In three resolutions on democracy and human rights adopted at the end of this week's Brussels plenary session, the European Parliament condemned the recent coup in Mauritania, the continuing execution of minors in Iran and a wave of killings of albino people in Tanzania.
Coup in Mauritania
In the resolution on Mauritania, MEPs criticise the coup of 6 August, when President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahiwas ousted by a group of high-ranking generals whom he had dismissed from office earlier that day.
Parliament "condemns the military coup", and particularly "regrets this setback, given "the notable advances made in the development of democracy and the rule of law over the past few years in Mauritania". Elections held in 2006 and 2007 had been regarded as fair and transparent by international observers.
The EP "calls for the current political tensions in Mauritania to be resolved within an institutional framework reflecting the transition to democracy, and for the constitutional order and civilian rule to be restored as soon as possible". Noting the announcement of new presidential elections by the junta, the resolution "calls on the military in power to commit themselves forthwith to a timetable for the restoration of the democratic institutions in cooperation with the political forces".
The resolution demands the immediate release from house arrest of President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, Prime Minister Yahya Ahmed el-Waghef and other members of the government. According to the EP, a solution to the crisis will require "full respect for the constitutional legality of the powers of the President and the parliament". Any adjustment to the balance between executive and legislature must take place in the framework of the constitution and "following a large-scale debate including all political forces".
The international community's role
MEPs back the African Union's efforts to seek a rational solution to the crisis. However, they note that the people of Mauritania will need aid as they are already severely affected by the economic and food crises. They call on the Commission "to implement the support projects for civil society under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights".
A freeze on EU aid?
At the same time, the Commission is urged "to engage in a political dialogue, pursuant to Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement". Should it not succeed, Parliament calls for "the reactivation of Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement", which could lead to the freezing of aid, excluding food and humanitarian assistance. The resolution calls for Parliament to be kept informed by the Commission and also for an EP delegation to be sent as soon as possible to Mauritania.
During the debate preceding the vote, External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told the House that on 2 September the Commission had formally initiated the process requiring consultation with Mauritania under Article 96, the first step towards possible suspension of aid.
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Hangings in Iran
Parliament returns once again to the high level of executions in Iran, especially of juveniles, and urges the authorities to change their policy and legislation on this matter.
The resolution, which notes that notes that 29 simultaneous executions took place in Evin prison in Tehran on 27 July 2008, "strongly condemns the growing number of executions, and urges the Iranian authorities to establish a moratorium on the death sentence with a view to abolishing the death penalty in accordance with the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 2007".
Execution of juveniles
In particular, Parliament is "profoundly saddened at the recent execution of several juvenile offenders in Iran, making Iran the only country in the world where this grave and inhumane punishment is still practised in 2008".
MEPs call on the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Sharoudi, "to systematically commute all death penalties for juvenile offenders". A number of individual cases are cited. The Majlis (Iranian parliament) is asked "to urgently amend legislation in order to ensure that no-one is executed for a crime committed when less than 18 years of age". The resolution also backs efforts in Iran to introduce a separate legislative and court system for juvenile offenders.
Backing for human rights defenders, condemnation of stoning
MEPs condemn "the persecution and imprisonment of citizens in Iran who engage in the defence of human rights and campaign against the death penalty, and are frequently charged with 'activities against national security' ". Here too, individual cases are cited.
While welcoming the recent announcement of the suspension of stoning as a means of execution, the EP voices concern that in the penal code reform currently before the parliament, stoning for certain forms of adultery is being maintained. It calls for "the full abolition of stoning".
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Killing of albinos in Tanzania
Parliament is shocked at reports that a number of albino people have been killed in Tanzania. While welcoming the swift response so far from the Tanzanian authorities, MEPs call for further steps to be taken, and for the EU to give support. This resolution was adopted by roll-call vote, with 93 votes in favour, 0 against and 0 abstentions.
According to NGOs and media reports, confirmed by the Government of Tanzania, at least 25 albinos, including children, have been killed and mutilated since March 2008 in the Lake Victoria region. Belief in witchcraft is also a problem there, and according to the Tanzanian authorities the killings of albinos are the work of organised gangs hired by witch-doctors. They sell severed body parts and blood from albinos to miners and fishermen, who believe that these parts can bring them luck, health and fortune.
Action by Tanzanian authorities
In its resolution, Parliament strongly condemns the killings and the speculative trading in their body parts. It welcomes the promise by Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete of concentrated efforts to end these crimes and his decision to nominate Ms Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer as the first albino member of parliament. Steps taken by the government are also welcomed but the EP endorses a call by Tanzanian MPs for more to be done.
The resolution "calls on the Tanzanian authorities, local government authorities and civil society in general to collaborate in order to protect all albinos", it "urges the Tanzanian Government to undertake immediate action, promoting social awareness and providing information related to albinism" and it "considers that such measures should particularly be implemented in rural areas, where people tend to be less educated and more superstitious".
Arrests of suspects, but threat to investigating journalist
The arrest last month of 173 suspects in connection with the killing of albinos is welcomed but the EP "notes with regret that an investigative journalist, Vicky Ntetema, has gone into hiding after receiving death threats for exposing witch-doctors and police involvement in the killings". It urges the authorities to investigate.
EU support for local efforts to protect albinos
Turning to what outsiders might do to help, MEPs urge the European Commission to support the work of the Albino Association of Tanzania, including the latter's call on academics, religious leaders and human rights activists "to make the public aware that the killing of albinos is socially and morally unacceptable".
More generally, the resolution calls on the Commission and Member States to support the efforts of the Tanzanian Government, NGOs and civil society to formulate policies to address the needs and rights of albinos, promoting non-discrimination and access to employment.