The gradual retreat of the death penalty round the world and progress on women's and children's rights are among positive developments noted in the EP's draft annual report on human rights for 2008. However, the EU could promote human rights more effectively, say MEPs. Another question is whether the EU always lives up to its own principles, for example when dealing with terrorism and immigration. The draft report was prepared by Raimon Obiols i Germà (PES, ES) on behalf of the EP's Human Rights Subcommittee andadopted today by the Foreign Affairs Committee by 41 votes to 1 with 5 abstentions.
Progress on death penalty but mixed results for international arrest warrants
On some issues there is cause for guarded optimism. The report welcomes the fact that overall "the death penalty is in retreat", although not in Iran, where its use has increased and where juveniles continue to be executed. China still carries out the greatest number of death sentences in the world but Belarus is pinpointed as "the only country in Europe that continues to use the death penalty".
More generally, China and Iran are among countries singled out for serious human rights abuses but the report also highlights problems in Russia, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and many other states. MEPs welcome the successful use of international arrest warrants in bringing to justice some individuals responsible for human rights abuses but note that such warrants have had mixed results in countries including Serbia, Sudan, Congo (DRC) and Uganda.
EU record on human rights not perfect
Reflecting criticisms that Europe applies its principles only where convenient, the report cites "Member States' practices in relation to the anti-terrorism policies" of the Bush Administration.It also says immigration policy represents a challenge to the credibility of EU human rights activities in the eyes of large segments of public opinion worldwide.
In addition, the report urges all EU Member States to ratify all UN and Council of Europe human rights conventions. For example, a number of Member States have failed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
Work of global and European institutions
MEPs give qualified approval to the work of the UN Human Rights Council, while noting that EU Member States are "in a minority position in the UNHRC" and calling for the EU to build alliances with countries that continue to defend "the universal and indivisible nature of human rights", in other words rejecting cultural relativism.
The drive in 2008 by the Slovenian and French EU presidencies to finalise guidelines on children's rights is a step forward but more needs to be done to protect children caught up in armed conflict.Similarly, women's rights, including violence against women, became a priority under the French presidency but there are still gaps in EU policies in this field.
MEPs believe that human rights defenders, whose own lives are often threatened, should be granted emergency visas more easily to enable them to take refuge in EU states.Overall, argues the draft report, the EU should use its combined weight to greater effect. Quantifiable indices and benchmarks need to be devised to measure the effectiveness of EU human rights policies. And the approaches to human rights of the Commission and Member States in their missions and embassies outside the EU should be harmonised.
30/03/2009 In the chair : Jacek SARYUSZ-WOLSKI (EPP-ED, PL) REF. : 20090330IPR52888
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