European Commission Communication on Human Rights and Democracy: Many good ambitions, few concrete measures

(Brussels, May 8, 2001) Three leading international human rights organisations congratulate the European Commission for today’s communication on EU human rights policy, but urge the Council of Ministers to show the political will to act on it.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation For Human Rights (FIDH) welcome the Commission’s attempt to place human rights at the heart of EU external policy and to establish a clear link with United Nations human rights standards and mechanisms.

The most positive aspects of the statement include the Commission’s proposals to:

  • Promote coherence and consistency in support of human rights amongst EU institutions and member states
  • Systemically integrate human rights into transparent political dialogue with third countries and give substance to human rights clauses in EC Trade and Association Agreements by establishing benchmarks for progress
  • Mainstream the promotion of human rights and democracy in external assistance programs
  • Encourage multinational corporations to play their part in increasing respect for human rights

However, the three human rights NGOs are concerned that the Commission’s communication offers no realistic perspective on how to break down the institutional barriers to a coherent EU approach on human rights.  It also lacks concrete answers about the means and measures to implement it. They welcome the ambitions, but question how the Commission believes it can achieve results.

The above-mentioned human rights NGOs believe that the contradiction between the aspirations of the Commission and the ‘realpolitik” of member states makes a mockery of EU human rights policy, and damages the EU’s credibility in its relations with third countries. It is not credible for the European Commissioner Chris Patten, for instance, to speak out against persecution of human rights defenders in Tunisia (with which the EU has an Association Agreement) while at the same time, the EU Council of Ministers stays mute and refuses to act.

There is little point in the Commission funding human rights programs in specific countries if the Council refuses to back them up with political pressure. External assistance programs should not be used as a convenient “alibi” to avoid real political action on human rights.

In addition, if the EU is really serious about an effective human rights policy, then it must strengthen the level of human rights expertise across all institutions.  In the case of the Commission, this means adequately trained staff in Brussels, as well as in EC delegations around the world.

The three human rights NGOs will raise these issues with the Commission and the Council at the Swedish Presidency’s Conference on “The Role of Human Rights and Democratization in Conflict Prevention and Resolution” in Brussels on 28-29 May.

For information please contact:

Amnesty International: Dick Oosting +32-2-50214 99
FIDH: Antoine Bernard +33-1-43552518
Human Rights Watch: Lotte Leicht, +32-2-7322009

To view full text of the Communication