Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

(Brussels) – The European Union and its member states compromised core human rights values in responding to the multiple challenges facing the bloc in 2016, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017.

Human Rights Watch highlighted developments in 10 EU member states and union-wide developments on migration and asylum, discrimination and intolerance, terrorism and counterterrorism, and EU foreign policy.

“Faced with major challenges in 2016 – including migration and Brexit – European Union governments and institutions regrettably retreated from core rights values,” said Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In 2017, the world needs the EU to put human rights values back at the heart of its policy responses.”

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

The EU as a whole failed to show leadership and solidarity in the face of the largest global displacement crisis since World War II. EU policies focused primarily on preventing arrivals and outsourcing responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees to other regions.

Attacks in Belgium, France, and Germany, many claimed by the Islamic State, together killed scores of people and injured hundreds more. The attacks prompted or reinforced problematic measures and proposals in EU countries in ways that compromise human rights, including through expanded police and surveillance powers, strengthened intelligence cooperation, and revoking dual citizenship of terrorism suspects. There was virtually no progress on accountability for complicity by EU governments in CIA abuses during counterterrorism operations.

The ongoing refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks reinforced xenophobic, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant sentiment. These developments were manifested in attacks on Muslims, migrants, and those perceived as foreigners, and support for populist anti-immigration parties in many EU states. Anti-Semitism remains a serious concern.

The EU’s foreign policy agenda was dominated by the conflicts in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and the relationship with the Russian government as a result of Moscow’s involvement in these conflicts.

Country-specific developments in the EU highlighted by Human Rights Watch include Poland’s constitutional court crisis; Hungary’s abusive border policies; the negative impact of the state of emergency in France, the rash of hate crimes in the UK after the Brexit vote, and the deteriorating conditions for asylum seekers on the Greek islands.