SPEECH OF MS HEIDI HAUTALA, CHAIR OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS SUBCOMMITTEE
AT THE OFFICIAL CEREMONY TO THE AWARDING OF DIPLOMAS TO THE STUDENTS OF THE EUROPEAN MASTERS PROGRAMME IN HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRATISATION
The European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC), Venice, 27 September 2009
Mr President, Rectors and Professors of the participating universities, Authorities of Italy, Veneto and Venice, ladies and gentlemen
I would firstly like to express my appreciation for the invitation to speak here today and to thank those who have already taken the floor for their kind and thoughtful words. For me this is a special honour, since I am the first chairperson of the EP Subcommittee on Human Rights to address this impressive annual ceremony.
During my rather many years in Parliament, national and European, some of my most rewarding moments have been in interaction with people from research, representing many disciplines. The world has become far too complex for the practitioners to act without good knowledge. Often I feel like a bird talking to ornitologists, but I realize that the need of an exchange of ideas is mutual. So even ornitologists like to try understand what it is like to fly, even to try to fly sometimes.
Having returned to the European Parliament in July after six years in the national parliament, I have realised the expectations in relation to human rights which the European Parliament has to live up to.
The ceremony here today takes place in a period of uncertainty as to the future constitutional structure of the European Union and there are many questions remaining as to who will occupy the key positions in the EU from the beginning of next year. We who work to promote human rights and democracy must now use the opportunity to influence the new architecture to make human rights a coherent and visible element of all of EU policies.
I’ve noticed in particular during this past few months the enormous interest in the work of the EP in this field. For those interested the meetings of our Subcommittee and the debates in the EP on human rights can be followed in real time through web streaming throughout the world.
By way of example, I would recall the ceremony in Strasbourg last December at which the 2008 Sakharov price was awarded to the Chinese AIDS activist and cyber-dissident Hu Jia. Through modern technology it was possible for the wife of the imprisoned Hu Jia to send a video message to the European Parliament which was broadcast on the internet at the same time as it was being projected in the Strasbourg plenary chamber.
It was a very emotional moment to watch her on the screen in a small meeting arranged in the European Commission and Parliament office in Helsinki. Namely, I had just a couple of months earlier made an attempt to bring her and their baby some food as they were kept in house arrest in the rather pleasant suburb called BoBo FREEDOM City. I was however stopped by the security police at the gate of the complex. It was incredible to see how much personal resources are used on the surveillance of this young woman and her child.
This in fact leads me to one subject that many people are now interested in, without going into detail here and now: the impact of new technology on human rights.
From my already innumerable meetings with key actors including representatives of NGOs I have gathered that in terms of influencing the European Union’s policies on human rights, the EP is certainly the key institution.
Parliamentarians of course have contacts of all kinds with other parliamentarians as well as with diplomats and the media. We can when necessary be diplomatic, but one of the great advantages of what is described as parliamentary diplomacy it is the opportunity it provides us to speak bluntly and openly. Our votes on resolutions concerning human rights take place in public. And the very fact that our Parliament contains a wide range of opinions strengthens the impact that it can have when its majority speaks out clearly.
Sometimes one needs to be discrete to save the life of a human rights defender, but often publicity is the only protection. This is what we thought of Anna Politkovskaya, too. The shock was great. Anna, whom I introduced to the European institutions in 2003, once said: “The West can do so much, but the West does so little.”
The European Parliament, through its numerous delegations with third countries has a continuous dialogue with parliamentarians from various countries and keeps the human rights issue high-up on the agenda.
As recommended by the EIUC study, parliamentarians participating in these meetings regularly raise human rights issues either concerning individual cases or more general issues such as death penalty and torture.
We work closely with the Commission and the Council and certainly I have every respect to the work they undertake in this field. The fact remains, however, that the Council of Ministers negotiates with third countries and holds its own meetings in private and therefore by definition is often more discrete than the Parliament.
I am still sometimes myself surprised how strong the resolutions of the Parliament can be, and you will guess that ambassadors of the addressed countries are lining behind our doors.
The Commission does a great deal to implement the seven EU Guidelines on Human Rights and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Unfortunately sometimes even EU ambassadors are irritated. I have recently encouraged the European Ombudsman, Mr. Nikiforus Diamandouros, to use his competence of monitoring good governance to look how well and how uniformly the EU missions and delegations throughout the world implement the Human Rights Guidelines of the EU.
The European Parliament is constantly involved in election observation activities. It is actually the only parliamentary institution that monitors elections in countries all over the world, although we cooperate sometimes with Parliamentarians from the Council of Europe and the OSCE when countries in our own neighbourhood are concerned. Due to its experience the Parliament is without any doubt a high-profile actor in this field.
As the right to free and fair elections stands at the core of each democracy, I consider the EP should maintain the same level of involvement in this area and should also provide a consistent follow up to its election observation activities.
Democracy promotion is therefore something in which our institution is increasingly active. We are also working to support the Swedish presidency in its efforts to adopt a common approach on democracy building, by strengthening the EU’s contribution to democracy promotion worldwide.
One of the delights of my new function has been to discover the EIUC and its remarkable work.
I would like to express my appreciation and the appreciation my colleagues for the quality of the studies which the EIUC has undertaken on behalf of the Human Rights Subcommittee.
The study made around four years ago concerning the impact of the EP work in the field of human rights remains extremely valuable in making the point that the EP has to become more coherent and professional in the way which it takes the common efforts in this field “beyond activism”, as the report was very appropriately entitled.
I will therefore continue the efforts of my predecessor Ms. Helene Flautre to ensure that all the resources of the EP are as far as possible linked to our common effort to advance the cause of human rights.
Our current President, Jerzy Buzek, himself a former political prisoner in Poland in the eighties, has already spoken out on a number of human rights issues such as the assassination of Natalia Estemirova and the extension of the house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi. In his programme speech to Parliament in September he rightly reminded us that
“the European Union is ….fundamentally about Human Rights, exactly for those rights that our forefathers perished, and who inspired us to create a common home. Building our internal and external policy, looking after the integration and enlargement of the Union, of our contacts and agreements, we must always bear those rights in mind.”
Another extremely valuable study commissioned by the Human Rights Subcommittee concerned the mainstreaming of HR into all EU policies. In fact I was very pleased to be able to put this study on the agenda of the Human Rights Subcommittee under my chairmanship. It provides an excellent reminder of the basic issues and opportunities that we are facing. In this study the excellent team of authors recalled an earlier proposal for the Commission to have a single member responsible for Human Rights issues both inside and outside EU. I very much support this idea as I am convinced that the EU must increase the coherence between its internal and external policies in so far as they influence basic human rights.
I know this is a controversial issue in Italy, but I have to say that the way asylum seekers are often treated not just in this country but in many others, weakens the impact of the EU when it presents itself as a defender of human rights globally.
To mark the double standards, Uzbekistan recently stated that the EU has nothing to teach to it on human rights. President Putin two years ago announced that he will set up an institute in Europe to monitor the human rights situation in EU countries. As far as I know, he did it.
We have to practice what we preach. I was therefore very pleased to hear from President Barroso during the last plenary session in Strasbourg that he does foresee a Commissioner for fundamental rights in his future Commission. We will have to see how this commitment is implemented in practice. It seems however that the new Commissioner will not deal with exernal relations. This leaves the ever more disturbing discrepancy between our internal and external human rights policies nearly untouched. Still I believe that this will be a great step forward: e.g. the policing and justice will finally be separated from one another, to allow for better checks and balances.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I mentioned earlier that we meet at a time of great uncertainty as to the future direction of the EU. This is of course due to the still ongoing ratification procedure for the Treaty of Lisbon. I very much hope that this procedure will be concluded as soon as possible so that the major change in the organisation of the EU:s external relations can take place.
The fusion of the High Representative and Vice President of the Commission, with the creation of a common External Action Service represents a great opportunity in the field of human rights. This will reduce the possibilities for outsiders to play one institution off against the other. It will also make it possible to link the EU’s common diplomatic efforts with the implementation of financial programmes such as EIDHR.
In short the European Union will have to take on much more political responsibility in the external relations field, a task which the citizens expect it to do.
One example of where this has to take place is the UN and in particular in the framework of the Human Rights Council, the work of which has been closely monitored by the EP. A report was adopted last year setting down benchmarks to judge how far this new UN body really represents progress beyond the discredited Human Rights Commission. This report is in fact another example of an important piece of parliamentary work which drew on the findings of a specially commissioned EIUC study.
The very nature of work on human rights requires efforts to be made on many fronts at the same time. Within the European Parliament actions in relation to human rights take place through a wide-range of actors: the President, the political groups, the committees of trade and development and the parliamentary delegations and multilateral assemblies in which we participate. In our sub-committee we also work closely with the Commission and the Council to maximise the effect of our actions.
Moreover the other institutions also know that when Parliament has to ratify agreements with countries outside the Union the European Parliament will be linking its consent to genuine implementation of the human rights clause all such agreements now are supposed to contain.
We still need to convince the Council that cooperation with the worst dictatorships on this Planet, say Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, can only be justified on the basis of European values. We still need to continue the discussion on how preferential treatment in trade should be seen against the background of grave human rights violations in the country. The case of Shri Lanka is very acute.
The EU can achieve more if we cooperate as effectively as possible with other European organisations, namely with the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
The Council of Europe and the European Union have recently re-committed themselves to closer cooperation. In our Subcommittee we must in the near future revisit the issue of secret CIA flights, detention centers and renditions. This we can only do in close cooperation with the Council of Europe.
Indeed once the Lisbon Treaty enters into force the EU will seek accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. The current problem with the Russian Federation concerning the Court in Strasbourg will require both sides to work more closely on how they influence each other and how together they can protect the values to which all their member states have committed themselves.
I am suggesting to you that when the day of the EU accession to the ECHR will finally arise, it will be time to celebrate. I see in front of my eyes a magnificent event taking stock of the achievements and challenges globally. In Strasbourg, which is the seat of both of the institutions.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Fischer,
I am convinced about the potential of further deepening the links between EIUC and the EU institutions. Together we must start to explore how a sustainable EU financing beyond 2013 can be realized. The work must start soon, as the Commission is coming up with an interim report of EIDHR.
We in the Subcommittee on Human Rights in the EP have a special responsibility. If the Parliament had not fought for it, EIDHR would not actually have been instituted in the first place. Now both the Commission and the Council have seen its merits. The opportunity that this instrument gives to the EU to finance for example civil society organisations in undemocratic environments is of great importance.
One final word to the students of this institute. You can be assured that the quality of the education you are receiving here is highly respected, and indeed I gather from the Human Rights Unit of our Parliament that as interns many of you have been able to contribute to our work.
So thank you very much for receiving me in these beautiful surroundings on such an important occasion. For those of you finishing your studies as well as for those beginning the academic year I wish you all the best.