European Parliament annual report 2018 on the human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter

FIDH welcomes the publication of the European Parliament’s (EP) annual report adopted on 15 January that highlights a large number of FIDH key working areas on EU policies affecting human rights, notably on globalisation, trade, new technologies, arms, conflict and impunity, sanctions mechanisms, and climate.

The report states that the EU’s trade policies and human rights can and should reinforce one another and urges the EU to make effective use of human rights clauses in its international agreements by ‘creating an effective mechanism for monitoring serious human rights violations which might occur through business activities; calls for human rights clauses to be duly enforced and monitored accordingly, including through measurable benchmarks, with the involvement of Parliament, civil society and the relevant international organisations; calls for the establishment of an effective and independent complaints mechanism for groups of citizens and stakeholders who are affected by human rights violations; stresses that the EU and its Member States must prevent any kind of corporate human rights abuses and the negative impact of business activities.’

The EP underlines the importance of EU enterprises playing a leading role in promoting international standards on business and human rights. It is the responsibility of businesses to ensure their ‘operations and supply chains are not implicated in human rights abuses, such as forced and child labour, violation of indigenous peoples’ rights, land grabbing, threats and attacks on human rights defenders and environmental degradation’ whether operating domestically or abroad, and must always be in full compliance with international human rights standards.

Moreover, the EP stresses the need for an ‘international binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other companies; calls for a legislative proposal on corporate human rights and due diligence to prevent abuses in the global operations of companies, and to enhance access to judicial remedy for victims of corporate misconduct; stresses the importance for all countries to fully implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and calls on those EU Member States that have not yet adopted national action plans on business rights to do so as soon as possible; encourages the EU and its Member States to participate constructively in the work of the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights; considers this to be a necessary step forward in the promotion and protection of human rights’. Read the joint statement by FIDH and a coalition of European civil society groups demanding the EU stops stalling on a treaty to ensure that businesses respect human rights.

The report highlights important issues regarding the GSP+ preference system in place, stressing that benefitting countries must ‘show progress on all aspects of human rights; notes that enhanced and effective monitoring mechanisms could reinforce the leverage potential of trade preference schemes in response to human rights violations; supports the introduction and the implementation of human rights conditionality clauses in international agreements between the EU and non-EU countries, including in trade and investment; calls on the Commission to systematically monitor the implementation of these clauses to ensure that they are respected by the beneficiary countries, and to report regularly to Parliament on the respect of human rights by the partner countries’. Read also the expression of concerns "Towards the future Generalised Scheme of Preference Regulation granting trade advantages to developing countries" by the GSP Reform Platform of which FIDH is a member.

Regarding new technologies, there is an important need to ‘address the potential threat of new technologies to human rights, including disinformation, mass surveillance, fake news, hate speech, state-sponsored restrictions and the abuse of artificial intelligence’, including the increasing employment of dual-use cyber-surveillance technologies against human rights activists, journalists, political opponents and lawyers, and the EP calls for the EU to ‘engage with third country governments to end repressive cybersecurity and counter-terrorism legislation practices and legislation’. MEPs further call on all EU Member States to strictly comply with the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and, in particular, to ‘stop all transfers of arms or surveillance and intelligence equipment that can be used by governments to suppress human rights, especially in the context of armed conflicts; insists on the need for full transparency and regular reporting by EU Member States on their arms transfers; expresses its grave concern over the use of armed drones outside the international legal framework; calls further on the Commission to keep Parliament properly informed about the use of EU funds for all research and development projects associated with the construction of drones; urges the VP/HR to ban the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons, which enable strikes to be carried out without human intervention’. See more about FIDH’s work on terrorism, surveillance and human rights.

Conflict, impunity and the question of sanctions are also an important feature of the report. Beyond strongly condemning all ‘heinous crimes and human rights violations committed by state and non-state actors, including against citizens peacefully exercising their human rights’, the EP calls to ‘mobilise all necessary resources to bring to justice all those responsible, to assist the victims and to support stabilisation and reconciliation processes; calls on the EEAS and the Commission to include an ambitious strategy on the fight against impunity in the third EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy; highly recommends the establishment of a European observatory on prevention, accountability, and combating impunity; reiterates its call for the VP/HR to appoint an EU Special Representative on International Humanitarian Law and International Justice with a mandate to promote, mainstream and represent the EU’s commitment to the fight against impunity ; calls for the establishment of a global EU human rights sanctions mechanism, the so-called ‘Magnitsky List’, allowing for targeted sanctions against individuals complicit in serious human rights violations (…) and for the Council to speed up its discussions in order to adopt the necessary legislation, set up this mechanism, and adequately fund it as soon as possible; stresses the importance for this system to comply with the EU judicial review mechanism; also stresses, as an example to follow, the enactment by some EU Member States of laws that provide for sanctions to be imposed on individuals deemed responsible for human rights abuses’. See also FIDH’s recommendations for the Review of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.

The EP further highlights the benefits of the mechanism, a consortium of 12 NGOs including FIDH, providing critical support to large numbers of Human Rights Defenders at grave risk and calls for it to be strengthened.

Finally, the EP recalls the obligations and responsibilities of states and other bodies responsible to mitigate the effects of climate change and to prevent it from having a negative impact on human rights and ‘calls for the EU to participate actively in the international debate on a possible normative framework for protecting ‘environmentally and climate-displaced persons’. Read FIDH’s statement on recognising the interdependence of human rights and environment protection.

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