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EU priorities at UN Human Rights Fora: a strong commitment in 2016?

On the eve of the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council in the 10th anniversary year of this UN body, the Council defines the EU priorities at UN Human Rights Fora in 2016. Stressing out its proposals, the EU reaffirms its commitment to the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.

“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.” As recalled by Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, at the Opening of the 4th Human Rights Council Session, the Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system. Composed of 47 UN Member States, elected by the UN General Assembly, the Council aims at strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. It can address situations of human rights violations and make recommendations. Headquartered in Geneva, it has the ability to discuss human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the years.

This body was created by the General Assembly in March 2006 under resolution 60/251. This year the 10th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Council is celebrated. On this occasion, the EU reaffirms its strong commitment to the UN bodies that promote and protect human rights.

Ahead of UN Human Rights Council 31st session, that started on 29th February, the Council set out its conclusions on EU priorities at UN Human Rights Fora.

The EU will continue to protect and promote “the universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of human rights” in collaboration with the Human Rights Council and General Assembly Third Committee, which draws its attention to a range of social, humanitarian affairs and human rights issues that affect people all over the world. Recalling the European Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy and the Action Plan for 2015-2019, the EU again engages itself to perform this duty. “The EU will engage countries, organisations and stakeholders from all regions, including through the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, to promote the realisation of all human rights”.

Moreover, the Council wants to stress its commitment to supporting the existing UN Human Rights system and “any further mainstreaming of human rights across the work of the UN”. In particular, it ensures that EU would defend the integrity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recognizing its purposeful work in advancing human rights worldwide and implementing norms on the grounds. Thus, the Council invites all states to fully cooperate with this organ and with its procedure, underling the importance of the Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism that serves to assess the human rights situations in all UN Member States. In addition, the EU supports UN treaty bodies: pivotal organs in monitoring compliance with human rights responsibilities.

On the other side, the EU undertakes to “address the gravest human rights situation around the world, clearly condemning in the strongest terms human rights violations and abuses, as well as violence and discrimination”.

Recalling the Syrian situation, defined as “the most acute and dire human rights and humanitarian crisis of recent history”, the Council underlines EU call for an immediate end of human rights abuses and violations perpetrated by the Assad regime and by all other factions involved in the conflict. The Union supports the Commission of Enquiry dedication and draws the UN Security Council’s attention to the possibility of referring the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court. Moreover, the European Union recalls the importance of a prompt and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance in the country. Finally, the EU persists in denouncing the «gross and systematic» human rights violation performed by Da’esh not only in Syria but also in Iraq and Libya, demanding accountability for these abuses.

Furthermore, with regard to the Iraqi Government, as well as the Kurdistan Regional Government, the EU stands for the recognition of all Iraqi citizens’ rights and for the investigation of all allegations of human rights violations.

The European Union also underlines the serious human rights abuses in North Korea. Welcoming the collaboration with Japan and like-minded partners to draw attention to these violations, the EU reiterates its call to the UN Security Council to refer the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court.

Referring to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and the difficult human rights situation in Crimea, whose annexation to the Russian Federation has not been recognised and condemned as illegal, the EU highlights serious human rights violations. Calling upon “all actors involved to respect international humanitarian and human rights law”, the Union expresses its commitment to supporting the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine to strengthen the rule of law in the country.

As for the African Continent, the EU devotes its attention to some deteriorating human rights situations. Europe condemns violence and abuses in Burundi and demands for clarification of “the state of affairs in South Sudan, where hostilities have led to massive human rights violations”. Condemning the terrorist attacks carried out by Boko Haram, especially those targeting women and children, the EU asks African partners to support the work of the Human Rights Council in this African Year of Human Rights.

On the other hand, given the ongoing and grave human rights situation in Iran, the EU supports “the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur”. Europe even draws UN Human Rights Council’s attention to violations in Libya, the occupied Palestinian territory and the deteriorating situation in Yemen. Concern about individuals sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia is expressed by the European Union, which will still monitor the human rights situation in Belarus.

The EU welcomes the historic elections in Myanmar/Burma in November 2015, encouraging the new government to take steps to secure improvement in the field of human rights. Moreover, Europe seeks an appropriate monitoring of Sri Lanka’s “process of transitional justice, accountability and, reconciliation.”

At the international level, the EU reaffirms its strong commitment to fighting against the death penalty “whenever and wherever it is used”. For this reason, the European Union wants to reinforce a cross-regional support to a moratorium on the death penalty at the General Assembly, deeply worried about the high number of countries that sentence people to death. Furthermore, the EU follows closely the UN’s campaign against torture and, cruel and degrading treatment or punishment, fighting for granting minimum standards.

The European Union also supports the recognition and preservation of freedoms, such as freedom of opinion and expression online and offline or freedom of association and assembly. Recognising the pivotal role of the principles of equality and discrimination, the Union fights against discrimination on any grounds or status, recalling its “strong and worldwide opposition to all forms of racism” and religious intolerance. The promotion of gender equality is at the top of the European agenda, as stated by the Council, which underlines its effort to promote women’s empowerment at all levels and to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

Concerning the rights of the child, the EU works to protect children from all forms of violence, abuse and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage at the international level. Moreover, attention is paid to protect and help children in armed conflicts, supporting humanitarian missions.

Looking at the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, launched in September 2015 by the UN, the Union supports the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of climate change; stressing out the importance of a common and effective realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and human rights.

Finally, considering the current «refugee crisis», the Council underlines EU proposal to comply with international refugee law protecting the human rights of asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and all displaced persons. The Union wishes to grant the highest level of protections to all migrants, with particular attention to women, children and vulnerable people.

In the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council, a High-level panel discussion will deal with the 50th anniversary of the International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the one on Civil and Political Rights. On this occasion, the European Union “issues a renewed call for their universal ratification”: a clear universal commitment to the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.

Nevertheless, all these good proposals clash with data presented by the Amnesty International Report 2015/2016, which documents the state of the world’s human rights. In fact, the NGO affirms that in 2015 “the European system was under threat, both from the possibility of losing the support of some states and from a massive backlog of cases requiring justice and accountability”. Moreover, concerning the «refugee crisis», the Report points its finger at the Union for the faulty and poor management of the situation. In particular, the human rights NGO stresses out that most EU leaders preferred to remain passive or, at worst, pay attention to hostile speeches against migrants, putting in peril more than 70 years of zealous effort and human progress, as reported by the French-Press Agency.

“The fact that we are seeing so many new crises breaking out without any of the old ones getting resolved, clearly illustrates the lack of capacity and political will to end conflict, let alone to prevent it. The result is an alarming proliferation of unpredictability and impunity.” This sentence by António Guterres, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, calls upon all international, European and regional parties involved in the protection and promotion of human rights for a strong and real effort in translating these fine words into action.

Adele Cornaglia

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Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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