June 27, 2012
The Council of the European Union adopted on the 25 of June 2012 the long awaited and delayed “Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy”. The Framework sets out principles, objectives and priorities, all designed to improve the effectiveness and consistency of EU policy towards third countries as a whole in the next ten years. They provide an agreed basis for a collective effort, involving EU Member States as well as the EU Institutions and has been proceeded by months of efforts.
According to the document the EU should focus in the coming years into the following subjects: death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, human rights dialogues, children and armed conflicts, human rights defenders, promoting and protecting the rights of the child, violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them, promoting compliance with International Humanitarian Law. Under the EU Action Plan, work is due to start on: freedom of religion and belief, rights of LGBT and freedom of expression.
The EU will use different instruments to promote human rights, particularly via the human rights focal points in EU delegations (which are already into place in 116 EU delegations). Human rights clauses will be incorporated in agreements with third countries, such as Association Agreements and Partnership and Cooperation Agreements. The clause aim would be to guarantee that human rights constitute an essential element of the agreement.
The EU will continue to conduct dedicated human rights talks, which are now conducted with nearly 40 countries around the globe. Their aim is to acquire knowledge on the local situation and conditions and to improve the situation on the ground. The EU would also use the diplomatic procedures of public declarations and “demarches” to put across its concerns or to welcome positive developments. The EU will also focus on crisis management missions and operations, as well as electoral assistance and observation missions.
The EU will establish in the near future a private law Foundation, with its headquarters in Brussels in order to make it easier and faster for prodemocracy activists to obtain financial support from Europe. The European Endowment for Democracy will act as an independent instrument. The EU will also publish yearly EU annual reports.
In order to contribute to implementation of the Strategic Framework and the Action Plan, the High Representative has proposed the appointment of an EU Special Representative on Human Rights. The aim of this is to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of EU human rights policy. For reasons of continuity, an initial appointment of 2 years has been proposed. The Representative should have a broad, flexible mandate, giving the ability to adapt to circumstances, and should also work closely with the EEAS, which will provide full support. The Strategic Framework highlights the need to cooperate with civil society and establish channels of mutual cooperation.
The general character of the Strategic Framework and the Action Plan may become its strength, as it implies flexibility in the actions undertaken by the EU and member states.
The adoption of the Strategic Framework and Action plan is not the end, it is rather the beginning of a multiannual struggle to implement its provisions and to use the most effective instruments in response to the newly arising challenges. Given the EU’s elaborated rhetoric’s in the human rights field, its adherence to democratic standards is a factor measuring its strength on the international scene. Therefore, the accomplishment of the rather ambitious Strategic Framework and Action Plan by the EU may built its credibility in the eyes of partners. However, human rights policies in third countries should go hand in hand with improving the democratic standards domestically.
Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, “Europe of Human Rights”
Author : Europe of Human Rights