Interim assessment of the Spanish Presidency’s first three months

Interim assessment of the Spanish Presidency’s first three months

The silence in the “War on Terror” and the lack of interest on immigrants and refugees’ rights blurs the EU’s commitment to human rights

(Madrid / Brussels, April 2010) – After the first three months of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union (EU), Amnesty International is engaging in a detailed review of the successes and failures of the Presidency measured against the concrete and achievable benchmarks the organisation has set in its recommendation for the Spanish Presidency of the EU.

Amnesty International has expressed its concern about the absence of major human rights issues on the Spanish Presidency’s agenda: no priority has been given to the work on asylum so far; the opportunity to take action to ensure respect for the rights of irregular immigrants in Europe has been missed; and the EU has been allowed to deliberately remain silent on the apparent complicity of some Member States in the “war on terror”.

Overall some progress has been made the fight against gender violence and the presidency has put some emphasis on its commitment for the discrimination directive. Yet, particularly on the latter, the Roma summit starting tomorrow (8th) April will have to proof that words are followed by a serious strategy and finally some real action.

Amnesty has put 10 cases of individuals at risk, both inside and outside the EU, to the attention of the Spanish Presidency, including a Roma case of forced eviction. Efforts have been made on 7 of the 10 cases, but no effort whatsoever on the cases concerning human rights violations in the EU, including the Roma case. In addition, we need to see much more determination by the Spanish Presidency over the next 3 months in the area of asylum and migration, and finally a stop to the embarrassing silence around the complicity of Member States in the “war on terror”.

The Spanish Presidency has shown engagement in helping to implement the changes to the Foreign Policy Systems of the EU as fast as possible, however, the EU’s external responses are deteriorating and lacking leadership. There are still a number of important summits to come over the next three months during which human rights have to be put on the agenda.

Working with more determination
Amnesty International calls on the Spanish Presidency to tackle more vigorously, over the next 3 months, the following human rights issues:

1.- Asylum and immigration.
The Spanish Presidency would have been an opportunity to help raise the standards of access to fundamental rights. This opportunity has been missed in view of the Stockholm Action Plan and the evaluation of the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which still do not address the prevailing situation of discrimination and exploitation. Amnesty regrets that there have been no attempts to consult with civil society on these issues. On the Asylum front, the Spanish Presidency has not shown leadership, and the trend to on the one hand outsource border controls (without respect to asylum seekers rights under international law) and on the other engage in internal transfers of asylum seekers (Dublin regulation) without any consideration of the appalling conditions in member states such as Greece.

Amnesty International does not know if the Spanish Presidency is pushing for the respect and protection of human rights as a precondition for any agreement for cooperation on migration between the EU and third countries. We are particularly concerned about Libya, where the treatment of asylum seekers is below standard in migrant internment centres: poor sanitation, shortage of food and medical care and even deportation to countries where people may suffer torture and other very serious human rights violations,” says Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International’s EU Office.

Amnesty welcomes the recognition of the need to establish adequate human rights frameworks for FRONTEX and Member States’ operations and the success regarding the guidelines for FRONTEX sea operations, but is concerns about the practice meeting the requisite standards and provide a strong enough accountability mechanism for operations. 

2.- “War on Terror” and the prohibition of torture.
Amnesty International regrets that the European Security Strategy, adopted at the European Council, does not include an explicit reference to the urgent need to undertake investigations into the alleged complicity of Member States in extraordinary renditions and secret detentions, carried out alongside the United States within the framework of the “War on Terror.” This was recommended in the European Parliament 2007 and 2009 Resolutions and by the UN Human Rights Council in a recent report on global practices relating to secret detentions in the context of the “War on Terror”, identifying EU countries (Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and United Kingdom) for their alleged complicity. 

Although there is compelling evidence of the complicity of some EU Member States in the illegal detention programme and secret detentions by the CIA, the EU Presidency has not yet shown the political will to push the investigation for what happened, to promote accountability and to establish measures of non-repetition. It’s about time the EU broke this silence“, stressed Esteban Beltrán.

Amnesty International also urges the Spanish Presidency to promote the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, as only 13 of the 27 Member States have done so. The Spanish Presidency has explicitly called on Belgium and Hungary to ratify this instrument before taking office in the coming EU Presidencies, Amnesty International has learned. But there are 11 EU Member States that still have to commit to the total ban on torture.

3.- Foreign policy.
The changes in the Lisbon Treaty to the set-up of the EU’s External Policy have not allowed for the same type of Presidency leadership as previously. The Spanish Presidency is engaging in some efforts to help speed up the process, yet is taking no leadership vis-à-vis the now apparent slowness and deterioration of EU positions abroad. The EU cannot afford passivity and inaction.

In relation to raising human rights  in summits with third countries and in high-level EU meetings, we have seen some positive developments during the EU-Morocco summit, where freedom of expression and freedom of assembly/association and justice reform was addressed.

Amnesty International fears, however, that in the upcoming second quarter summits  human rights will again be relegated to a mere mention. In the forthcoming summits with Japan, Russia, Mexico, Latin America-Caribbean, Euro-Meditaranian and Egypt, specific issues can not be ignored, such as death penalty, security of the human rights defenders, forced evictions, lack of freedom of expression, lack of procedural safeguards and arbitrary detentions.

4.- Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Amnesty International welcomes the fact that the Spanish Presidency has assumed the commitment to promote a common approach to the UN Summit on MDGs to be held next month of September. For this reason, the organisation calls on the Spanish Presidency to help introduce the human rights approach in the MDGs, ensuring non-discrimination, gender equality, participation and accountability of states.

5.- Roma Community.
From the very beginning the Spanish Presidency has shown its commitment to work against the discrimination of the Roma community in Europe and for their integration. Thus, the Second European Roma Summit, which will be held tomorrow, 8th of April, in Cordoba, has to produce a concrete framework for the inclusion of Roma in Europe and the Presidency ought to commit to concrete Council Conclusions under its term. In addition, and at a minimum the practice of strongly condemning all racist attacks and the assaults against the Roma people which are occurring in some Member States. In 2009 alone, we have witnessed images of Roma communities being fired on in Hungary, stoned in Ireland or evicted by force from their homes in Italy, where the recently approved Nomad Plan may leave more than 1,000 Roma homeless. Moreover, Roma children are still being segregated in Czech Republic schools.

Millions of Roma currently live in shanty-towns on the margins of European Society. Without a concerted policy response, the challenges posed by such exclusion will not go away”, concludes Nicolas Beger.

Issues that move on
On the other hand, the organisation would like to highlight the human rights issues promoted by the Spanish Presidency that have, so far, produced positive results. 

6.- Anti-Discrimination Directive
We acknowledge the efforts the Spanish Presidency has made on securing success for the new anti-discrimination directive which aims to end discrimination on the grounds of sexual and gender identity, race or ethnicity, diversity of opinions and religious beliefs or for reasons of age or disability. It is, however, crucial for Amnesty International that the Spanish Presidency now remains firmly committed to the adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Directive and follows through with its strong stance despite Germany’s resounding refusal.

Amnesty International cannot accept a lowering of standards and / or areas of protection covered by the directive just to ensure Germany’s support. Germany’s opposition effectively means that it denies protection it grants its own citizens to millions of people in Europe who suffer severely from discrimination as all the reports of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and our own reports show“, Beger stressed.

7.- Death Penalty
Amnesty International welcomes the fact that the impetus behind the worldwide moratorium against the death penalty is a central issue on the Spanish Presidency’s agenda. We do, however, regret the lack of a categorical condemnation and well as the glaring lateness of the EU response to the two recent executions carried out in March in Belarus, the only European country that still maintains the death penalty.

The European Union, whose member states have abolished the death penalty, is a key player in the fight for a worldwide abolition of this punishment and it is time to really press for more progress in countries like Belarus and Japan, where 104 prisoners are awaiting their execution, including Okunishi Masaru, who has been on death row for 38 years“, said Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International Spain.

8.- Gender violence.
Amnesty International acknowledges the great effort carried out by the Spanish Presidency to combat gender violence within the EU. The agreement of the 27 Member States to create a European strategy against gender violence is very positive. It includes, among others, the launching of the European Monitoring Centre on Gender Violence, that must serve to collect information and diagnose all forms of gender violence. Member States, Spain among them, must maintain consistency in their external commitments and their internal actions

Amnesty International regrets the Spanish Government’s contradictions in the case of the pregnant Nigerian woman. She was identified as a victim of human trafficking by specialised NGOs and received a favourable report as an asylum seeker by UNHCR. She was then recently repatriated to her country, without allowing her the period of reflection and recovery set out by the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, despite it coming into force in Spain on 1st August 2009” explained Esteban Beltrán.

 // END

For further comment/background and interviews:
Press Office – Amnesty International Spanish section
Ángel Gonzalo or Carmen López
Telf. + 34 91 310 12 77 or + 34 630 746 802  

Amnesty International EU Office (Brussels)
Tel: 32-2-5021499 
Fax: 32-2-5025686 
Email: [email protected]