It is an honour to be present at this special session and to be able to address this distinguished gathering. I convey greetings from Irene Khan our Secretary General who regrets she cannot be with you today in person.
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Amnesty International 30 years ago was an enlightened move to link human rights to peace, to mark human rights as an essential element, a precondition for peace.
Today, that seems self-evident wisdom. You could say that the EU is itself a reflection of the evolution of that thinking. From what was quintessentially a peace project in its own right, through building economic integration, it now is and aims to be much more: a union of values, to provide not only prosperity but also freedom, security and justice, and beyond that to act as a force for change in the world.
Human rights are at the heart of this. And when we look at persistent poverty, inequalities and discrimination within and outside Europe, and when we see human security affected in large parts of the world by conflict, human rights abuse and failing rule of law, we know that Europe’s role, if anything, is becoming more important.
Add to this list the challenges of climate change and energy security, and it is evident that the global agenda in particular carries a great sense of urgency. In spite of current soulsearching over EU reform, there can be no doubt that citizens want and expect Europe to act and to provide leadership.
From the perspective of civil society I would just stress one very important aspect, and that is the need to close the gap between values and action, between promise and delivery, between internal and external interests. In other words, the need to be credible.
Nowhere is that gap more apparent than in the field of human rights, where we see the EU, notably the Council and the member states, routinely turn a blind eye to serious problems within the own borders. The impact on human rights of counter-terrorism and of the fight against irregular immigration, and the pervasive problem of discrimination affecting every country without exception, are indeed serious problems. And in external relations we see how economic and security interests can all too easily eclipse human rights when dealing with friends and so-called strategic partners.
We know that sidelining human rights is ultimately self-defeating. And we know that complacency and double standards risk undermining the impact of many of the positive efforts the EU is making, as we see for example in its increasing and very concrete engagement with conflict prevention, crisis management and peacebuilding around the world.
Despite all the insights and rhetoric, in today’s world the basic human rights of ordinary people are still too often treated as an afterthought, or traded against other interests. We will continue to cooperate with the EU as well as to pressurize it to do better.
Amnesty International EU Office (Brussels):