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10th Apr 2020

Magazine

Six priorities for human rights

The European Union has yet to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights - despite a treaty obligation to do so under Lisbon.

In his farewell speech in September, Thorbjorn Jagland, the now former secretary general of the Council of Europe, said it is still not possible to hold the European Union to account, should it violate the convention.

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With that in mind, ongoing efforts are being made at the European Parliament to scrutinise how the EU implements human rights policy. Among them is the sub-committee on human rights, chaired by centre-left Belgian MEP Marie Arena (S&D).

Despite having four vice-chairs hailing from different political groups, Arena says the internal dynamics are so far smooth. All have agreed to cluster their priorities around six big themes for the next two-and-a-half years.

"I think the most difficult part will be finding the ways to reach our objectives, and not the objectives themselves - which puts us up to a very good start in my opinion," she told EUobserver.

Behind the scenes, the committee's coordinators will be working to align the effort.

The centre-right has Isabel Wiseler-Lima (EPP, Luxembourg) as its coordinator, the socialists Isabel Santos (S&D, Portugal), the liberals' Irina von Wiese (Renew Europe, UK),the greens Germany's Hannah Neumann (Green, Germany), the conservatives Karol Karski (ECR, Poland), and the far-left Miguel Urbán Crespo (GUE, Spain).

The areas are vast. At the top of the list is the environment and climate change, core issues that have galvanised a global movement led by the Swedish 16-year old, Greta Thunberg.

The committee will also focus in on business and human rights, minorities and freedom of religion, civil society, migration, and new technologies.

Other big topics like childrens' rights, women's rights, indigenous peoples' rights plus legal impunity will be addressed as cross-cutting issues.

The sub-committee's objective for the upcoming years is to ensure that the EU's action on the international scene is guided by the same principles that inspired its creation, according to Arena, as she lists democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms as examples.

"My wish is to be able to do so without aggravating the situation in countries that are facing threats to their fundamental rights," she said.

Turkey's crackdown on opposition and journalists, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, activists pressing for women's rights in Iran, are all difficult cases.

But the wider backlash against civil society and human rights also poses challenges within the EU itself - as Hungary puts the squeeze on migration, and Poland undermines the rule of law.

"If we are able to promote fundamental values and see concrete signs of improvement, even if just on one case or one region, that would be the greatest achievement in my opinion," Arena said, when asked for her hopes for over the coming five years.

This article first appeared in EUobserver's latest magazine, Who's Who in European Parliament Committees, which you can now read in full online.

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