Human Rights & Democracy

Human rights/Democracy: Speech by HR/VP Josep Borrell at the European Parliament on the Annual report 2018 on human rights and democracy in the world and the EU's policy on the matter

Brussels, 15/01/2020 - 21:42, UNIQUE ID: 200115_7
HR/VP speeches

Human rights/Democracy: Speech by HR/VP Josep Borrell at the European Parliament on the Annual report 2018 on human rights and democracy in the world and the EU's policy on the matter

Strasbourg, 14 January 2020


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Madam President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, 


Once again, I have to thank the European Parliament for its continued monitoring of the human rights and democracy situation across the world. Today I have to welcome your comprehensive Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the Worldwhich provides many useful recommendations. Thank you to the Rapporteur, Isabel Wiseler-Lima, for her work. 


I have to start saying that human rights and democracy are and must remain at the heart of our work, it is part of our DNA. At the very first Foreign Affairs Council meeting I chaired in December [2019], we discussed with all EU Foreign Ministers our collective efforts to protect and promote human rights and democracy, taking into account the worrying trends including shrinking space for civil society and increasing attacks on Human Rights Defenders. The Ministers agreed on the political appropriateness of establishing an EU global human rights sanctions regime. Work on this is being taken forward in the Council and we hope to move forward as quickly as possible. This global human rights sanctions regime is one of the targets, purposes, objectives that we have all together to try to get as soon as possible. 


On my second day in office, I engaged with grassroots environmental human rights defenders from across the world at the EU-NGO Human Rights Forum focusing on how to build fair environment for the future. Many of these issues were already addressed in the EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy which was adopted in May last year. We delivered a streamlined and short report, using concrete, country-specific examples. We are fully aware of the strong interlinkages between the two reports. For the next EU Annual Report covering 2019, we are aiming at a timely adoption this spring. 


Your report calls for a more effective EU human rights foreign policy. It is a welcoming contribution to ongoing work on the new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. This will be roadmap, setting the EU level of ambition and priorities for the next five years. It will reflect the transition to a digital world and the changing geopolitical dynamics.


Human rights and democracy are and should continue being at the centre of our relations with third countries. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) is the largest financial instrument in the worlddedicated specifically to human rights and democracy.Payments worth €135 million were made under this flagship [programmein 2018. 


Let me give some examples. The 2018 global call for proposals led to the selection of 5 projects on LGBTI rightsfor a total amount of €70 millionThey cover difficult countries on this subject like Russia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and Peru. These projects supported capacity building of specialised NGOs and offer legal aid to victims of LGBTI-related human rights violations and to human rights defenders.


Beyond development cooperation, your report correctly points out that trade and economic policies should be linked to political dialogue and that human rights violations should be fully taken into consideration in any action that the European Union is undertaking. You are well aware of our human rights guidelines, the regular dialogues and strong public diplomacy. We had an EU Special Representative for Human Rights[Mr Eamon Gilmore] who has reached out to governments and civil society globally. His leadership has already raised considerably the profile of European Union human rights policy. 


In particular, the European Union has contributed to moving forward on the Rights of the Child. Together with the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), we tabled three resolutions on the rights of the child. Two were presented during the March session of the Human Rights Council – one concerned the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the second focused on empowering children with disabilities for the enjoyment of their human rights, including the right to inclusive education. 


Your report also correctly draws attention to the rising backlash against women’s rights worldwide. The EU remains strongly committed to the full enjoyment of human rights by allOur broad commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment is demonstrated in particular by ourSpotlight Initiative on ending violence against women and girls, signed in September 2017 in New York. This initiative is backed by a substantive €500 million investment over the period 2018-2024. 


Two pillars were implemented: the Latin American pillar against gender-motivated killing of women, and the Sub-Saharan pillar to prevent and eliminate sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices. This needs to remain at the forefront of our efforts particularly in view of the 25thanniversary of the World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration.


Your report welcomes the Council conclusions on democracyof last October and highlights the significance of transparent, inclusive and credible electionsI thank the Member States and also the Members of this Parliament who have joined our Election Observation Missions. The Election Observation Missions structure is a good example of how our institutions are working efficiently together. I don’t want to list all of those missions, but I want to mention some of them: El Salvador, Kosovo, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tunisia. I am sorry that we were not observing thelast elections in Bolivia. We are going to continue to follow our mandate and will continue to do such an important work in order to defend the basis of human rights, which is an efficient democracy. 


Mrs Rapporteur, I find in your work the same aim that the service that I have the responsibility for has to work together on this issue. 


Thank you very much for your work, I am sure I can now have more information about what you ask from the European External Action Service to defend human rights all over the world. Because you, European Parliamentarians and us, people working iour missions all over the world, are trying to fight for the same purpose. 


Thank you. 


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Closing remarks


Human rights is an endless issue. Let me start answering a very concrete question about our Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of belief outside the European Union [Mr Ján Figel]. President [of the European Commission, Jean-Claude] Juncker created the function and appointed Ján Figelin May 2016. He supports the implementation of the European Union guidelines on promoting and protecting freedom of belief as the name of his mandate says. 


He is engaged in visiting countries where the freedom of belief is at risk, engaging with national authorities and institutions, human rights organisations, religious leaders and communities. He participates in dialogues with them and promotes respect for diversity. He also serves as the special adviser to the Commissioner for development and cooperation [Jutta Urpilainen]. I will review the mandate of this Special Envoy and see how we can improve it, and what is the justification of this job. The subject requires someone to take care of it. I will learn more about it. Next time I will be able to provide more information.


The other big issue that has been raised is business and human rights. It is a big issue for sure. Someone has been saying Western consumers are very happy to consume goods; cheaper goods, without paying attention to how this lower cost has been obtained. Is it cheaper because the production procedure is more efficient or because the human rights of the workers are not respected as we require them to be respected in our economic system? The European Union is maybe the most engaged organisation in the world on this issue. To address human rights abuses, connected to the activities of business entities. We have binding schemes in areas, such as trade and diamonds, other conflict minerals, export control of torture goods and against trade of lethal injections and thework of children. I can give you examples of what we have been doing on some agreements with Asia Pacific, agreements for close cooperation on business and human rights in Asia where we have been investing more than €5 million on this program and we have a similar project ongoing in Latin America. 


But we need to do more. We need to build-up the necessary consensus and I do not have a mandate in order to work more on that. So I come to the right of initiative of the Parliament, you have it, use it, to help me in this task in which I am very much interested. But you have capacities, use these capacities. Because as you know, I am only the representative of a set of people who many times do not agree on every issue. In order to have a mandate it would be very useful if the Parliament uses its right of initiative in order to build a European Union binding treaty. I think this is a very important issue, maybe the most important one, worldwide. 

On the EU due diligence legislation: yes, we have called for further EU due diligence legislation during the previous mandate and some Member States such as France and the Netherlands have adopted their own national legislation but others have not. Once again, when you deal with a subject which is highly divisive, and you do not have an agreement among Member States, it is difficult to advance on something,even if you are strongly convinced that it is needed. Here again, we can build an alliance between the Parliament and the High Representative in order to push things that I myself will not have enough capacities to develop. I think this session could be a good start for working together in order to advance on human rights defence all over the world.  


Thank you. 


Link to audio:

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