Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Opinion

MEPs demand more from EU on human rights in Asia

  • Myanmar - led by Aung San Suu Kyi (pictured) - is a cause for concern, specifically the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority, which has had consequences for the whole region, particularly Bangladesh (Photo: Burma Democratic Concern (BDC))

Today, heads of state of 51 Asian and European countries will be in Brussels for a summit with the EU.

As members of the European Parliament, we denounce the fact that many countries around the table are major human rights violators. We are therefore calling the EU to wake up and demand more from its partners.

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For the past few years, the primacy of human rights has been put into question on the international stage.

A far-right and relativist movement has been increasingly successful in attacking the core values of the European Union.

Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 US presidential election is symptomatic of a dangerous trend that endangers the lives and rights of millions of people worldwide.

Multilateralism is challenged and international law is questioned.

Inside the EU, the challenges are similar; the far-right continues to gain ground; anti-immigrant and racist sentiments played a large part in the successful campaign for the UK to leave the EU; some member state governments are becoming illiberal and dictatorial; those who help refugees are prosecuted.

The EU does not seem to be realise that everything it stands for is falling apart.

As Europeans, we must take action and hold ourselves and our partners to the highest possible standards when it comes to human rights, democracy and rule of law.

Meanwhile, the situation in Asia continues to deteriorate whilst the EU remains passive.

For years, the European Commission has been proud to use trade as a powerful tool that can bring positive change in foreign countries.

However, current developments reveal a worrying trend in EU policy.

Vietnam

The human rights situation in Vietnam, for example, especially when it comes to freedom of assembly and expression, have consistently deteriorated since the beginning of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations.

The lack of free civil society, particularly in the field of labour rights, is extremely worrying.

Despite these developments, the EU is trying to speed up the FTA process, pushing for a swift implementation.

In countries under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) schemes, such as Pakistan and the Philippines, progress is often overshadowed by backwards steps in other fields.

If the EU wants to retain its position as a champion of human rights globally, it must use the tools it has to the fullest.

Real pressure is essential to achieve positive human rights outcomes.

We cannot reasonably expect the EU to have any credibility if, on the one hand, it presents trade deals as efficient ways to improve the situation and, on the other hand, it increases the legitimacy of oppressive regimes by signing FTAs with them.

China

The EU's reaction to the situation in China is also concerning.

The extent of the human rights violations currently taking place in the Xinjiang region calls for much more serious consequences from the international community.

The persecution and systematic imprisonment of one million people on the basis of their ethnic background constitutes a violation of unbelievable proportions.

NGOs have furthermore raised ongoing concerns over the detention and torture of human rights defenders.

Despite the gravity of the accusations against the Chinese state, the EU's response has been extremely weak.

We Europeans must join forces with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court to ensure that arbitrary detention stops and a thorough and independent investigation is conducted into these violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.

Philippines

In the Philippines, the far-right ideology of the current government and its consistent violations of human rights have not been met by the EU with a sufficiently firm response.

In Indonesia, LGBTIQ+ and disability rights are under attack, with very serious consequences for human rights defenders who face increasing danger due to their peaceful human rights activities.

Thailand's military regime continues to sink lower with the resumption of the death penalty after nine years of moratorium.

Cambodia faces tremendous issues in terms of land rights and harassment of human rights defenders.

Myanmar

Myanmar is also a cause for concern, specifically the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority, which has had consequences on the whole region, particularly in Bangladesh which is struggling to host hundreds of thousands refugees.

Cases of attacks against Bangladeshi human rights defenders have also been reported in the last few months, as part of the repression against peaceful student protesters.

We paint a bleak picture, but as committed members of the European Parliament, we believe the European Union can and should take real action to positively impact the global human rights situation. We believe member states must work together in an effort to defend our values.

We are fiercely committed to human rights, and unapologetically pro-European.

We demand from the European Commission and the member states that they embrace this identity with us. The EU's survival depends on it.

Joint declaration by MEPs Petras Austrevicius, Klaus Buchner, Ana Gomes, Jude Kirton-Darling, Ana Miranda, Julie Ward

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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