EU leaders’ actions must speak louder than any words at this week’s Summit to protect human rights and their own credibility

EU member states must not lose sight of their human rights commitments. The Strategic Guidelines offer the Union a chance to show a bolder vision of what can and must be achieved in terms of protecting human rights at home and abroad.


(Brussels 26 June 2014) As heads of the European Union’s (EU) member states gather at the 26 and 27 June European Council in Brussels to finalise the Union’s Strategic Guidelines, a document setting the course for future freedom, security and justice work, Amnesty International is urging them to ensure that human rights form the bedrock of EU internal (and external) policies and practices.

In the EU today, violence against women remains pervasive. Groups including migrants, Roma, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are targets of widespread discrimination and violence. Border control measures expose migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to serious harm and often result in loss of life. Their detention is systemic, rather than exceptional. They are vulnerable to abject exploitation and abuse.

This has to change.

“EU member states must not lose sight of their human rights commitments. The Strategic Guidelines offer the Union a chance to show a bolder vision of what can and must be achieved in terms of protecting human rights at home and abroad”, said Iverna McGowan, Director of Programmes at Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

Amnesty International is urging the member states to make sure that human rights protection form the basis of work outlined in the Guidelines. But any undertakings made this week will only carry weight if they are followed up with concrete actions.

“No matter how robust the Strategic Guidelines are in terms of human rights protection, the real test for the EU will however come when the ink dries and heads of state return to their capitals; and their respective ministries start work on implementation”, added McGowan. 

A first step to guaranteeing the Union’s credibility as a human rights actor, and safeguarding rights, is for the member states to include an agreement on the need for an internal human rights strategy within the Guidelines. Such a strategy would enable the EU to develop proactive and protective responses to pressing human rights challenges within its own territory, as well as beyond. It would also allow human rights protection gaps to be identified and addressed, and the assessment of EU human rights work.
An internal human rights strategy is particularly necessary in the light of the recent treatment by and lack of support of member states towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Member states are increasingly focusing on a security based approach to migration, rather than the much needed protective approach.

“Expensive and preventative migration measures have done little to deter desperate people seeking safety and sanctuary. Instead they’ve denied rights and resulted in lives being lost”, added McGowan. “The EU must face the reality of human mobility, and agree and implement concrete actions to ensure a protective rather than a preventative approach to migration, to respect rights and save lives’’.

Amnesty International is calling on the member states to make a firm commitment within the Guidelines to preventing further loss of life at sea. This can be achieved through increased and collective search and rescue capacity. The member states should also agree to create safe routes, including increased resettlement, so those escaping violence and persecution are not forced to embark on dangerous journeys in the first place. And ensure that human rights underpin any cooperation agreements with non-EU countries on migration control.

The Strategic Guidelines also give EU leaders the chance to bring about concerted action to fight against discrimination on all grounds, by working towards agreeing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and a stronger approach to combating and prosecuting hate crime. And the Guidelines can provide the space to fulfill promises to develop a comprehensive strategy on violence against women, and implement the EU’s pledge to address female genital mutilation.

The new Commission president, to be appointed at the Summit, should also make sure that their future Commission, as bound by the EU treaties, enforces legislation within the field of freedom, security and justice. And any negotiations around their appointment should not distract from discussions on human rights. The incoming Italian and future Latvian presidencies should also show leadership in forging and implementing protective human rights measures.

“The EU is at a crossroads. Lives are at risk and rights are in danger. Member states and the institutions have the collective opportunity and responsibility to address this and firmly step up to their human rights obligations”, said McGowan. “But only by turning words into solid actions can the EU truly define itself as a credible human rights actor and protect people”.

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Maeve Patterson
Media & Communications
Amnesty International European Institutions Office
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