Category Archives: Human Rights

Violence against women at rise

Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, the European Commission and the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell, issued the following statement:

Violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights, and has no place in the European Union, or anywhere else in the world.

The scale of the problem remains alarming: one in three women in the European Union have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Violence against women exists in every country, culture and community. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown once more that for some women not even their home is a safe place.

Figures show that violence against women and children has increased since COVID-19 lockdown measures started. Some Member States have introduced gender-sensitive response measures, such as special alert mechanisms in pharmacies, to protect women and children from all forms of violence. We urge all Member States to develop and implement such measures.

Change is possible, but it requires action, commitment and determination. The EU is committed to continue to work tirelessly with its partners to investigate and punish acts of violence, ensure support for victims, and at the same time to address the root causes and reinforce the legal framework. Through our Spotlight Initiative we are already fighting violence against women and girls, in 26 countries across the globe. This week we will present a new Action Plan on gender equality and women and girl’s empowerment in our external actions. We also call on Member States to ratify the Istanbul Convention – the first legally binding instrument at the international level to combat violence against women and domestic violence.

“Our goal is very clear: to end all forms of violence against women and girls. We owe it to all the victims.”

EU Action plan on Human rights

Brussels 19.11.2020 The Council has approved conclusions on the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024. The Action Plan sets out the EU’s level of ambition and priorities in this field in its relations with all third countries.

With this Action Plan, the Council reaffirms the EU’s strong commitment to further advancing universal values for all.

The conclusions acknowledge that while there have been leaps forward, there has also been a pushback against the universality and indivisibility of human rights. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic consequences have had an increasingly negative impact on all human rights, democracy and rule of law, deepening pre-existing inequalities and increasing pressure on persons in vulnerable situations.

No one should be left behind, no human right ignored. To this end the EU and its member states will use the full range of their instruments, in all areas of external action, to focus on and further strengthen EU’s global leadership in the field of human rights and democracy and in the implementation of the EU Action Plan.

In 2012, the EU adopted the Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy which set out the principles, objectives and priorities designed to improve the effectiveness and consistency of EU policy in these areas. To implement the EU Strategic Framework of 2012, the EU has adopted two EU Action Plans (2012-2014 and 2015-2019).

The new Action Plan for 2020-2024 builds on the previous action plans and continues to focus on long-standing priorities such as supporting human rights defenders and the fight against the death penalty.

By identifying five overarching priorities: (1) protecting and empowering individuals; (2) building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies; (3) promoting a global system for human rights and democracy; (4) new technologies: harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges; and (5) delivering by working together, the Action Plan also reflects the changing context with attention to new technologies and to the link between global environmental challenges and human rights.

Belarus: EU “ready” for additional sanctions

Brussels 13.11.2020 The EU Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy made a statement on the tragic death of Mr.Bandarenka caused by police brutality.

“On 12 November, 31-year old Raman Bandarenka died after several hours of surgery in a hospital in Minsk due to serious injuries caused, according to reports, by the brutality of plain clothed policemen. This is an outrageous and shameful result of the actions by the Belarusian authorities who have not only directly and violently carried out repression of their own population, but also created an environment whereby such lawless, violent acts can take place, thus ignoring not only the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Belarusian people but also disregarding their lives. The European Union expresses its deepest condolences to Mr Bandarenka’s family and friends”.

“The EU stands in solidarity with all the Belarusians who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of the Belarusian authorities in the aftermath of the 9 August falsified presidential elections.The EU continues to strongly condemn violence employed by the Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters, persons engaged in the pro-democracy movement, independent media, representatives of civil society or ordinary Belarusian citizens. We expect the authorities to end the violence and persecution, to release immediately and unconditionally all arbitrarily detained persons, including political prisoners, and to investigate fully and transparently all human rights violations and abuses, and hold those responsible to account. The European Union has already imposed sanctions on 55 individuals responsible for violent repression and intimidation, and stands ready to impose additional sanctions”.

Raman Bandarenka was detained at Square of Change on November 11. According to Belsat, the protestor was taken to the hospital with a closed craniocerebral injury, acute subdural head hematomas, brain hemorrhage. Roman has fallen into a coma, and later was declared dead.

After the news about the death of Bandarenka, thousands of Minsk citizens started to bring flowers and icon lamps to the Square of Change. The spontaneous memorials and vigils in his honour were created in many cities of Belarus, as well as at entrances the Belarusian embassies in Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine, where people continued to bring flowers and candels.

EU: Georgia elections “competitive”

“Georgia held the first round of its 2020 Parliamentary elections on 31 October, under a revised electoral system and with high voter turnout, despite the challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic.” the statement of the European External Actions Service reads.

“According to the joint statement of preliminary findings and conclusions of the international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assemblies of the OSCE, Council of Europe and NATO, the elections were competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected.

“The observers noted, however, that the conduct of the elections was impacted by pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state throughout the campaign and on election day, reducing public confidence in some aspects of the process.

“Ensuring the highest democratic standards throughout the entire electoral process, including during the second round, remains key, as well as a fair, transparent and rigorous handling of all complaints and appeals. It is important that all parties continue to adhere to democratic principles and standards and respect for human rights. Ensuring conditions for a free and pluralistic media environment is extremely important including to allow voters to make a fully informed choice. The European Union will remain very attentive to developments during the remainder of the electoral period and in particular on the day of the second round.

“The revised legal framework provided a sound basis for the holding of democratic elections. Recent legislative amendments partially addressed previous OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe/Venice Commission recommendations, however, although a number remain outstanding. It will be important to continue addressing shortcomings in the electoral framework, including the final recommendations of OSCE/ODIHR, through an inclusive dialogue, after the second round on 21 November.

“The European Union stands by a democratic, stable, prosperous and inclusive Georgia and continues to support Georgia’s process of political association and economic integration with the EU as per its Association Agreement”.

MEPs refuse “golden” passports scheme

Brussels 22.10.2020 EU citizenship cannot be traded as a commodity, according to a majority of speakers, who want to end the “golden passports” schemes currently in place in some member states.

In a plenary debate with Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, MEPs stressed the inherent risks that these programmes give rise to, namely money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. They insisted that Europe must not have “a fast-track entrance for criminals”.

MEPs underlined that granting EU citizenship to third-country nationals without proper checks and transparency has negative consequences in other member states, eroding mutual trust and undermining common values.

Several speakers referred to the recent scandal in Cyprus, where high-ranking officials – including the Speaker of the national parliament – were secretly recorded offering to assist a fictional Chinese executive with a criminal record in getting a Cypriot passport through the national “citizenship by investment” scheme. They also acknowledge the Commission’s decision to open infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta, though some complained that it has taken too long to act.

Some MEPs noted that the share of revenues from these programmes is significant for countries such as Cyprus, whilst many argued that EU values and rights should not be for sale.

Cyprus, Malta, and Bulgaria are the three EU countries where it is possible to get citizenship in exchange for an investment, the so-called “golden passports”. As many as 19 EU countries operate “residence by investment” programmes, known as “golden visas”.

In January 2019, the European Commission established a group of experts with representatives from all EU member states to develop common standards and guidelines in this area. After four meetings last year, the group has so far not met in 2020.

SAKHAROV 2020: Belarus democratic opposition

Brussels 22.10.2020 The democratic opposition in Belarus has been awarded the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. (Image: riot police in Minsk, Belarus, attacking peaceful demonstrators, source: social media).

European Parliament President David Sassoli announced the laureates in the Brussels plenary chamber at noon on Thursday, following an earlier decision by the Conference of Presidents (President and political group leaders).

“Let me congratulate the representatives of the Belarusian opposition for their courage, resilience and determination. They have stood and still stay strong in the face of a much stronger adversary. But they have on their side something that brute force can never defeat – and this is the truth. So my message for you, dear laureates, is to stay strong and not to give up on your fight. Know that we are by your side”, President Sassoli said, following the decision.

“I would also like to add a word on the recent killing of one of this year’s finalists, Mr Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo, part of the Guapinol environmental group. The group is opposing an iron oxide mine in Honduras. It is imperative that a credible, independent and immediate investigation is launched into this case and those responsible must be held to account”, he added.

Protesting against a brutal regime

The democratic opposition in Belarus is represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women, as well as prominent political and civil society figures. Read more about the laureates, as well as the other finalists here (Tweet below):

Belarus has been in the midst of a political crisis since the disputed presidential elections on 9 August, which led to an uprising against authoritarian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka and a subsequent brutal crackdown on demonstrators by the regime.

The Sakharov award ceremony will be held on 16 December.

On October 21, Parliament also adopted new recommendations calling for a comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Belarus.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov and the prize money is 50 000 euros.

Last year, the prize was given to Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur economist fighting for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority.

EP: Homage to Samuel Paty

President of the European Parliament David Sassoli led a minute of silence to pay tribute to murdered teacher Samuel Paty and all victims of terrorism, at the opening of the session.
Expressing his condolences to the family of Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher brutally murdered by an Islamist terrorist in France on Friday, October 16, Sassoli paid tribute to all those who work to uphold freedom of expression.

“Deeply shocked by the appalling attack by #ConflansSainteHonorine. We stand alongside our French friends and the victim’s family. Hate and violence, terrorism and extremism will never overcome freedom and democracy” wrote on his Twitter micro blog the head of the EU diplomacy Josep Borrell.

French minister of Interior Gérarld Darmanin said a fatwa appeared to have been issued against Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old teacher of history and geography who was decapitated on October 16 outside the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a community in 30 km from the capital.

As part of a course on freedom of expression this month, as the previous years, Paty had shown pupils the caricatures including two of the prophet Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, that was the target of a 2015 Islamist attack.

Police shot dead Paty’s attacker, an 18-year-old of Chechen origin named as Abdullakh Anzorov.

A photo of the teacher’s decapitated head was posted to Twitter from Anzorov’s mobile phone, along with the message: “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.” At present 15 people related to the terrorist act of beheading of the teacher are arrested.

Daphne Caruana Galizia PRIZE

Brussels 19.10.2020 The European Parliament has launched Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism on anniversary of her murder commemorating the third time the assassination of the Maltese investigative journalist, the prize will reward journalism reflecting EU principles and values.

The purpose of the prize is to distinguish outstanding journalism that reflects the European Union’s principles and values, as enshrined in the European Charter of Human Rights. The European Parliament considers that protecting press freedom around the world, and particularly that of investigative journalists whilst exercising their duties, is in the vital interest of democratic societies.

Even though the prize is initiated and supported by Parliament, it will be managed by an independent EU-based media partner in order to protect the independence of the prize and the work of the media.

The European Parliament will soon begin selecting an independent organisation to establish the detailed criteria for awarding the prize and decide on who will sit on the jury. A call for tender to select such an organisation will be launched before the end of 2020.

The call for nominees for the prize will be launched around 03 May 2021 – World Press Freedom Day. The annual award ceremony will take each year around the anniversary of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese anti-corruption investigative journalist and blogger who was killed in a car bomb attack on 16 October 2017. She focused on investigative journalism, reporting on government corruption, allegations of money laundering and organised crime.

The launch took place online on Friday 16 October on the EP’s Facebook page. It was led by the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Heidi Hautala (Greens, FI), and MEP David Casa (EPP, MT). They were joined online by the murdered journalist’s son, Andrew Caruana Galizia, from Malta.

EP: Sakharov Prize shortlist

The democratic opposition in Belarus, Guapinol activists and Berta Cáceres, and the archbishop of Mosul were shortlisted for the 2020 Sakharov Prize on October 12.

Following a joint vote by MEPs in the Foreign Affairs and Development committees on Monday 12 October, the finalists for the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are:

The democratic opposition in Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women and political and civil society figures;

Guapinol activists and Berta Cáceres in Honduras;

Mgr Najeeb Moussa Michaeel, archbishop of Mosul, Iraq.

The European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents (President and political groups’ leaders) will select the final laureate on Thursday 22 October. The prize itself will be awarded in a ceremony in Parliament’s HNemicycle on 16 December.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov and the prize money is 50 000 euros.

Last year, the prize was given to Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur economist fighting for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority.

N.Karabakh: Borrell growing concerns

Brussels 7.10.2020  “Members, the current military confrontation along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict zone is of our utmost concern. It is the largest confrontation since 1993-1994. We have been very engaged on this issue” said Josep Borrell, the head of the EU diplomacy, while addressing the Members of the European Parliament.

“On the day that fighting erupted, I released a statement as High Representative, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and strict observance of the ceasefire. During the past days, I have had several phone calls, separately, with the Armenian and the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers, urging both sides to stop the hostilities and to return to the negotiating table.

“Our position is clear: the fighting must stop. Both sides need to re-engage in meaningful negotiations – which, by the way, have not been very fruitful in the last 30 years – without preconditions, under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. There can be no military solution to the conflict, nor external interference. This position was reinforced by the European Council held on the 1st and 2nd of October.

“We have seen extremely worrying reports of a surge in attacks on populated areas, which is taking a deadly toll on civilians. We strongly urge the sides to fully observe their international obligations to protect civilian populations. And, with the resources we have, we have urgently allocated a small amount of money [€500,000] in humanitarian aid for the affected populations.

“In fact, we do not have a lot of information about how the conflict is developing. Detailed information is scarce and there is a lot of fake news.

“OSCE monitoring on the ground remains suspended, so we do not have observers. But what we observe is an increasing amount of disinformation, which is aimed at mobilising the domestic audiences in both countries and could be used to pull regional actors into the conflict. Media reports need, therefore, to be examined with great caution, because we do not have confirmation of some of the news that has been disseminated.

“At this stage, further escalation of the conflict and involvement of regional actors, unhappily, cannot be excluded. This would seriously threaten the stability of the whole region.

“On the 30th of September, I discussed the situation with the Russian Foreign Minister and I also spoke with the Turkish Foreign Minister – the two regional actors that are closer to the conflict. I emphasised the importance of de-escalation, the importance that regional actors refrain from any activity and rhetoric that could inflame things even further.

“I spoke to the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan during the weekend. I stressed that the increase of civilian casualties is unacceptable. I heard from both sides the actions taken by the other side; each one of them blames the other for starting and for attacking civilian populations, not in Nagorno Karabakh itself, not in the region in dispute, but from Armenia to Azerbaijan and from Azerbaijan to Armenia.

“The fighting should stop. The OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs are going to have meetings this week with the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the two countries, and the only way to get out of this situation is that the Minsk Group Co-chairs pushes for immediate negotiations as soon as possible.

“We will continue working with key partners to try to help stop the hostilities, because the only solution is to go back to the negotiating table. But this negotiation table has been open for the last 30 years without any kind of advance. War is not an alternative; we have to push both parties to stop fighting and start negotiating without preconditions. But this is, for the time being, not the case.

“I am sorry that I cannot inform you more about that, because as I said, the information is very much scarce and we have to take care not to disseminate news that has not been confirmed”.

The intense shelling in the break-away region of Nagorno-Karabakh is taking its toll on the civilian population as fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces showed no signs of halt on October 7.

Clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in the region since September 27 have killed hundreds in the worst escalation of hostilities since 1994 when a truce ended a war that raged for several years. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised territory of Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Yerevan since ethnic cleansing erupted during the process of the collapse of the USSR. The enmity started with pogroms of Armenians on February 27, 1988 in Sumgait city, when Azerbaijan was one of the Soviet Republics. Since Sumgait massacre the relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanies have been suffering a profound malaise, producing a “frozen conflict” with unsolved territorial dispute.

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