Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Good example of authoritarian abuse of COVID-19 emergency: Hungary

April 7, 2020

Hungary has defied calls by human rights defenders to respect human rights standards in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak.  Monday 30 March 2020, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial Law on Protection against the Coronavirus, allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree for an indefinite period [!], and to jail anybody deemed to be publishing ‘fake news’ by up to five years. In the days prior, Civil Rights Defenders condemned the bill on the grounds that it is an attack on the rule of law and democracy, and presents numerous threats to human rights in the country (see https://crd.org/2020/03/24/hungary-state-of-emergency-is-no-excuse-for-undermining-rule-of-law/).

In one of its first moves, the government tabled a bill outlawing legal gender recognition which is a serious and permanent attack on the rights of Trans people. The following day, on Tuesday, it hinted it would use emergency powers to push educational reform by perusing an appalling new curriculum that will rewrite history books by promoting national pride, and making anti-Semitic authors compulsory reading. Coupled with the restrictions on media freedoms, the freedom of expression and the indefinite emergency rule, these measures are a clear overreach of emergency powers and a grave threat to democracy.

20 EU Member States have reacted in a joint-statement that they are “deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures”. However, the statement’s authors did not call out countries by name, thus creating a loophole for Hungary to shamelessly became a signatory itself [SIC and SICK].

https://crd.org/2020/04/07/hungary-ignores-calls-for-respect-of-human-rights/

New EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024

March 27, 2020

Since the adoption of the EU strategic framework on human rights and democracy in 2012, the EU has adopted two EU Action Plans (2012-2014 and 2015-2019). The new proposal follows up on this, setting out the priorities for the period of 2020-2024.

This Action Plan identifies priorities around five mutually reinforcing lines of action:

  • Protecting and empowering individuals;
  • Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies;
  • Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy;
  • New technologies: harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges;
  • Delivering by working together.

What is new in this Action Plan?

The new Action Plan builds on the previous action plans and continues to focus on some long-standing priorities, such as supporting human rights defenders and the fight against death penalty. More importance is given to empower people and defeat discrimination on all grounds. It also addresses more prominently the accountability gap, the erosion of rule of law and access to justice. This Action Plan takes account of today’s world new challenges and therefore focuses in particular on:

  • environmental challenges and climate change;
  • leveraging the benefits of digital technologies and minimising the risks of misuse in line with EU’s commitment to lead the transition to a new digital world;
  • stepping up economic, social and cultural rights;
  • more emphasis on democracy, including on the misuse of online technologies and shrinking civic and political space;
  • a stronger focus on human rights defenders;
  • strategic communication and public diplomacy.

How will the Action Plan be implemented?

The objectives under the Action Plan will be implemented at country, regional and multilateral level, taking account of local circumstances and specificities. The EU will leverage the broad range of policies, tools and political and financial instruments at its disposal to implement it, such as:

  • political, human rights and sectoral policy dialogues;
  • EU trade policies, including the EU’s generalised scheme of preferences;
  • thematic and geographical instruments under the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework;
  • actions in multilateral and regional human rights fora;
  • communication activities and awareness‑raising campaigns;
  • public statements, démarches;
  • observing trials of human rights defenders;
  • the implementation of 13 EU human rights guidelines;
  • election observation and its follow-up;
  • dialogue with civil society, human rights organisations and the business sector.

The EU Action Plan provides guidance to over 140 EU Delegations and Offices as well as Member States embassies for targeted initiatives and actions at country level all over the world.

How will the Commission and the High Representative follow up on and monitor the implementation of this Action Plan?

Actions apply to all regions in the world taking into consideration local needs and specificities. The EU’s 142 Delegations and Offices will take a lead in reflecting the priority actions in initiatives at the country level including through the adoption of tailored-made strategies at a local level. The EU will also engage with different stakeholders on the overall implementation, and organise an annual meeting with civil society. The public EU annual report on Human rights and democracy in the worldis another effective tool to monitor the progress made in a transparent manner. A mid-term review of the implementation is foreseen.

What has the EU achieved on human rights and democracy worldwide so far?

  • Since 2015, more than 30 000 human rights defenders were protected by the EU via the dedicated mechanism ProtectDefenders.eu. In 2019 alone, the EU raised Human Rights Defenders cases in dialogues and consultations with over 40 countries.
  • The EU advocated for abolition of death penalty.
  • Between January 2015 and October 2019, the EU supported over 3 350 actions relevant to children’s rights in 148 third countries and territories. For example, under the global programme on Female Genital Mutilation (€11 million), 16 countries adopted action plans and 12 established national budget lines to put an end to Female Genital Mutilation.
  • In 2014-2019, the EU supported democracy in more than 70 partner countries with €400 million aiming at, for instance, contributing to the organisation of elections and supporting oversight bodies, independent media, parliaments and political parties to play their essential role in democratic societies. 98 EU Election Observation Missionswere deployed worldwide.
  • The General System of Preference contributed to the implementation of human rights and labour Conventions, including through monitoring missions in 11 countries in the last year. For example, this contributed to a reduction of child labour to 1% in Sri Lanka through pioneering ‘Child Labour Free Zones’.

 

Joint Proposal

…Article 22 of the Treaty on the European Union offers the European Council the possibility to adopt a unanimous Decision setting out the EU’s strategic interests and objectives in specific areas of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Once the European Council sets the strategic objectives, the Council would then be able to adopt by qualified majority (QMV) decisions implementing the European Council’s strategic decisions.

Why is this proposed now? In 2018, the Commission has proposed to move from unanimity to QMV in certain areas of the CFSP. The Von Der Leyen Commission recognises that to be a global leader, the Union needs to take decisions in a faster and more effective way and overcome unanimity constraints that hamper our foreign policy, as set out in the High Representative/Vice-President’s mission letter. The Joint Proposal adopted by the College today offers such a possibility, by proposing to take decision related to the implementation of the Action Plan by QMV.

For more information:

Press release

Joint Communication EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024

EU Action Plan 2020-2024

Joint Proposal for a recommendation of the Council to the European Council

Annex to the Joint Proposal for a recommendation of the Council to the European Council

 

Call for nominations for Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press goes ahead in MENA region

February 28, 2020

The European Union launched a call for nominations for the “Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press” at the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon. During the press conference, Ambassador Ralph Tarraf reaffirmed the European Union’s commitment to pursue Samir Kassir’s struggle for free speech and an independent free press. [for more on this and many other awards relating to freedom of the press, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/samir-kassir-award-for-freedom-of-the-press]
The contest is open to candidates from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Gulf until 1 April, 2020, and three awards will be granted for: the best opinion article, investigative article, and audiovisual news report. The contributions must be centered on subjects relating to rule of law, human rights, good governance, fight against corruption, freedom of expression, democratic development and citizen participation. The jury will be composed of seven voting members from Arab and European media and one observer representing the European Union. The names of the jury members will be communicated during the prize-awarding ceremony, which will take place on 2 June 2020 in Beirut, marking the 15th memorial of Samir Kassir’s assassination.

https://en.annahar.com/article/1131572-european-union-launches-the-15th-editionon-of-the-samir-kassir-award-for-freedom

28 NGOs ask EU Parliament to reject cooperation deal with Vietnam on 11 February

February 10, 2020

The signing NGOs include Human Rights Watch, Defend the Defenders, The 88 Project, and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam.

There are notable precedents of the European Parliament setting human rights benchmarks to be met before giving their consent to bilateral deals in order to promote human rights progress,” the NGOs claim pointing to a 2016 case in Uzbekistan and the EP’s rejection in March 2019 of the EU-Turkmenistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The European Parliament needs to take the exact same strategy with Vietnam, withholding Parliament’s permission and authorizing an identical resolution outlining the civils rights problems that Vietnam must satisfy for MEPs to greenlight the offer,” the NGOs claimed.

Only once a series of human rights concerns have been duly addressed by the state authorities, MEPs should give their consent to the deals.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/04/joint-ngo-letter-eu-vietnam-free-trade-agreement

NGOs Ask EU Parliament to Vote Against EU-Vietnam FTA And IPA Over Human Rights Issues

Cuba and EU dialogue: five empty chairs show serious shortcomings

February 9, 2020

Cuban human rights defenders who participated to the project of presenting a report on EU’s agreement with Cuba. [Civil Rights Defenders]

The EU needs to change strategy if it wishes to stand for democracy in Cuba by opening up to independent civil society, write Anders L. Petersson and Erik Jennische (of the NGO Civil Rights Defenders) on 4 February 2020. On Saturday 1 February. five Cuban democracy activists were stopped at the airport in Havana as they were on their way to Brussels to speak at the European Parliament today. They were banned from leaving the country by the Cuban authorities. Instead, the seminar at the European Parliament was held with Cuban activists based outside the country, and five empty chairs – a vivid reminder of the current strategy’s shortcomings. [Instituto Patmos has shown that at least 226 activists were banned from travelling abroad during 2019]. The five democracy activists were supposed to present their ideas on what the EU could do to promote respect for human rights and democratisation in the country. Their proposals form part of a report by Civil Rights Defenders – a total 30 letters from Cuban democracy activists and organisations – as a contribution to the EU’s policy development.

Although the EU and Cuba in their Agreement recall “their commitment to the recognised principles of democracy”, Civil Rights Defenders regrets that the EU remained silent on the sham elections and the transfer of power that followed. Apparently, it was all acceptable under the new Agreement…..When Federica Mogherini visited Cuba for the last time as High Representative for Foreign Affairs in September 2019, she rather perplexingly concluded that “after completing its generational transition and adopting a new Constitution, Cuba now faces major challenges in carrying out its economic modernization”.

….Reflecting on the stories of harassed and imprisoned activists in Cuba, we cannot afford to make such surrender again. The EU needs to change strategy if it wishes to stand for democracy in Cuba. It needs to build a formal and open dialogue with Cuba’s independent civil society. Since the negotiations began on the Agreement in the spring of 2014, the EU has not invited civil society to a single formal discussion on the content of the Agreement or its implementation. When the EU and Cuba held its human rights dialogue in October 2019, the Cuban government took the liberty to decide which European and Cuban organisations could participate. The papers in the report of CRD hold a great number of proposals and ideas – the two core messages being:

  • That both European and Cuban civil societies need to be recognised as formal partners to the EU in its relations to Cuba.
  • That the EU needs to speak out on the absence of democracy in Cuba and denounce all human rights violations.

The EU can never contribute to positive change in Cuba via a dialogue with the Cuban government. The only way is to give legitimacy and support to the civil society that openly and peacefully supports democratisation. It is time for the EU to include civil society in its relations with Cuba.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/15/new-rule-of-law-and-human-rights-in-cuba-and-venezuela-and-eu-engagement/

One of the award-winning Cuban dissident who was detained this week announced that he has been released without charge but barred from a planned trip to Europe for a meeting on human rights. Guillermo Farinas, a 58-year-old psychologist, is a leading voice in the opposition to Cuba’s communist government and won the European Parliament’s Sakharov human rights prize in 2010. Farinas was arrested Tuesday in the central city of Santa Clara, where he lives, as he planned to go to the Spanish Embassy in Havana to pick up travel documents. He had been due to take part in a meeting of the human rights commission of the European Parliament. “The main reason for my arrest was to keep me from traveling to Europe,” Farinas told AFP.

In the meantime a number Cuban and latin solidarity groups in Belgium had a quite different view: “Campaign by MEPs against Cuba rejected in Belgium. Another instance of the Empire’s vulgar and interfering policy of subversion and discredit against the Cuban Revolution. Cuba is sovereign and independent, we won’t yield to anyone”. http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2020/02/04/rechazan-en-belgica-nueva-campana-contra-cuba-de-eurodiputados/#.XjsNg2q23cd 


Five empty chairs remind of Cuba’s regime true nature

https://www.france24.com/en/20200207-cuban-dissident-freed-but-cannot-leave-country

https://www.euronews.com/2020/02/07/cuban-activists-blocked-from-attending-eu-meeting

Burundi elections start with convicting 4 journalists

February 5, 2020

EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency has new website to serve mobile users better

February 5, 2020

It prominently highlights useful tools like FRA’s EU Fundamental Rights Information System (EFRIS). This section steers users to key resources, such as promising practices from across the EU on how to combat hate crime or collect equality data, which they could use in their own work. In addition, country-specific information is more prominent so users can find local information from their country. It also flags which information is available in other EU languages. Users can also sign up for project updates via email so they can keep abreast of the latest agency developments. The site reflects FRA’s convening power as a hub for all human rights defenders which they can draw on for their work. It also aims to mirror FRA’s communicating rights mantra to maximise impact and outreach, helping to make a difference for people across the EU.

Accessibility remains a key consideration in the new design of the site.

https://fra.europa.eu/en/news/2020/new-modern-fra-website-promises-better-user-experience

Turkey defies European Court on Kavala and undergoes UPR review

January 29, 2020

FILE - A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.
A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.

Kavala and 15 other civil society activists are accused of supporting anti-government protests in 2013 against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president. The protest action came to be known as the Gezi movement, named after an Istanbul park where the unrest started. Prosecutors are calling for life imprisonment without parole. The ECHR condemned the case, calling for an end to Kavala’s more than two years in prison and describing it as “arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”

The Istanbul court ruled Tuesday the ECHR decision was provisional because Ankara was appealing the verdict and that Kavala should remain in jail. The court’s decision is flawed because the European Court ruling was clear in its call for Kavala’s immediate release,” said Emma Sinclair Webb, Turkey researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

We saw multiple signs of how unfair this trial is,” said Webb, speaking after attending Tuesday’s court hearing. “The lawyers for Kavala raised many objections to the way witness evidence is used in this case. The court turns a deaf ear to all objections. It’s a shocking indication that once again, Turkey’s judiciary seems to be under heavy pressure of the executive.”

Tuesday’s court hearing was marred by chaos, with Kavala’s lawyers challenging the judge’s decision to hear some witnesses without their presence, prompting the lawyers to walk out of the room. Ankara strongly rejects the ECHR verdict, maintaining that the judiciary is independent. But observers note the case has strong political undertones. Three months ahead of Kavala’s prosecution, Erdogan accused him of “financing terrorists” and that Kavala was a representative for “that famous Jew [George Soros,] who tries to divide and tear up nations.” Erdogan did not elaborate on the comments about George Soros, who is an international philanthropist. Erdogan’s allegations against Kavala resemble the prosecution case against the jailed activist. Kavala is a pivotal figure in Turkey, using his wealth to help develop the country’s fledgling civil society after a 1980 military coup.

“Osman Kavala is very prominent within the civil society in this country,” said Sinan Gokcen, Turkey representative of Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders. “He is not a man of antagonism; he is a man of preaching dialogue, a man of building bridges.”….

With the U.N. having few tools to sanction Turkey, the European Union is seen as offering the best hope by human rights advocates of applying pressure on Ankara. Turkey’s EU membership bid is already frozen, in part due to human rights concerns. But Ankara is seeking to extend a customs union, along with visa-free travel for its citizens with the EU. “It’s time all European countries should be speaking out very loud and clear on cases like this [Kavala],” said Sinclair-Webb. But even high-profile cases like Kavala’s have seen Brussels offer only muted criticism of Ankara. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul Friday for talks with Erdogan saw little criticism of Turkey’s human rights record. Instead, discussions focused on Ankara’s recent deployment of soldiers to Libya and the upholding of an EU-Turkish agreement controlling migrants entering Europe. “There are many issues to talk about with Turkey,” said Sinclair Webb. “Syria, Libya, Turkey, hosting so many refugees from Syria, and this often takes priority over Turkey’s domestic human rights crisis. This means there isn’t sufficient clarity on cases like this. What we are seeing is Turkey defying Europe’s human rights court.” Some analysts suggest Brussels could yet be lobbying behind the scenes for Kavala’s release, tying Ankara’s calls for extra financial assistance for refugees to gestures on human rights.

Pakistan: Release Manzoor Pashteen and his fellow human rights defenders immediately

HRW urges UN to address human rights violations in Turkey

https://www.voanews.com/europe/turkish-court-defies-europe-leaves-philanthropist-behind-bars

NGOs demand that rules against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are upgraded

January 28, 2020

Journalist Carole Cadwalladr, activist Arlindo Marquês and slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have all being victims of SLAPP.

. to European Commissioner Vice President Věra Jourová ahead of proposed new laws. The NGOs want to ensure that EThe organisations include the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe

Jourová is preparing legislation which will work to deter such lawsuits.

In essence, SLAPPs are used to silence individuals and organisations that play a watchdog role and hold those in positions of power to account,” they wrote. Naming journalists within the European Union affected by SLAPP, the groups called the lawsuits received by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia one of “the most striking examples which include journalists”. Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia had 47 law suits pending against her at the time of her assassination,” they said. (The Maltese government has refused to ban the use of SLAPP suits in Malta, rejecting a motion by the Opposition in parliament).

The Shift, which works with international organisations to fight the threats against journalists, has also itself faced threats of SLAPP suits twice – one by a Russian banker and another by Henley & Partners, Malta’s concessionaire for the cash for passports scheme. The same firm also targeted Caruana Galizia prior to her assassination. In both cases, The Shift did not back down. Journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who exposed the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal, is also facing SLAPP action, the organisations noted. British co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign Arron Banks is refusing to drop the final two SLAPP lawsuits against the journalist who now started a crowdfunding campaign to cover the massive legal costs.

The organisations said that SLAPP lawsuits are not limited to journalists, but are also targeted at academia, trade unionists, activists, civil society organisations and individual citizens, including human rights defenders. Strong EU anti-SLAPP measures, including legislation and legal funds for victims, at a time when there is no such legislation in force in any EU member state will help protect those who are vulnerable to this type of legal harassment, they said. Such measures would also send a strong political message that the EU is ready to stand up for its citizens and protect fundamental rights,” they continued.

EU legislation must cover everybody affected by SLAPP – 27 NGOs

European judges demonstrate in Poland against the ‘muzzle law”

January 13, 2020

Not many of us would expect to see European judges demonstrating in the streets, but Al Jazeera reports that on Saturday 11 January 2020 many joined their Polish peers in protest against the ‘muzzle law’, a bill which proposes strict disciplinary measures against Polish judges critical of the government’s judicial overhaul.

The latest escalation came when the government introduced a bill to discipline judges who question its changes [Anadolu]
The latest escalation came when the government introduced a bill to discipline judges who question its changes [Anadolu]

The office of Warsaw’s mayor said some 30,000 people took part in Saturday’s march to denounce a bill that would allow the Law and Justice (PiS) government to discipline judges who question its judicial changes. The introduction of the measure in December is the latest episode in a years-long squabble over courts reform in the country that has triggered a feud with the European Union. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/08/polish-judges-have-become-human-rights-defenders/]

Judges from more than 20 other European countries, many wearing judicial robes over their thick winter coats, carried placards with their countries’ names. As each delegation was announced, chants of “Thank you, thank you” rose from the crowd. About 1,000 Polish judges also joined the rally, with many travelling to Warsaw from all corners of the country.

We want to feel that we are safe at work. A judge cannot fear that if a ruling they hand down is inconvenient for the government, they will bear consequences. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to that,” said judge Halina Musial.

Background: Despite protests in some 200 towns and cities when first announced, the draft law passed the PiS-dominated lower house in late December. It is now being considered by the opposition-controlled Senate, which may delay its passage, but is unlikely to stop it. The draft law, which makes it easier to dismiss or fine uncooperative judges, is seen as a response to an earlier blow to the government’s reforms.  In early December, the Supreme Court ruled that its own disciplinary chamber, a body created by the government, is “not a court within the meaning of EU and national law”. The court also found that the constitutional body nominating judges, the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which has been reformed to be mostly appointed by parliament rather than other judges, is “not an impartial and independent body”. When first introduced in December, Małgorzata Gersdorf, Supreme Court chief justice, warned that the changes would “infringe EU treaties” and risked driving Poland out of the bloc. For its part, the government claims that the bill is necessary to stop judges from “undermining” the legal system.  Since taking power in 2015, PiS has been at loggerheads with the EU over its judicial meddling, including installing allies in the constitutional court, trying to force Supreme Court judges into retirement and politicising lower-level appointments.  The European Commission’s vice-president, Vera Jourova, has urged Poland to halt work on the legislation until it had been properly consulted, echoing calls by the Council of Europe and the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights

At Saturday’s protest, Irish Supreme Court judge John MacMenamin carried letters of support from Irish Chief Justice Frank Clarke and the Association of Judges of Ireland, according to the Irish Times. Murat Arslan, an imprisoned Turkish judge and winner of the 2017 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, also sent a note of support to the protesters, Polish website OKO.press reported. At the request of the opposition Senate speaker, the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, visited Warsaw this week to prepare its “urgent opinion”, but the government declined to meet the representatives. Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin responded that “Poland is a sovereign country and shapes its own legal system, including the judiciary. These are not issues governed by European law”.