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European Union Annual Report on Human Rights 2001
To present the policy of the European Union (EU) in the field of human rights, focusing on the situation in third countries whilst also looking at the main challenges within the Union itself. To demonstrate the holistic nature of the EU's work through its three pillars and within international and regional bodies from 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001. To draw up a reference document with a view to deepening a debate that aims to make the Union's actions more coherent and more effective.
European Union: Annual report on human rights [PDF] . General Affairs Council - Luxembourg, 9 October 2001 [Not published in the Official Journal].
As highlighted by Louis Michel, the President-in-Office of the Council of the European Union when the report was adopted, the European Union is founded on five fundamental values: freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, respect for fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. These values have been gradually integrated into the legal framework which, in this area, has changed considerably since the entry into force of the Treaty on European Union in 1993. The Treaty of Amsterdam and the Treaty of Nice are the two other major milestones. Today, provisions are gathered together in the Charter on Fundamental Rights, solemnly proclaimed in December 2000. In addition, the commitment in the Member States of the European Union and the EU's external relations are governed by Articles 2, 6, 7 and 11 of the TEU and Articles 13 and 177 of the EC Treaty. In addition to the European Council, the Council and the Commission, which are the main actors involved in policy planning and implementation, the European Parliament (EP) has become a recognised forum for discussion which has a specific role to play in drawing up treaties with third countries. The EP is responsible too for democratic control of the Union's commitment, which is also examined by civil society.
Human rights within the EU
Human rights took a step forward with the proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which must be respected by the Member States and the European Union when applying Community law. However, without wishing to be exhaustive, the report makes reference to some significant concerns, in particular:
- racism and xenophobia, which continue to be a priority for which new laws have been adopted. These include the Directive concerning equal treatment irrespective of racial and ethnic origin and the Directive concerning non-discrimination as regards employment and occupation. These acts are accompanied by the Community action programme to combat discrimination;
- asylum and migration, an area for which the Commission published in 2001 the communication entitled ' the Scoreboard ', which sets out the issues relating to partnership with countries of origin, a common European asylum policy, fair treatment of third country nationals and management of migration flows;
- trafficking in human beings, an area for which the Commission proposed in 2001 a framework decision. It also organised a European Forum on Prevention of Organised Crime. The STOP II programme, which supports projects to fight and prevent trafficking in human beings, was also adopted.
The issue of human rights has also been raised in the context of business and trade. For the period covered by the report, this involves development assistance (for example under the Cotonou Agreement), a code of conduct on arms exports, etc.
Instruments and initiatives to promote human rights in third countries
The European Union works globally to increase respect for human rights in the world through both Community instruments and instruments under the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Council conclusions, dialogue with third countries, etc. This wide range of instruments includes:
- within the framework of the CFSP, three categories: common strategies (like that on Russia, which made it possible to tackle issues relating to Chechnya), joint actions (like that dealing with the issue of the Western Balkans, through the EU Monitoring Mission) and common positions (like that relating to the International Criminal Court);
- representations and declarations. Representations (sometimes confidential) are made to the authorities of third countries, whilst declarations are targeted at the press. The fight against the death penalty and torture are among the many fields covered by these instruments;
- political dialogue, which aims to tackle questions of common interest and the possibilities for cooperation within international bodies with the associated countries, the United States, Canada and China. The dialogue with China (EN) includes meetings with senior officials, human rights seminars, etc;
- a communication on the EU's role in promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries, which aims to set the policy in the context of the Commission's overall strategic approach. The communication seeks to promote coherent policies, give a higher priority to human rights and adopt a more strategic approach to the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Created in 1994, the EIDHR brings together the promotion of human rights under a series of budget headings which were allocated EUR 102 million in 2001;
- the organisation of human rights forums, at which the Presidency of the Union and the Commission meet with representatives of the institutions, the Member States, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), universities, etc. in order to assess the work carried out at international level.
Action by international and regional bodies
The Union also works within international bodies. The most important of these are:
- the United Nations, where the Member States of the Union vote together on human rights issues and where the EU generally speaks with one voice. The 55th General Assembly and the 57th Commission on Human Rights benefited from the active and constructive participation of the Union, which highlighted the situation in third countries as well as other general topics such as the rights of the child and female genital mutilation. It was also involved in the preparations for the Special Session on Children and the World Conference against Racism;
- the Council of Europe, where the EU welcomes the extension of common values represented by the enlargement of the organisation; the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights constitute the two pan-European reference points;
- the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also receives support from the Union. Its work to promote democratic institutions, national minorities and freedom of the media and its fight against trafficking in human beings have been particularly welcomed by the EU;
- the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, created at the EU's initiative, is another important organisation for the promotion of human rights. Its Working Table I deals with these issues, focusing on the media, the return of refugees, national minorities, etc;
Thematic priority issues
Human rights have been divided into different areas so as to facilitate and clarify the work of the European Union. The priority issues are:
6.1. Civil and political rights, which are closely linked to the promotion and consolidation of democracy. In addition to the serious concerns over the lack of freedom of expression in many states, the commitment to freedom of religion and efforts to safeguard the independence of the judiciary, action focuses on:
- the abolition of the death penalty, which is one of the Union's main priority areas. The EU notes that the situation has improved in many countries that have abolished or reduced the number of crimes subject to capital punishment. However, it condemns the 2 000 executions recorded throughout the world. In order to achieve its goal, the total abolition of the death penalty, the EU has worked within various international and regional bodies, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE. This work has been accompanied by targeted actions in specific countries such as the United States and China;
- the fight against torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which was strengthened with the adoption of new guidelines in April 2001. The EU's objective is to prohibit these serious violations of human dignity and to ensure that this is respected by the authorities concerned. The measures taken by the EU during the period in question include political dialogue, promotion of the International Criminal Court, bilateral representations and work within international fora such as the United Nations;
- election assistance and observation, which aim to improve the long-term democratisation of third countries. These have benefited from almost EUR 180 million over the last five years. The subject was debated within the European institutions in 2000 and 2001, resulting in a Commission communication, a European Parliament resolution and Council conclusions. Since then, actions in this field have formed part of a coherent framework which also promotes international collaboration by involving the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Media monitoring enhances the Union's policy in this field.
6.2. Economic, social and cultural rights accompany civil and political rights and the two categories are mutually reinforcing. The Union's goal is still to halve by the year 2015 the number of people in the world living in conditions of extreme poverty.
6.3. As the world's foremost international donor, the EU plays a crucial role in terms of the right to development. This policy is also linked to human rights, especially for the ACP countries, which are obliged to respect the criteria of the Cotonou Agreement. The EU also works on this issue within the United Nations.
6.4. The EU fights for the promotion of the rights of the child through the United Nations and the OSCE. The problems highlighted include children in armed conflict and HIV/AIDS.
6.5. Women's rights have made significant progress in terms of international legislation since September 2000 with the adoption of instruments on gender equality, transnational crime, trafficking in human beings and crimes of honour. The problem of HIV/AIDS was also emphasised.
6.6. The fight against all forms of discrimination in third countries comes under European initiatives such as EQUAL and Grotius, the EIDHR and the Community programme on gender equality. The Union also works within the following international bodies: the OSCE, the United Nations and the Council of Europe. It played an important and constructive role at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in South Africa.
6.7. The Union's other priorities relate to persons belonging to minorities (where it promotes interethnic tolerance), refugees and displaced persons (where it works to ensure voluntary return and provide humanitarian organisations with access to affected areas) and the protection of human rights defenders.
The Union comments on the situation in third countries in order to support their democratisation process. Whenever possible, it does so through international fora, such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights or the United Nations human rights institutions. The statements and resolutions which it has endorsed include:
- in Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Algeria, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Togo and Sierra Leone;
- in America: Colombia;
- in Europe: Chechnya, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Albania, Cyprus, Turkey, Belarus and Ukraine;
- in Middle East: Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia;
- in Asia: China, Myanmar, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Jammu and Kashmir, Afghanistan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.