21st Oct 2016

EU to create new human rights envoy

The EU will beef up its foreign affairs team within weeks by hiring a Special Representative for Human Rights (EUSR), according to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.

Ashton spoke on Tuesday (12 June) in the European Parliament in response to a recommendation by MEPs on the foreign affairs committee to create the post.

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The envoy is to represent the EU in international discussions and be expected to engage with the UN, to chair high-level human rights dialogues and to lead consultations with third countries on human rights issues, the committee says.

The post is to be created by EU foreign ministers on 25 June as part of a wholescale "human rights review."

MEPs have been calling for an EU post focusing on human rights since 2010. They also want the nominee to appear at a hearing of the foreign affairs committee before taking up office.

The EUSR would report to Ashton and work closely with her service on the model of existing EUSRs for conflict hotpsots, such as Afghanistan or Kosovo, or issues such as the Middle East peace process and Arab Spring fall out.

Parliament on Wednesday endorsed Spanish centre-right MEP Jose Salafranca's blueprint for the job.

It says the new envoy should have "a strong, independent and flexible mandate" which should "reflect EU human rights policy and cover areas that include strengthening democracy, international justice, humanitarian law, abolition of the death penalty, freedom of expression, gender issues and children and armed conflict."

They will be appointed for an initial two and a half year term, renewable once.

Ashton on Tuesday paid "credit to parliament for championing this idea" and said it now commands "broad consensus across the political spectrum."

"I am looking for somebody with an established track record, real experience in human rights and strong understanding of European Union policy," she said.

Some MEPs expressed concern about the cost of the envoy, however. The European Commission still has to produce information on the new official's precise tasks and size of the secretariat that will be available to them.

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