Universal and indivisible
Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the European Union. Embedded in its founding treaty, they have been reinforced by the adoption of a Charter of Fundamental Rights. Countries seeking to join the EU must respect human rights. So must countries which have concluded trade and other agreements with it. The European Union sees human rights as universal and indivisible. It therefore actively promotes and defends them both within its borders and in its relations with outside countries. At the same time, the EU does not seek to usurp the wide powers in this area held by the national governments of its member states. The focus of the Union’s human rights policy is on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It also seeks to promote the rights of women and of children as well as of minorities and displaced persons.
Beginning at home
Although the EU has, on the whole, a good human rights record, it is not complacent. It is fighting racism, xenophobia and other types of discrimination based on religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, and is particularly concerned about human rights in the area of asylum and migration. The Union has a long tradition of welcoming people from other countries – those who come to work and those fleeing their homes because of war or persecution.
Under its Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity (PROGRESS), the EU funds a wide range of activities to combat racism and xenophobia within its borders. Nearly one quarter of the €743 million budget of the PROGRESS programme for 2007 to 2013 is being devoted to combating discrimination. The EU has also created a Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).Efforts to stop trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, have become a political priority for the Union. It has run a series of cross-border programmes to fight against trafficking, particularly in cooperation with candidate countries and neighbours in south-eastern Europe.
A global force for human rights
The EU has gradually pushed the human rights issue to the forefront of its relations with other countries and regions. All agreements on trade or cooperation with third countries contain a clause stipulating that human rights are an essential element in the relations between the parties. There are now more than 120 such agreements. The most comprehensive is the Cotonou Agreement – the trade and aid pact which links the Union with 78 developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (the ACP group). If any ACP country fails to respect human rights, EU trade concessions can be suspended and aid programmes reduced or curtailed. The Union believes that poverty reduction, the main objective of its overseas development policy, will only be achieved in a democratic structure. The same actions apply to other partner countries. The EU’s programme of emergency humanitarian assistance around the world is not normally subject to restrictions because of human rights breaches. Its aid deliveries in cash, kind or technical assistance are decided with the sole aim of relieving human suffering whether the cause is a natural disaster or misrule by an oppressive regime. In recent years, the EU has maintained a human rights dialogue with countries like Russia, China and Iran. It has imposed sanctions for human rights breaches on Burma (Myanmar) and Zimbabwe. To promote human rights around the world, the EU funds the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights. The initiative, with a €1.1 billion budget for 2007-2013, puts respect for human rights and democracy into a global context and focuses on four areas:
- strengthening democracy, good governance and the rule of law (support for political pluralism, a free media and sound justice system);
- abolishing the death penalty in countries which still retain it;
- combating torture through preventive measures (like police training and education) and repressive measures (creating international tribunals and criminal courts);
- fighting racism and discrimination by ensuring respect for political and civil rights.
The initiative also funds projects for gender equality and the protection of children. In addition, it supports joint action between the EU and other organisations involved in the defence of human rights, such as the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.