27 May 2008

Placing human rights at the centre of EU-GCC relations.

On the occasion of the EU-GCC Joint Co-operation Council, to be held on the 26th of May 2008, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) calls upon all parties to address key human rights issues and to set up a common strategy for the practical implementation of their joint commitments in this field.

At the end of the last EU-GCC Joint Co-operation Council held in May 2007 in Riyadh, both parties released a joint communiqué where they "reaffirmed that they share the universal values of respect for human rights and democratic principles, which form an essential element of their relations."1 Moreover, the FIDH notes and welcomes that during her recent visit to the GCC countries, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner highlighted human rights issues by meeting with human rights defenders in Bahrain on the 16 April 2008, and publicly assuring that human rights would seriously be taken into account during the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations.

FIDH welcomes these commitments but remains deeply preoccupied by the situation of human rights in the following fields:

Respect for democratic principles, rule of law and political rights

Fundamental freedoms: freedom of press, expression and association

Independence of the judiciary

Situation of human rights defenders, the rights of women and the rights of migrants.

In order to reach effective and visible changes, FIDH urges both parties to take into consideration the following recommendations:

Establishing concrete tools for monitoring the human rights situation and its evolution within the EU-GCC political dialogue.

- Systematically put human rights concerns on the agenda of bilateral political dialogues at all levels.

- Systematically assess the situation of human rights on the basis of UN special procedures and human rights NGOs reports.

- Establish concrete benchmarks in order to regularly monitor the implementation of commitments and efforts undertaken by both parties.

- Hold systematic consultations with EU and GCC independent human rights NGOs ahead of official meetings in order to take into account their assessment of the human rights’ situation in situ and thus update the monitoring process.

Increasing EU support to Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in GCC countries, in accordance with the operational chapter of the Council Guidelines on HRDs.

- Encourage the Heads of Mission of the EC delegations and the Ambassadors of the Member Sates to reinforce the implementation of the following actions of support to HRDs, as defined in EU Guidelines on HRDs:

- "co-ordinating closely and sharing information on human rights defenders, including those at risk;

- maintaining, suitable contacts with human rights defenders, including by receiving them in Missions and visiting their areas of work, consideration could be given to appointing specific liaison officers, where necessary on a burden sharing basis, for this purpose;

- providing, as and where appropriate, visible recognition to human rights defenders, through the use of appropriate publicity, visits or invitations;

- attending and observing, where appropriate, trials of human rights defenders."

Ensuring that the currently negotiated Free Trade Agreement will be fully compatible with EU and GGC international obligation in the field of human rights.

- Ensure, during the current negotiations on FTA, that the final agreement will have no negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights in GCC countries;

- Ensure that the agreement it signs contributes to the establishment of a free and fair social order and the realization of human rights;

- Carry out ex ante human rights impact assessment (HRIA) to evaluate the potential impact of the FTA on human rights in the partner countries, and ex post HRIA to allow for potential revision of the agreement if necessary.

Please find attached a note on the situation of human rights in the Gulf countries, prepared by FIDH and its member and partner organisations, covering the points that were raised during their visit to Brussels in March 2008.
Last Update 27 May 2008

1. Joint communiqué of May 8, 2007 (ref: CE-GOLFE 3503/07 (Press 100)).

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