Delegation of the European Union to India and Bhutan

FRAME project |"Fostering Human Rights among European policies"| Opening remarks by Minister-Counsellor Cesare Onestini

New Delhi | 31 January 2017, 07/02/2017 - 06:41, UNIQUE ID: 170207_11
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FRAME India Colloquium "Fostering Human Rights among European policies" Opening remarks by Minister-Counsellor Cesare Onestini (following the opening speech by Professor Jan Wouters)

  • It is a pleasure to be here today; the European Union is supporting the FRAME project overall and has actively contributed to the study by interviews both in Europe and here in India as well as in the other countries examined.
  • Generally, EU institutions enjoy a close working relationship with researchers.
  • The EU's approach to the promotion and protection of human rights world-wide remains open to constructive criticism and are in constant evolution. Interaction with scholars and seminars like today's meeting help us to fine-tune and improve our working methods and also our projection. Before elaborating on a few of features of the current approach to the EU's human rights dialogues let me lay out a few facts:
  • The EU-India Human Rights Dialogue is an important feature of the bilateral relationship and the most recent Summit in March 2016 reaffirmed this.
    • "Both sides underscored the importance they attach to human rights cooperation and expressed their intention to continue dialogue and enhance interaction in international fora, in particular the U.N. General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council."

"The leaders highlighted the need for efforts to ensure gender equality and respect for women and girls’ human rights, fight against gender-based violence, and promote their empowerment in all spheres of life."

  • Agenda for Action 2020: Human Rights

"Reaffirm commitment to the EU-India Human Rights Dialogue as a key tool to promote shared human rights values and forge mutual understanding within the Strategic Partnership. Discuss Human Rights issues including cooperation in multilateral fora in the EU-India political dialogue."

 

  • The strong EU commitment to advancing the promotion and protection of human rights globally has often been underlined. It can be traced back to the EU's own history and identity. It is a treaty obligation of Constitutional nature and an important area of foreign policy.
  • What needs to be well understood in this context is that this policy is grounded in the international human rights framework developed by all countries together at the United Nations, and entrusted to UN human rights mechanisms and independent treaty monitoring bodies and special rapporteurs. Their work constitutes an important source of information for the EU; and the EU often picks up their findings and recommendations in our human rights dialogues with partner countries.
  • In these opening remarks there is not enough time to interact with the fascinating debate whether this body of reference is truly universal or Western dominated. But let me stress that except for South Africa the other countries covered by the study before us participated in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the "mother document" of all international human rights law. Let me also recall that the world owes the Indian representative the important neutral formulation of the equality article – Hansa Mehta, who served in the Indian constituent assembly from 1946-1949 and in the UN Human Rights Commission when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, insisted that the original draft which read "All men are born free and equal" was changed to "All human beings are born free and equal."
  • Moreover, the EU holds bilateral human rights dialogues and consultations with over 40 partners, including also its closes allies. In addition the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis effectuates multiple missions to our partner countries. 
  • These dialogues always cover issues of mutual interest, including concerns regarding the situation of human rights in the partner country and the EU alike, as well as advancing human rights together worldwide, both by cooperating in the United Nations human rights fora and with or in regional organisations, current challenges and developments. 
  • Again, the EU's stated concerns with a specific human rights issue would be firmly anchored in the country's international human rights obligations.
  • At the same time, notably in areas of priority for the EU human rights policy, for instance the elimination of all forms of torture, ill-treatment and degrading treatment as well as the abolition of the death penalty, we try to encourage joining major international treaties.
  • When discussing, and I can assure you that similar to contacts with other strategic partners what we seek with India is to discuss and compare notes on solutions to common problems as equals. Dialogues are meant to be two-way exchanges that offer parties opportunities to ask questions and learn from each other. On our part, in recent years we have worked on compiling more information on topics commonly raised with the EU so as to be in a better position to reply to queries that concern the areas of work of the European Commission not present during the dialogue or EU Member States. We both have an interest to ensure presence of experts in order to have an in-depth discussion.
  • To note that the EU has expertise in many fields that the Indian government has identified as their own current priorities so that sharing and discussing this expertise may be supportive to the government's efforts. For instance, EU policies and legislation on women advancement and gender equality, for instance in the areas of violence against women, promoting women's paid employment/closing the gender pay gap, women's participation in board rooms, parental leave/child care etc.
  • Moreover, there are many new challenges in which we all seek effective and human rights-abiding solutions, and it would be helpful and functional for us as major partners to compare notes. A current example is preventing online radicalisation while safeguarding freedom of expression online. Another important area of work in which for instance EUSR Lambrinidis invests much sincere effort would be Business and Human Rights, a subject that all serious world powers and export nations need to deal with somehow if they are not to fall behind. A number of EU countries have gained valuable experience with the development of National Action Plans which we would be glad to share.
  • In addition, let me briefly turn to the EU's human rights work in multilateral fora in which we have always been active and on which we developed in recent years when the EU changed its arrangement for external representation at the United Nations.
    • Given India's global role and membership of important United Nations' bodies on human rights or related to human rights (Human Rights Council in Geneva, NGO Committee in New York) we would deem it very natural to have close exchanges on respective priorities and positions and hope also over time to be able to develop joint activities.
    • With other strategic partners, for instance Brazil and South Africa, we have co-organised events at the UN on subjects of mutual interest (for instance anti-torture, against racial discrimination) and it would be a pleasure to do like-wise with India.
    • While contacts in Geneva and New York are very constructive, it would still be important to have an interface for the capitals to discuss the strategy together, to India as Human Rights Council member this might also be useful.
  • In conclusion I'd like to point to the opportunity that today's exchanges provide us: revisiting the actual impediments to dialogue but also the commonly held assumptions on each side's motivations and attitudes that might help us to finally overcome them.
  • Our vision and objective is that, in the future, the EU and India have a more regular, productive and mutually satisfactory interaction on human rights which we as the world largest democracies who cherish multilateralism and a rule-based world order have both committed to advancing.

 

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