Slovak EU Presidency must show human rights leadership

Slovakia must change course and show leadership at EU level by insisting on more safe and legal routes for those desperately in need. This should be coupled with leadership by example, through increasing its own efforts to relocate people from Greece.


Slovak EU Presidency must show human rights leadership

(Brussels, 15 June 2016) As Slovakia gears up to assume the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July for the first time in the state’s history, Amnesty International has today published its Recommendations to the presidency. The organisation has tasked the Slovak presidency with strengthening human rights inside the EU and to push the EU to take a stronger stance on human rights globally.

Amnesty International’s submission includes calls on Slovakia to promote an expansion in safe and legal routes for refugees to receive international protection in Europe and to reignite Europe-wide efforts to fight discrimination of Roma in all its forms. The organisation is also asking the presidency to ensure upcoming EU counter-terrorism legislation is fully human rights compliant and to use the revision of the EU guidelines on Torture as a step towards bolstering EU efforts to stop torture worldwide.

The world will be watching as Slovakia assumes the EU presidency for the first time in its history, and at a vital juncture in the EU’s own history,” said Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.  “Slovakia must change course and show leadership at EU level by insisting on more safe and legal routes for those desperately in need. This should be coupled with leadership by example, through increasing its own efforts to relocate people from Greece,” added Iverna McGowan.

An estimated 10-12 million Roma live in Europe and remain one of the largest groups suffering from discrimination and abuse at the hands of authorities and non-state actors. The Slovak government is currently subject to an infringement procedure by the European Commission which is interrogating the segregation of Roma children in Slovak schools. Amnesty International welcomes the Slovak presidency’s prioritisation of tackling Roma discrimination and insists that Slovakia uses this opportunity to lead by example and step up efforts to stamp out Roma segregation in its own schools. Cooperation with civil society is vital in this process. If Roma youth is to be given a chance at participation and employment, which will be the focus of the planned presidency conference on Roma youth, equal access to education must be guaranteed.

Background information on Amnesty International’s recommendations to the Slovak EU Presidency on migration and Roma integration

Protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers

The Slovak Presidency will be tasked with steering Council discussions on the proposed review of the Common Asylum System, beginning with the Commission’s proposal for a revised ‘Dublin system’.  Moves to ensure a more equitable sharing of responsibility for refugees between member states are essential, but the Council must ensure that this work does not result in a reduction in the level of protection for asylum-seekers in the EU and make their access to the EU all but impossible.

With more than one million refugees urgently in need of resettlement worldwide,  the commitment made by EU member states in July 2015 to resettle 22,504 is too modest and even this is not being adequately met.  Amnesty International urges the Slovak government to turn away from past anti-migrant rhetoric and use its Presidency to push for EU agreement on opening more safe and legal routes for refugees to come to Europe.  This requires a scaling up of EU resettlement efforts, including through an effective EU-wide resettlement framework, accompanied by an expansion in the alternative pathways for admitting refugees and member states’ contributions to humanitarian financing.  With the UNGA High-Level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants falling during the Slovak Presidency, there will also be increased attention on the need for an international framework on responsibility sharing and EU member states must seize the moment to show clear leadership.

The human rights impact of EU cooperation and agreements with third countries to control migration and prevent irregular refugee flows to Europe, such as the March EU-Turkey statement, should be another major focus for the Slovak Presidency.  Amnesty International has repeatedly raised serious concerns about these initiatives, which often involve shifting the responsibility for refugee protection to countries already hosting large numbers of refugees, and lack basic guarantees for the respect for the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.  The European Commission’s recent proposals for a new ‘Partnership Framework’ signal a continuation of this flawed approach.

Despite the limited role of the Council Presidency on EU external action, the Slovak Presidency should play its part in ensuring all such third country cooperation on migration is subject to human rights assessment, benchmarking, and monitoring.  The Presidency should promote greater accountability by ensuring more transparency around these initiatives and independent oversight of their implementation.  In the first instance, the Presidency should also propose a review of the EU-Turkey deal itself – with an immediate halt of attempts to return asylum-seekers and refugees to Turkey on ‘safe third country’ or ‘first country of asylum’ grounds – and prevent it becoming a quasi-blueprint for migration agreements with other third countries.

Step up member state action to integrate Roma

The multiple forms of discrimination, racism and other ongoing human rights violations experienced by Roma across Europe point to little progress being made by member states to implement the 2013 Council recommendation on effective Roma integration measures, and to the limited effectiveness of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies to deliver improvements in the lives of Roma.

Amnesty International is calling on the incoming Slovak Presidency to use EU-level discussions to push for active national level improvements to protect the rights of Roma.  In view of the ongoing infringement procedure by the European Commission which is interrogating the segregation of Roma in Slovak schools, the Slovak government has the potential to lead by example in this regard, specifically by stepping up progress domestically on ensuring equal access to education for all Roma children in Slovakia and encouraging other member states, where this remains a problem, to follow suit.

Member states must take specific steps forward in the implementation of Roma integration measures, including through the development of clear, comprehensive indicators and monitoring mechanisms, in increased and sustained cooperation with civil society.

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