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Statement by State Secretary Janez Lenarčič on behalf of the EU Council: Debate on the Annual Report on Human Rights in the World 2007 and Election Observation

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

I welcome the report by the MEP Cappato on the European Union Annual Report on Human Rights. The role of the Parliament in promoting respect for human rights across the world and your critical view are an important contribution to the endeavours of the European Union in this vital area

The Council will examine the report in detail. However, today I would like to respond to some of its key elements. Without a doubt, the report touches on the key challenges which the EU has been facing in the field of human rights.

We are pleased that the activities of the European Parliament are also reflected in the EU Report on Human Rights. Its chapter on the EP's activities acknowledges the significant role that this distinguished assembly plays in promoting respect for human rights in the world. The Council will continue its efforts for close cooperation with the Parliament in the future, in particular with the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights. We believe that future annual reports of these Committees will continue to reflect the endeavours of the European Parliament in this area.

The report calls for closer cooperation between the Council of Europe and the European Union, and I must say we agree that further progress remains possible in this area. Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Council of Europe and the European Union is of course significant. The European Union respects all endeavours of the Council of Europe to promote and protect human rights.

The European Union also remains a staunch defender of the UN Human Rights system. We therefore actively support independence for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and strive for the Human Rights Council to become effective in dealing with serious human rights violations all over the world.

The seventh session of the Human Rights Council, which took place in Geneva in March, was a success for the European Union: both its initiatives – renewal of the mandates of the Special Rapporteurs on human rights in Burma/Myanmar and in North Korea – were accepted. All initiatives presented by EU Member States were accepted as well. The European Union made a huge effort to renew the mandate of an independent expert for the Democratic Republic on Congo, but unfortunately was not successful. Among the positive outcomes of the session, a renewal of the mandate for defenders of human rights and women's rights should be mentioned.

In April, a new mechanism – Universal Periodic Review – was launched within the framework of the Human Rights Council. The EU considers it to be one of the key mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights. It is too early at this stage to make a true assessment of the functioning of the new mechanism. Although first impressions indicate that the Member States take it seriously and assume full responsibility, the constant attempts by some members of the Human Rights Council to dilute this mechanism are a cause for concern.

Besides this intensive work within the UN, in the last years attention has been focused on mainstreaming human rights across other segments of foreign policy. I would like to underline that this issue is at the top of the Slovenian Presidency's priority list. The Slovenian Presidency also supports all efforts of Mr Solana's Personal Representative for Human Rights, Ms Riina Kionka, in this area.

Allow me to touch upon a part of the report which urges updates to the European Union human rights guidelines. During our Presidency, 3 out of 5 thematic guidelines will be updated. Last week, the General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted the revised Guidelines on Torture. Next month, we expect a revision of the Guidelines on the Death Penalty to be concluded, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Guidelines. The Presidency has also been concluding a revision of the Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict. In this respect, it should be noted that this month the General Affairs and External Relations Council will approve a two-year review of implementation of the Checklist for the Integration of the Protection of Children affected by Armed Conflict into European Security and Defence Policy.

As regards the Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, your report invites the Member States to consider the possibility of issuing visas to such groups. Within the Council Working Group on Human Rights, the Presidency organized a discussion in April with a view to exchanging information on visa issuing practices. It seems that the discussion stimulated a number of Member States to explore, together with their Consular Departments, options to assist human rights defenders by issuing them with short-term visas. Furthermore, Member States supported the inclusion of a reference to this matter in the new Common Code on Visas.

The crucial aspect of the guidelines is their implementation in practice, which means monitoring the human rights situation and responding to violations through diplomatic demarches, issuing declarations, and raising this issue in dialogues.

Dear Members of the European Parliament,

One of the major objectives of European common foreign and security policy is to increase the respect for human rights in the world. With instruments such as joint measures and strategies, demarches and crisis management operations, the Union has endeavoured to strengthen the democratic process and improve the human rights situation in many countries. In this respect, human rights dialogues are of special importance. The EU has been leading talks with Iran, Uzbekistan, Russia, the African Union and China. Within the framework of the Cooperation Agreements which contain provisions on human rights, such dialogue also exists with other third countries. In that regard, I should mention that the next opportunity for a discussion on the situation in China will be as early as next week, on the 15th of May, when the next round of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue will take place in Ljubljana. I would also like to mention recent consultations with Russia, which were held in April.

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

I would also like to touch upon cooperation between the individual EU institutions in the protection and promotion of human rights. In the next few days, the Council will be drafting a reply to the letter from the EP President, Mr Pöttering, regarding interinstitutional cooperation on human rights dialogue. I can assure you that the Presidency has sufficient political will to further these relations.

By way of conclusion, I would like to welcome the report prepared by honourable MEPs De Keyser and Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra on EU election observation missions. EU election observation missions are an important element of EU policy for fostering democracy. They contribute to strengthening the democratic election process and assisting in developing democratic institutions. This month, elections are being held in many countries; the EU Council has been following them closely and will continue to do so. Within endeavours to deepen relations between the EP and the Council in the field of EU election observation missions, we have already prepared an exchange of views with those MEPs who have led observation missions. Reports from election observation missions make a significant contribution to shaping policy in this area. I believe that today's discussion will be useful in that regard as well.

Thank you.


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Date: 08.05.2008