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Human rights and relations in the Mediterranean
The Commission is making recommendations for bringing about a stable democratic environment and full enjoyment of human rights in the Mediterranean partner countries of the European Union (EU).
Communication of 21 May 2003 from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament "Reinvigorating EU actions on Human Rights and democratisation with Mediterranean partners. Strategic guidelines" [COM(2003) 294 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
In this communication the European Commission makes ten recommendations for enhancing political dialogue and financial cooperation on human rights between the EU and its partners of the Mediterranean region (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority). These recommendations will be implemented at three interrelated levels:
- through political dialogue and financial aid;
- through the regional aid given to the MEDA programme and the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR); and
- at regional level.
The ten recommendations
The EU should ensure that the issues of human rights and democracy are systematically included in all institutionalised bilateral dialogues with Mediterranean partners. It should explore with its partners the possibility of setting up technical sub-groups (below the political level) to address these issues. More cooperation would also be desirable on matters such as legal reforms, the regulatory frameworks for civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), freedom of speech and association and women's rights.
To promote a regular, in-depth dialogue on human rights and democratisation in the region the Union should ensure that more people know about the key human rights issues and available documentation in each of the Mediterranean countries. Standard methods of analysis and regularly updated data should be used to produce fact sheets on the situation in each of the partner countries.
The Commission should seek to ensure greater cooperation between its Delegations in Mediterranean countries and the Member States' embassies in the same countries. The human rights related issues of the MEDA and EIDHR programmes should be handled by experts. A further aim of such cooperation should be the implementation of UN human rights resolutions.
Workshops on human rights issues should be organised in cooperation with civil society and the national authorities of the Mediterranean countries. Such workshops would provide the EU with local knowledge, which it could use in identifying projects for implementation under EIDHR, and with a platform for promoting its policies on human rights, democratisation and the rule of law. The workshops would also help those engaged in Mediterranean civil society affairs to coordinate and plan their activities more effectively.
National action plans on human rights (drawn up for the MEDA programme) should take account of the situation in the country concerned, in particular its human rights legislation. The plans should set out the objectives and the financial and technical assistance needed. They should encourage the Mediterranean partner countries to accede to international human rights conventions and promote cooperation between the state and civil society.
Regional human rights action plans should be established whenever two or more partner countries wish to cooperate more closely on this issue. Their plans could, for instance, focus on women's rights or co-operation in the field of justice. They could also strengthen contacts with regional bodies such as the Arab League.
Starting in 2005, the human rights and democracy dimensions should be given more prominence in national indicative programmes and country strategy papers drawn up for the MEDA programme. Extra funds will be provided for this objective.
Also starting in 2005, human rights, democracy and the involvement of civil society should play a bigger part in the regional indicative programme and regional strategy applied under MEDA.
The EIDHR's role in the Mediterranean should be modified to include helping to build up the capacity of civil society in the region to engage in matters such as freedom of association and speech, defence/advocacy of the rights of specific groups, good governance and fighting corruption. The MEDA and EIDHR programmes should complement each other more than they do at present.
Synergies between existing instruments created to observe and assist in elections (political dialogue, MEDA, EIDHR) should also be fully exploited to improve the framework within which elections are held in the region's different countries.
The human rights situation in the Mediterranean
This Communication summarises the UNDP Arab Human Development Report for 2002. The report's main conclusions are:
- deficits in governance (in connection with freedoms, marginalisation of women, preventing their access to knowledge) hamper the full development of democracy and respect of human rights;
- discrimination against women hampers economic and social development;
- the judicial system is not independent enough;
- NGOs active in the civil and political spheres are weak and are prevented from networking internationally;
- access to education is uneven and ill-adapted to the requirements of the modern economy;
- authoritarianism and poor economic and social performance favour extremist political movements.
Although most of the countries in the region have signed up to the most important international instruments on human rights, this is not reflected in the situation on the ground since the countries do not comply with these international standards.
Context: European Union measures in the Mediterranean region
The Commission communication entitled "On the EU's Role in Promoting Human Rights and Democratisation in Third Countries" establishes a human rights strategy for application in the Union's external affairs. The aim of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership agreements concluded between the European Union and each of the region's countries is to establish an area of peace and stability founded on the principles of human rights and democracy. Similarly, the Action Plan agreed at the Valencia conference reaffirmed the commitment of all the parties to human rights, democracy and the rule of law in this region, whilst the association agreements concluded or under negotiation with the Mediterranean countries include the condition of engaging in a political dialogue covering, inter alia, issues of human rights and democracy. The Union's operational cooperation instruments for human rights in the Mediterranean are the MEDA programme, which has been up and running since 1996, and the EIDHR which was set up in 1994.