“Head in the sand” Amnesty International criticises Belgian presidency’s human rights record

“Head in the sand”: Amnesty International criticises Belgian presidency’s human rights record

Amnesty International in Belgium has given the six-month Belgian presidency of the European Union a less-than-glowing mid-term review on its human rights achievements within the EU. It has however acknowledged the Belgian presidency’s efforts outside EU territory. The directors of the human rights organisation’s Belgium-based offices have highlighted two areas where they believe Belgium has failed to show leadership: the expulsion of Roma people by EU countries and the failure to holding to account European governments which are believed to have been complicit in human rights violations committed under US-led anti-terrorism activities.

“These two key issues reveal how the presidency has buried its head in the sand on human rights when the going’s got tough”, said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “But there’s still time to improve. Two months can make a major difference to the EU’s human rights policy and, more importantly, to the people who are still suffering from violations of their human rights.”

Amnesty International was disappointed at the presidency’s failure to react promptly and adopt a stronger position against discriminatory action by several member states, notably France and Italy, which targeted Roma settlers over the summer and autumn. “Following France’s eviction and expulsion of Roma settlers, the Belgian presidency hesitated to take a clear stand and failed openly to condemn discriminatory action,” said Karin Moeskops of Amnesty International’s Flanders section. “Nor did it react promptly when the French Government misled the Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding. Through these omissions the presidency has unwittingly strengthened the climate of intolerance in Europe and helped fuel a growing sense that discriminatory actions by member states can be committed with impunity.”
The three directors also criticised the Belgian presidency for failing to assert itself by making certain EU countries accountable for abuses they committed under the US Government’s rendition and secret detention programme. “Amnesty International urged the Belgian presidency to show leadership by holding a summit meeting to assess EU member states’ complicity in torture, unlawful detention and enforced disappearances,” said Philippe Hensmans of Amnesty International’s French-speaking Belgian section. “To date, we haven’t received any information from the Belgian presidency on this strategy.”

However, the three Amnesty International directors did acknowledge the Belgian Government’s progress on external human rights issues. “Under the auspices of the European Council’s High Representative, the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently pushed forward her human rights agenda,” said Beger. “We commend the presidency for its support in discussions on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the Arms Trade Treaty and the death penalty moratorium and resolution. The Ministry has held extensive discussions with Amnesty International on all these important ongoing topics.”

Notes for editors

Amnesty International sent the Belgian presidency a list of recommendations on human rights in late June. Its letter to the presidency is also available.