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The EU needs to take leadership role in UNHRC

Newsletter: "EU News" 
30 September 2008

The EU needs to take leadership role in UNHRC

By Jonathan Wilson
with Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l

HRWF (30.09.2008)/ Website: http://www.hrwf.netEmail: info@hrwf.net – MEP Laima Liucija Andrikiené (EPP-ED/ Lithuania) presented her report on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to the European Subcommittee on Human Rights in the European Parliament on Thursday the 25th of September. Growing division in the UNHRC was discussed as well as the importance of the EU taking on a leadership role.

MEP Andrikiené began her report by outlining some of the basic weaknesses of the new UNHRC and UPRs. According to MEP Andrikiené, the UNHRC has yet to make much progress in the field of advancing human rights. The UNHRC has failed to address key human rights issues around the world and is suffering from growing division as members split off into regional blocs. With the absence of the USA, MEP Andrikiené emphasized the need for the EU to take an active leadership role in the UNHRC but admitted that divisions within the EU into Western European and East European blocs was limiting its ability to do so.

As for the UPR, MEP Andrikiené regretted the non-binding nature of the reviews and noted that political alliances have served to shield some countries from more pointed criticism. Such as was the case with Tunisia, whose interactive session was filibustered by friendly states preventing any critical and far reaching comments into the human rights situation there. Furthermore, NGOs cannot be directly involved in the state reviews.

MEP Andrikiené advocated the importance of the EU in taking a leadership role as the bloc with the most solid human rights record. But she also pointed out the EU needs to make its self more visible and effective through a clear long time strategy and agenda, clear benchmarks in measuring progress in human rights, and by strengthening independent and effective human rights mechanisms; especially safeguarding the office of the High Commission.

MEP Marco Cappato (ALDE/ Italy) argued that the EU needed to listen to what other blocs are saying in order to improve the EU’s role in the UNHRC. He also commented on the EU’s need to be more proactive in human rights especially in the case of Israel and Palestine. The EU also has its own issues to address such as immigration and integration to which it often does not have ready answers.

He also commented on the positive effects of the UPR and reminded the Subcommittee that even though the UPR recommendations are not binding, states have taken them seriously and committed themselves to carrying out recommendations. The UPR also represents progress towards the universality of human rights; the idea of human rights as a western interference is lessening. MEP Cappato felt that it was important for the EU to evaluate policy decisions made by states and to reinforce positive policy decisions.

MEP Cappato acknowledged that the EU has had issues with human rights but also felt that this was an unacceptable reason to not aim for a leadership role in the UNHRC. He offered the idea of shifting the blocs away from region and creating a bloc of democratic nations. “The EU and member states should be open to criticism and should get their own house in order,” he said. As to the UNHRC, MEP Cappato agreed that all, even the worst dictator, should be able to speak, but that only states open to observation should be allowed to vote. He also called for the EU to be more specific and shift the focus from blocs to caucuses with specific goals. MEP Raimon Obiols i Germá (PSE/ Spain) told the Subcommittee that in the future, “We will have to bear in mind that the issue of human rights is more important than the council itself and that the EU should take specific stances on issues.”

Human Rights Without Frontiers Int'l 
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Newsletter: "EU News" 
The EU needs to take leadership role in UNHRC
30 September 2008 
Editor-in-chief: Willy Fautré
Email: info@hrwf.net