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European Union: Human Rights Questions for Candidates

Questionnaire Seeks Rights Positions from Major Parties

A general view shows the plenary room of the European Parliament during a voting session in Strasbourg, France, May 20, 2015. © 2015 REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
(Brussels) – Candidates for the European Parliament should clarify their positions on key human rights issues at a time when respect for human rights and the rule of law are under attack from some European leaders, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch has sent a questionnaire to leading candidates from European political groupings running for election and plans to make the responses public ahead of the 23-26 May, 2019 polls.

“The human rights stakes are high and European citizens should know how candidates view those issues ahead of the elections,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope to see candidates commit to protect the rights and dignity of everybody living in the EU.”

The questionnaire, sent to lead candidates of six European groupings, urges them to state their positions on key human rights concerns. It includes questions on protecting the rule of law and democratic checks-and-balances in EU countries, addressing discrimination and inequalities, the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, counter-terrorism policies, and the place of human rights in EU’s foreign policy.

The six European groupings are the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists (ACRE), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE), the European Green Party (EGP), the European Left (EL), the European Peoples Party (EPP), and the Party of European Socialists (PES).

In May, Human Rights Watch will also release a series of videos in eight European languages highlighting the importance of human rights in the work of the European Parliament and urging European voters to think about human rights issues as they choose their future representatives in the European Parliament.

In recent years, several EU leaders have openly attacked democratic values, justifying policies that eroded the independence of court systems, and limited media diversity and the capacity of nongovernmental organizations to operate or receive funding. Populist political movements promoting agendas that weaken protection for women’s rights or the rights of LGBTI people gained ground in several national elections and exerted a growing influence on the EU’s political debates.

Despite manageable numbers of asylum seekers at EU’s external borders, the EU focus has been on closing those borders, with little attention to the growing death toll at sea, the humanitarian impact at some EU borders, and abuses against migrants in places like Libya. Although the EU remains a leading force in promoting human rights globally, its resolve has been challenged by security and migration concerns, and by the withdrawal of the United States from international human rights forums.

On many issues the European Parliament has proved to be an important body in defending democratic institutions and human rights. For example, in September 2018, it initiated a political sanction process against the decline of the rule of law in Hungary. It has also helped to build pressure to respond to the attacks on the court system in Poland and has convened debates on the situation in Romania. 

“We hope responses from the candidates help European citizens make informed choices about what their vote will mean for human rights,” Williamson said. “We believe that given the challenges ahead for the new European Parliament, human rights are key to Europe’s future.”

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