The day before the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Russian Government published a report on the human rights situation in the EU. The report is the first of its kind. It pursues the aim first presented in October this year when Russia released a report on the human rights situation in the US. Not by coincidence, the European report was published just a couple of days after the EU-Russia human rights dialogue conducted by the European External Action Service. Dialogues are a mechanism of mutual briefings on the situation of human rights, used not only by the EEAS, but also more and more often by the European Commission Enlargement Directorate. Moreover, the EU-Russia summit is scheduled for 21st December 2012. All of these events point to the conclusion that the publication of the report was carefully planned.
The report presents a rather negative assessment of human rights in Europe, particularly pointing to “a steady growth of xenophobia, racism, violent nationalism and neo-Nazism, violation of rights of minorities, prisoners, refugees, migrants, and persons with mental illnesses, lack of protection of children, gender inequality, violation of privacy, abuse of power by the police, a number of EU countries harboring CIA black sites, the situation as to the freedom of mass media, which is far from perfect, and the infringement of social rights of citizens”. Based on these findings the overall situation of human rights in the EU has been qualified as “increasingly deteriorating”.
The report describes the human rights situation in different Member States, and also deplores the EU’s incapability to effectively respond to those violations. The main accusation towards the EU is the prolonged failure to accede to the European Convention of Human Rights (to which Russia is a part), as well as the increasing anxiety of European citizens towards its activity. The lack of attention to the human rights situation constituted the main reproach. The EU, active in human rights promotion outside its borders, seems to be lacking a sufficient institutional framework to guarantee the proper protection to its citizens or persons residing in the EU.
However, analyzing the report we see that the violations highlighted are mostly occasional, whereas looking at the Russian human rights situation, some major structural and institutional deficiencies could be pointed out. Lack of democratic elections, massive NGOs and human right defender restrictions or the lack of a proper investigation into the Chechen disappearances during the war (pointed out by the European Court of Human Rights) are only a few examples. Moreover, if we look at the context and the moment in which it has been published, it becomes clear that the report had a political function to play.
Is this report scandalous? If taken seriously, every report pointing out human rights deficiencies can have an added value and can push forward changes in the standard of protection in Member States. The report itself seems a rather complex compilation of reports and findings from European NGOs as well as European Parliament resolutions. However, lack of clear methodology and missunderstanding of some basic notions can be observed. It also enables the realization that the EU has no monopoly in singling out human rights violations in neighboring countries (e.g. in European Parliament resolutions or bilateral talks). But after all, wasn’t the EU human rights strategy based on friendly dialogue with neighboring countries? Conducting such a policy, the EU should have been conscious of the possible drawbacks.
Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, “Europe of Human Rights”