EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission
Annual Human Rights Report
Strasbourg, 15 December 2010
On Friday we celebrated international Human Rights Day. This year's theme highlighted the work of individuals and organisations worldwide who fight human rights violations, specifically discrimination. Over the past year I have met Nobel prize-winner Shirin Ebadi on Iran and Front Line award-winner Afghanistan's Human Rights Commissioner for Women Dr Soraya Sobhrang and other human rights defenders and will continue to do so. As I have said to you previously, I fully expect colleagues in Brussels and the Heads of the EU Delegations to do the same.
Six months ago I stood before you to present a first vision of how the EU should conduct its policy on human rights. Today I wish to set out how work has been proceeding since then, and how I see the way ahead, now with the support of the European External Action Service.
But first, I am grateful to Dr Laima Andrikiene for her report which responds to the EU's annual report on human rights and sets out the European Parliament's vision for how we can make our approach to human rights in the EU more effective. This is an ambition which I strongly share. The range of EU action and challenges we face are well reflected in the report before the House today: attacks on human rights defenders, sexual violence, use of new technologies to curb freedom of expression, to name a few. I want to pay tribute to Mrs Andrikiene for bringing together more than 400 amendments in this impressive, informative and useful report.
Dr Andrikiene's report covers a lot of ground, and I would like to pick out three important developments of recent months.
First and foremost, the EU has been working hard to advance the cause of human rights on the multilateral stage.
In a successful (15th) session of the UN Human Rights Council, the EU held a common position on potentially divisive resolutions concerning the Gaza Flotilla and the Goldstone report.
At the General Assembly Third Committee, the EU also achieved its chief objectives. Resolutions on Burma, DPRK and the death penalty were all passed with increased majorities, as was the Canadian resolution on Iran; and the EU resolution on eliminating religious intolerance again met with consensus.
Second, as announced in June, work has begun on a review of EU human rights policy. This has been an inclusive process, for which I have sought input from Member States, Parliamentarians - notably Heidi Hautala and the Human Rights Subcommittee - as well as civil society - NGOs and academics. I will be asking the EEAS and my senior team in the months ahead to consider the key themes arising from these consultations and how best to put them into practice. I will count on the Parliament’s continued support in this endeavour.
Third, work has begun on streamlining the patchwork of policies which have grown up over the past ten years and which make up the EU's human rights policy - guidelines, toolkits and other instruments for promoting and protecting human rights. There are good reasons why EU policy has grown in such an organic way, but it seems like a good time to take stock before moving on.
For the ongoing work on the review I see three lines of action:
First, the EU needs to continue to speak up for human rights on the global stage. The EU is working to strengthen its action at the UN, and to resist attempts to dilute universal standards - the basis of our action. We need to find innovative ways of working with third country partners to promote our shared values, as we have done successful in the UNGA vote on the death penalty resolution. We are also investing to ensure that our own record stands up to scrutiny.
Second, we need to tailor our approach to individual situations. This means establishing local human rights strategies for each country, reviewing our priorities and the most effective use of our assorted tools, while engaging our For example by sharing experiences regarding child protection and the internet, or how best to tackle child labour.
Third, and finally, human rights should be visibly at the centre of EU external action. This means working human rights into the activities of all parts of the External Action Service, as well as the whole range of EU external action (trade, development, CSDP, ENP…) and at all levels. This will be built into the structure at headquarters as well as throughout our delegations in order to be able to monitor the human rights situation and promote an effective realisation of EU human rights policy goals.
Human rights are the core of our EU identity and they go to the heart of what we do around the world. The EU has developed a strong set of mechanisms for promoting these values in different contexts, with foreign partners, in multilateral fora and through support for civil society – funding specific human rights projects in over 100 countries. Nearly ten years on from the first EU communication on human rights, and with the establishment of the new EEAS, I want to ensure that our human rights policy is effective, innovative and targeted – the silver thread that runs through all of our external action and a gold standard of our foreign policy.
This is why I welcome the constructive contribution of the European Parliament, and thank Dr Andrikiene for her report.
I should also like to congratulate Guillermo Fariñas ahead of his award of the Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.