of human rights through its grant and research programmes.