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EU: Respond to Parliament on Rights

Move from Pledges to Action

(Brussels) - The European Union's High Representative, Catherine Ashton, should ensure that the new EU diplomatic service is equipped to carry out the EU's commitments on human rights and international law, Human Rights Watch said today.


The European Parliament called on the EU High Representative on December 16, 2010, to make certain that the new foreign policy structure mirrors the EU's stated commitment to human rights and ensures effective, professional, and consistent implementation at the highest levels.

"This is an extremely important moment for the EU for making institutional, policy and personnel choices," said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. "To step up the defense of human rights worldwide, the EU needs to get the structures right and for Ashton to move beyond nice sounding human rights pledges to action."

In its Annual Report on Human Rights in the World 2009, adopted in Strasbourg on December 16, the European Parliament unequivocally called on Ashton to set up a human rights and democracy directorate within the European External Action Service (EEAS) and to appoint high-level EU Special Representatives for human rights, international justice and international humanitarian law, women's rights, children's rights, and human rights defenders.

Among other important recommendations, the European Parliament urged Ashton to establish a Brussels-based EU Council Working Group on human rights (COHOM).

Over the past year, Ashton has made a public commitment  to mainstream human rights in all areas of the EU's foreign policy, stating that EU human rights policy will "run like a silver thread" through all EU external action.

"The EU High Representative's commitment to mainstream human rights is a positive first step but that will only succeed if Ashton establishes a dedicated human rights and democracy directorate within the European foreign service," Leicht said. "And as a start, she should appoint a high level EU Special Representative on human rights."

Human Rights Watch strongly supports the European Parliament's ambitious recommendations for EU Special Representatives for human rights. While stressing that they should be expert-level appointees, the Parliament's report also highlights the important role the EU Special Representatives would play as "the focal points for internal guidance, expertise and advocacy, and the logical interlocutors for third countries and other non-EU actors."

 "It is clear that the EU High Representative can't be everywhere or be the expert on everything," Leicht said.  "Dedicated EU Special Representatives on various aspects of human rights would be the much needed high-level faces and voices to shape the EU's external policies on human rights, whether these relate to common foreign policy, common security and defense policy (CSDP), trade, development or humanitarian assistance."

Human Rights Watch supports the European Parliament's recommendation for the EU High Representative to establish a Brussels-based EU Working Group on human rights (COHOM) that would include human rights experts from all 27 EU member states.

"The reality is that EU commitments to human rights will remain empty pledges unless EU member states' permanent representatives in Brussels are regularly involved in discussing EU human rights policy," Leicht said. 

Human Rights Watch called on EU member states to work with the EU High Representative and to consider themselves stakeholders in EU human rights efforts.

"With the Lisbon Treaty, the EU High Representative and EU member states are joined at the hip and they have to make it work," Leicht said. "For the EU High Representative to have an impact in the world, she has to be seen as having the full support of the 27 member states." 

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