'Double standards' no reason not to talk about human rights, says new envoy
The EU's first ever special representative for human rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, has promised to "increase the visibility, the coherence and the effectiveness of EU human rights policy" on the world stage despite tension with EU trade policies.
He described himself to MEPs on Monday (3 September) as the face of EU human rights policy implementation, "its telephone number, and its facilitator."
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A former European Parliament vice-president and Greek minister of foreign affairs with a background in civil rights law, Lambrinidis said his mandate would not include human rights abuses in EU member states.
He also acknowledged that advancing human rights in the world would be more difficult where double standards occur - the EU has trade agreements with several countries where rights are not respected.
"This [double standards] is not an argument or an answer against not applying human rights in other countries. In fact, to be able to discuss openly some of these issues is extremely lacking in many countries and this is unacceptable," he said.
Human rights, repeated Lambrinidis, are either at the root of many conflicts or a fundamental element of their solution.
Among his more pressing concerns is the current crisis unfolding in Syria, but also how to prevent human rights crises from developing in the first place.
Speaking in broad terms on his mandate and perceived working relationship with the EU institutions, member states, and other human rights bodies, Lambrinidis said the dialogue on human rights with countries like China and Russia needs to be moved up to the highest political levels to become more effective.
"I am not in favour of talking for simply talking. But talking here is extremely important," he noted.
Merely addressing concerns, themes, and the plight of individuals is not enough, said Lambrinidis, whose mandate runs until 30 June 2014.
He said experiences with the Greek dictatorship as a child between 1967 and 1974 had left an indelible impression upon him. Both his parents worked in defence of human rights.
Appointed by EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Asthon on 25 July, Lambrinidis will help put in place the EU's overarching human rights framework, adopted by member states on 25 June.
The framework aims to introduce some coherency on human rights across EU policies.