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EU: European Parliament Calls For Tougher Action On Worldwide Human Rights

Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday debated a draft report on the bloc's human rights policy. The draft warns that the fight against terrorism must respect fundamental human rights. The report also calls for the stricter enforcement of human rights clauses in EU accords with third countries. Apart from terrorism, the document focuses on aspects related to reproductive health and the situation of disabled people in the world.

Brussels, 22 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The debate yesterday on the European Parliament's draft report on human rights highlighted growing concerns within the EU that fundamental freedoms and rights could become casualties in the fight against global terrorism.

The draft text condemns terrorism as "one of the most serious challenges" facing the international community. The fight against terrorism is said to be the highest EU priority. At the same time, the report cautions that it must take place within international law.

Speaking at the debate, Ireland's Europe minister Dick Roche also condemned terrorism and said it must be fought with all means available. However, he too warned that respect for human rights is a necessary precondition for the success of that effort.

"Yet in order to receive the widest possible support and to be successful in the long term, the fight against terrorism must be conducted in full respect of human rights, and in full respect of fundamental freedoms,” Roche said. “Fostering human rights should indeed become an integral part of any fight against terrorism. We must also address the causes of terrorism. To seek to understand the causes of terrorism should not be understood as being in any way soft on terrorism or on the terrorists. On the contrary, it is an essential step in the elimination of terrorism," Roche said.

Roche compared terrorism with a disease, saying the causes of terrorism must be addressed as well as its symptoms. Roche said hopes of solving terrorism by tackling its symptoms alone are "simplistic."

Another concern highlighted in the report -- and one which frequently surfaces in EU debates -- is the priority the EU places on human rights.

The report says the EU must address "more openly" human rights issues at meetings and summits with non-EU countries. Such discussions should also be fully reflected in any joint statements that may be issued.

The bloc's application of existing human rights clauses in agreements with other countries is condemned as "selective."

The European Parliament does not have any decision-making powers in EU foreign policy. But the report calls on the EU member states not to sacrifice human rights issues in favor of political, security, or economic concerns.

Irish Europe Minister Roche focused in his speech on the EU's record at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He listed a number of successful EU-sponsored resolutions condemning rights abuses in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and North Korea, as well as a motion criticizing Israel's security fence and settlement policy in the Palestinian territories.

Nevertheless, Roche noted a number of setbacks.

"A number of important EU initiatives have fallen,” Roche said. “This is in significant part due to the composition of the United Nations' Human Rights Commission. It also reflects the unwillingness of some regional groups to accept any condemnation of their members, and this has always struck me as one of the fatal flaws within the UN system. An initiative from the EU on Chechnya was defeated, and our resolution on Zimbabwe fell to a [competing motion] of no action."

Roche said the number of votes against the draft resolution on Chechnya had been "significantly higher" this time compared to last year.

Roche said a "more strategic" EU approach must be adopted.

The draft European Parliament report is particularly critical of the recent deterioration of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. China's increasing use of the death penalty and Internet restrictions also draws criticism. Human rights in Iran remain a concern as well.

The draft report describes reproductive health as a fundamental human right. It devotes much of its attention to the growing AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and notes that infection rates are on the increase in Russia as well.

The report says that although the main factor of transmission is increased drug use, there is also a sharp rise in mother-to-child transmission of the virus. The sexual spread of the virus is rising as well.

Addressing the rights of the disabled, the draft report calls for particular attention to be paid to combating anti-personnel mines. The document says that although the number of mine-producing countries has dropped sharply in the past few years, a number of major manufacturers -- including the United States, China, India, and Pakistan -- have yet to commit to the Ottawa treaty outlawing land mines.