Human rights and democracy: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate

(Source: EEAS)

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Ms President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Once again we have in front of us a very important report.

I welcome this report. And I thank the Rapporteur [Member of the European Parliament] Soraya Rodríguez and colleague MEPs who have contributed to it.

Unfortunately, 2021 will not be remembered as a positive year for human rights, democracy, or international humanitarian law. And 2022 has already started in a quite turbulent way.

As we stand here, in this Hemicycle in the beautiful town of Strasbourg, girls in Afghanistan are being prevented from going to school and human rights defenders are going to jail. In Belarus, political prisoners remain locked up and independent media repressed. In Myanmar, the military openly ignores the result of democratic elections and spurns the rule of law. In northern Ethiopia, a humanitarian emergency is happening before our eyes and human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law are widespread. Fundamental freedoms are being eroded in many parts of the world. Look for example, how in Russia they are trying to silence the ‘Memorial’ or the violation of the rights of the Uighurs and other minorities in China.

We are seeing a lot of attempts to reshape the core principles of human rights, democracy and multilateralism. And against this background, the European Union has the obligation to show leadership and to act. To act, what does it mean in practice? Well, let me cite how our Human Rights Defenders Protectors [Mechanism ‘ProtectDefenders.eu’], which has already supported nearly 53 000 human rights defenders at risk and their families since it was launched. Some will say: “keep this money in your pocket”. No, these 53 000 people will be very much thankful for our efforts. It is not enough, but it is quite important.

These mechanisms are enforced by our network of human rights focal points in our Delegations providing vital support to thousands of Human Rights Defenders. Last year, the European Union took again the lead in human rights fora to address the most pressing human rights situation in Belarus, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Ethiopia. With respect to climate change, [the European Union] presented the creation of a new Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights.

And then, do not forget, the [European Union] Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime is a landmark achievement that this Parliament was calling for. Thanks to this mechanism, we adopted restrictive measures targeting individuals and entities in China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea and Russia, including the case of Alexei Navalny and against the Wagner group and its members. I think these are important steps that have to be mentioned.

And, indeed, fighting impunity, strengthening the rule of law, and closing the accountability gap remains among our main priorities of our new financial framework: the new ‘Global Europe Instrument’ that will provide €80 billion in this seven years budgetary term, including a thematic programme on ‘Democracy and Human Rights’ that is key to help us to put our political priorities into action.

I do not want to forget citing the European Union Election Observation Missions as an integral part of our commitment to defend democracy and promote our values. We will soon be deploying new observation missions in Colombia, in Timor Leste and in Lebanon. I am thankful to the Members of Parliament who have been participating, will participate in these missions.

And finally, but not the least, let me mention the EU Gender Action Plan III. The third Gender Action plan. It is one of our most ambitious political priorities to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, and I hope to report progress in our next debates. Thank you for your cooperation. Thank you for the attention you paid, your work and I am looking forward to our exchanges.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-218175

Closing statement

Mr President, Honourable Members,

It is a pity that we do not have enough time to discuss, something as important as this report on human rights. Maybe it would be better not to put this report, this debate, at the same time as the two other reports on Security and Foreign Affairs, but the Parliament decides how to organise your work and it is not to me to consider doing that in another way.

But, believe me, today is an important day. We are discussing something that is very important. And there is some criticism, some members saying “words, words, words,” like Mr Glucksman. Maybe, I agree with you, that there are a lot of words, but you know, words also have a power. Not only the word of power, put the power of words. And when you do not have any other power, you have to use words. But not only words. We do some things. We do a lot of things. Do not dismiss what we are doing. Certainly, we have to do more, we have to gather all our efforts and to keep in touch with the private sector.

One of these days, soon, we will present a due diligence – you have been pushing for it. We will present that due diligence in order to make our firms, our entrepreneurs that are investing all around the world, to defend human rights in practical terms. Because when you put that small boy to work in a mine, you are engaging with human rights as much as when you do a ‘coup d’état’. It is not only political rights, there are also the socio-economics rights that are part, an integral part, of human rights. Be it about the COVID-19 pandemic, about media freedom, hate speech, all that counts. And I think that we have to step up the diplomacy and strategic communication to implement our human rights plan on defending democracy. This report contributes to this effort. I see that we have to continue joining forces with the United Nations to prepare communication material and engaging firms. As long as we don´t engage with the world of business to protect human rights, the socio-economic human rights would be very difficult and that’s why we are working with the due diligence that soon will make an important contribution to the practical concrete implementation of the fight against people who violate human rights.

Thank you.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-218177

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