Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

UK’s human rights policy after Brexit

February 13, 2020

With Brexit a number of commentaries have appeared about the UK‘s human rights stance in the future. Here two examples:

Maria Arena wrote on 3 February 2020 in Feature about the Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), saying it will continue to keep a critical eye on the EU’s external policies while playing a constructive role in upholding international law and human rights standards. She is the Chair of the Subcommittee. It reads almost as of no Brexit has taken place……

The issue of business and human rights is currently one of the most high-profile areas of attention, with a focus on moving towards more responsible business conduct globally, through the introduction of new voluntary standards as well as compulsory company due diligence. Compulsory due diligence at EU level was a key European Parliament demand during the previous parliamentary term and we are determined to deliver on this. There is also a clear need to face up to new challenges and threats such as climate change. Migration linked to serious human rights violations and conflicts continues to be a global challenge. DROI members are keen to continue their task of scrutinising all new EU policy developments, particularly the recently announced EU human rights sanctions regime; legislation repeatedly called for by Parliament.

As the Subcommittee’s chair, I am also determined to look for new and more effective ways to protect human rights defenders. I must emphasise right at the outset: the Subcommittee cannot do this alone. This is a task for Parliament as a whole. One of our biggest challenges is upholding European ambitions on universal values and human rights standards, against the backdrop of a weakened multilateral system. We need to work towards safeguarding and improving the EU’s credibility in the world as an actor that recognises human rights and a rules-based international system as a strategic interest, not as a distraction from other foreign policy objectives.

..There can be no progress without injecting human rights into the policy debates about development, empowering women and civil society, as well as contributing to a stable and democratic neighbourhood for the EU….Citizens’ expectations are clear: people across the EU want us to stand up for universal values and deliver active and effective EU external action that protects and promotes human rights. I will never side with those who say that security or economic interest should trump human rights. …“One of our biggest challenges is upholding European ambitions on universal values and human rights standards, against the backdrop of a weakened multilateral system”

……
The EU should not shy away from establishing redress and complaints mechanisms. We need to deliver true and measurable improvements on the ground before granting trade preferences and should raise the bar on implementing international commitments with our partners. I also think we should be more ambitious about understanding the full environmental and human rights impact of our trade relations and perhaps be more vigilant about inward investment to the EU.

Benjamin Ward, UK Director (Acting) & Deputy Director, Europe & Central Asia Division of HRW, wrote in Euronews of 3 February 2020 that “Britain Should Stick To Its Principles For Brexit Success

https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/feature/committee-guide-2020-droi-ambitious-and-vigilant

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/05/britain-should-stick-its-principles-brexit-success

European Parliament votes to restrict exports of surveillance equipment

January 22, 2018

Members of the European Parliament have voted to curb export of surveillance equipment to states with poor human rights records, following mounting evidence that equipment supplied by companies in Europe has been used by oppressive regimes to suppress political opponents, journalists and campaigners. MEPs in Strasbourg agreed on 17 January to extend EU export controls to include new restrictions on the export of surveillance equipment, including devices for intercepting mobile phones, hacking computers, circumventing passwords and identifying internet users. The proposals also seek to remove encryption technologies from the list of technologies covered by EU export controls, in a move which aims to make it easier for people living in oppressive regimes to gain access to secure communications which can circumvent state surveillance.

Dictators spy on their citizens using EU cyber-surveillance. This must stop. The EU cannot contribute to the suffering of courageous activists, who often risk their lives for freedom and democracy,” said MEP Klaus Buchner, European Parliament rapporteur. “We are determined to close dangerous gaps in the export of dual-use goods and call on member states to follow suit.”

The proposed changes to the EU dual use export control regime are likely to face opposition from the defence industry and governments, as the European Parliament, and the European Commission prepare to negotiate their implantation with Europe’s 28 member states.

European technology companies, including UK firms, have supplied equipment that  has been used for arresting, torturing, and killing people in Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Morocco, according to the European Parliament. An investigation by Computer Weekly revealed that the UK government had approved export licences to Gamma International (UK) to supply mobile phone interception equipment, known as IMSI catchers, to Macedonia, when the regime was engaged in a massive illegal surveillance operation against the public and political opponents.

And the UK’s largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, has exported equipment capable of mass internet surveillance to countries that campaigners say regularly commit human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria. An overwhelming majority of MEPs supported reforms to the EU’s export control regime, which will require member states to deny export licences if the export of surveillance technology is likely to lead to a serious impact on human rights in the destination country. The proposed changes, backed by 571 votes to 29 against, with 29 abstentions, will impose tough requirements for EU governments.

Member states will be required to assess the likely impact of surveillance technology on citizens’ right to privacy, freedom of speech, and freedom of association, in the destination country before they grant  export licences – a significant step up from current levels of scrutiny.

The proposed rules contain safeguards, however, that will allow legitimate cyber-security research to continue. Companies exporting products that are not specifically listed will be expected to follow the OECD’s “due diligence” guidelines, if there is a risk they could support human-rights violations.

Improved transparency measures will require member states to record and make data on approved and declined export licences publicly available, opening up the secretive global trade in surveillance technologies to greater public scrutiny.

http://www.computerweekly.com/news/252433519/European-Parliament-votes-to-restrict-exports-of-surveillance-equipment

HRW expresses human right concerns to the UK Parliament following Brexit

October 18, 2016

While the majority of NGO interventions indeed concern developing countries, this is a good example of a statement on a western country. In October 2016 Human Rights Watch made the following Submission to the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights: “The Human Rights Implications of Brexit“.    Human Rights Watch is very concerned about human rights developments in the United Kingdom since the referendum vote, and about the risks of a further deterioration of human rights protections as the UK moves towards exiting the EU. Here some excerpts:

Climate of Xenophobia and Hate Crimes

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned at the current climate of xenophobia in the United Kingdom and increase in hate crimes since the Brexit vote. The climate of xenophobia was evident in the latter stages of the referendum campaign with the killing of the MP Jo Cox and has been acute since the vote…..It is manifest in the increase in hate crimes reported to police, including those expressing hostile sentiment or carrying out hostile acts towards EU citizens, among them assaults and arson attacks. There was a 60 percent increase in hate crimes after the referendum compared to the same period a year before, according to the National Council of Police Chiefs. By August, the number of incidents had decreased but was still 14 percent higher than the same period a year before. The killing of Arek Jóźwik in Harlow in September is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

..  The UN CERD committee recommended in August that UK “public officials not only refrain from such [hate] speech but also formally reject hate speech and condemn the hateful ideas expressed so as to promote a culture of tolerance and respect”.

…We welcome the commitment in the government’s new action plan on hate crimes to prevent them “by challenging the beliefs and attitudes that can underlie such crimes.” This philosophy needs to be applied to the government’s own policy proposals and the rhetoric of government ministers.

Risk to Family Life 

Human Rights Watch welcomes recent media reports suggesting that the government is committed to allowing all EU citizens residing in the UK to remain after Brexit. This is consistent with the duty of the government to uphold its obligations to protect the right to family life. The government should now confirm without delay that this is the case, and make clear that such rights will not depend on reciprocity for UK citizens living in other EU member states…

Risk to Human Rights Protected by EU Law

EU law protects critical areas of rights affecting millions of people in the United Kingdom. ….

It is of significant concern that these rights have received very little attention during and since the campaign and in particular in discussions concerning the form of Brexit. The UK’s departure from the European Union and the jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice could remove crucial human rights protections. It would be the first time that a significant international legal framework to protect rights, which binds the UK government and parliament, was removed from UK citizens and residents.

There is a risk that the UK government could seek to weaken the anti-discrimination and employment rights protection in UK law that arise from EU legislation. While many EU law protections would remain binding during any transitional or permanent arrangement involving EEA status, if the UK cuts itself off entirely from the EU, including from jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice, there would be scope for the government to adopt laws that weaken those protections, subject to parliamentary approval and to the extent permissible under other UK human rights obligations, including the Human Rights Act.

It is important that the committee and parliament as a whole is vigilant about this risk, particularly in relation to weakening of employment rights protections. The UK should also look to strengthen its commitments in related areas in other international mechanisms, in particular by ratifying Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which would directly strengthen anti-discrimination protections in domestic law.  

Risks to UK Participation in the Council of Europe

Human Rights Watch is concerned that the hostility to supranational oversight that drove much of the support for Brexit could lead to renewed calls for the UK to withdraw from the Council of Europe. We recognize that the Prime Minister has stepped away from her call during the referendum campaign for the UK to leave the Council of Europe, and welcome the decision by UK to seek to renew its membership of the UN Human Rights Council. Set against that is the ongoing climate of hostility towards human rights in some sections of the media and parts of the government, and the manifesto commitment by the government to replace the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights that would give the Supreme Court, rather than European Court of Human Rights, final interpretation over violations. Leaving the Council of Europe would significantly weaken human rights protection in the UK, removing a key safeguard, in the form of the European Court of Human Rights. It could weaken the court and Council of Europe system in ways that would harm human rights protection across the Council of Europe region.

Source: Submission to the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights | Human Rights Watch