– Check against delivery –
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.
The Acceding Country Croatia* the Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Iceland† , the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, align themselves with this declaration.
Human rights, with support for the UN and international law, are key priorities of the EU, just as democracy, fundamental freedoms and rule of law were at Europe’s foundation.
The EU has often stated that no country can be immune from criticism, and no State has a flawless record in implementation of its human rights obligations. The EU welcomes a frank and critical dialogue with all UN human rights mechanisms, including through the Universal Periodic Review.
We are firmly committed to continue implementing the provision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties. The EU urges all States to promote and protect human rights, whether civil and political or economic, social and cultural.
2012 has been a remarkable year for the EU in the field of human rights. For the first time we adopted a unified Strategic Framework setting out principles, objectives and priorities to further improve the effectiveness and consistency of EU human rights policy. Almost 100 detailed actions have been designed to put these principles into practice.
Last July, the first ever EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, was appointed to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of EU action, with a clear remit to enhance dialogue with third countries, and international and regional organisations.
2012 has also been a year in which the long path of transition in many countries worldwide continued. There may be temptations, once power is gained, to refuse to grant to some the full enjoyment of all human rights. But democracy can only flourish when it gives its entire people, whatever their gender, religion, disability, language or ethnic identity, an equal say and equal rights, guaranteed in law and in practice. Mutual tolerance means the ability to withstand criticism, to offer dialogue, to refrain from violence. Respect, including respect for the freedom of religion or belief, and respect for the freedom of expression is a key value in living well together. Despite some disappointments, we believe that the direction of travel is right. The EU is committed to support countries in transition in every step towards improving the human rights situation.
Countries part of the Arab Spring – such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya – were successful in organising democratic elections, allowing many citizens to vote freely for the first time in their lives. The positive role of women in this process is noteworthy, and will continue to be an important factor. The EU was glad to lend expertise to national and local authorities. In the case of Tunisia the EU welcomes the steps taken to develop democratic institutions, and promote and protect human rights, and looks forward to sharing further progress.
Expectations are also high in other countries of the region which have embarked to differing extents on reforms, such as Morocco, Algeria and Jordan.
The EU welcomes the increased cooperation of a number of North African countries with UN Special Procedures, and encourages their governments to continue their efforts towards extending them a standing invitation. The EU strongly supports and is ready to engage with all these countries in their path towards democracy and better respect for human rights.
The EU welcomes the positive developments in Burma/Myanmar and the Government’s stated commitment to continue on the path of political reform, democratisation and national reconciliation. However, recent inter-communal unrest in Rakhine State has drawn attention to one of the many extant issues that remain to be addressed. The EU will present again this year a resolution on the human rights situation in Burma/Myanmar, reflecting the many steps taken by the Government, as well as remaining concerns. The EU stands ready to support Burma/Myanmar in its continued reform efforts.
In this setting, one year ago, the EU expressed its deep concern about the situation in Bahrain. The EU has been following developments closely, calling on all sides to avoid violence and to engage in constructive dialogue. Some positive steps have been taken, but more should be done to end the cycle of violence and to rebuild trust, so that genuine national reconciliation can start. The EU is ready to support implementation of recommendations by the Bassiouni Commission of Inquiry, and will monitor developments closely.
Transition to a peaceful and sustainable future requires ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past human rights violations and crimes, which should be prosecuted, in domestic courts and when necessary in the International Criminal Court. Transitional justice mechanisms not only provide redress for past abuses but also contribute to regaining respect for state institutions. National reconciliation also entails the effective protection of human rights and the strict respect of the rule of law.
The EU encourages the Sri Lankan Government to fully implement recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and to address the serious allegations of violations of international law, set out in the report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts.
The EU continues to be alarmed by the deteriorating human rights situation linked to ongoing conflicts worldwide. Systematic human violations are often both the cause and consequence of such conflicts. The intensification of violence in the Syrian Arab Republic continues to shock the world, demanding determined and united action by the UN. The EU fully supports the efforts of Mr Brahimi in finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and calls on all key actors to lend their support to his endeavours. We strongly condemn the ever increasing use of force by the regime, including use of heavy artillery and shelling against populated areas.
We call on all parties to immediately cease all violence and to allow full, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers. We reaffirm our strongest support to the Commission of Inquiry and to the continuation of its investigations into alleged violations and abuses of international law by the regime and by anti-government troops. The EU recalls that all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, including widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity, must be held accountable.
The EU is very concerned at disturbing reports of human right violations and acts of violence in Mali. In the north people are suffering the abhorrent consequences of military occupation by rebel Islamist groups: the increase in public extrajudicial executions, including stoning to death, punitive amputations, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the extremely serious situation of women and girls who are particularly affected. The lack of governance, respect for human rights, and the grave humanitarian situation are serious threats to the stability of the region. In the south, the disappearance of members of the presidential guard, the attacks on President Traore, and the series of arrests following the coup, are all matters of concern. Durable peace and stability in Mali and in the Sahel region can only be achieved through the respect of human rights in all their dimensions.
The rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and escalation of violence in the eastern DRC is a cause of great concern. We urge all armed groups, as well as the DRC army, to stop committing serious human rights violations against civilians, including as rape, summary killings, forced recruitment of civilians including children, and looting. The EU encourages regional efforts to resolve the crisis and calls upon all regional actors to work together constructively to end the crisis. The EU also calls on the DRC authorities to work with MONUSCO to reform the security sector and to end impunity for human rights abuses. The EU is also concerned about the increase in intimidation and threats against human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists in the DRC.
Vibrant civil societies are a cornerstone of democracy. The EU believes that the activities of human rights defenders are crucial for our efforts to improve the human rights situation worldwide and should not be silenced.
Across the world persons and organisations engaged in promoting and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms face threats, harassment and insecurity. Persisting impunity for crimes against human rights defenders remains a major concern for the EU, which calls on all States to step up efforts in investigating them. The primary responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights rests with the State.
Many countries continue to limit the space of human rights defenders by restricting their activities – curtailing freedom of association, assembly, and expression – by harassment through unnecessary administrative burdens, or abusing civil or criminal proceedings.
We remain deeply worried about the continuing harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, representatives of the political opposition, the media and civil society in Belarus. The EU reiterates its calls on the authorities to release and rehabilitate immediately all political prisoners and imprisoned human rights defenders. The EU notes that the recent Parliamentary elections represented another missed opportunity for Belarus to hold elections in line with international standards.
The EU is concerned by recent legislation in the Russian Federation, notably with regard to NGOs receiving foreign funding, the regulation on demonstration, the control of internet, and the work of journalists through criminalisation of libel. The EU will monitor closely the implementation of these laws which could limit the space for civil society in Russia and restrict the enjoyment of human rights.
The EU encourages all States to participate constructively in their regional human rights mechanisms. We are therefore following closely developments in the Inter-American human rights system and very much regret Venezuela’s denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights. The EU encourages Venezuela to continue cooperating with regional and international human rights mechanisms.
The EU is firmly opposed to any unjustified restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and strongly condemns violence against peaceful demonstrators.
In Iran, the crackdown on human rights defenders and minorities continues unabated. The EU strongly encourages the Iranian Government to cooperate with UN Special Rapporteur Shaheed. Moreover, the EU condemns the execution on 22 October of ten individuals on charges of drug offences. The use of the death penalty is increasing in a disturbing manner, including the number of public executions and crimes to which the death penalty is applied and the EU calls on Iran to halt pending executions and to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty. The EU actively supports the resolution to be presented by Canada.
The EU is concerned about human rights violations relating to land reform and the recent convictions of human rights defenders in Cambodia, which call into question the impartiality of the judiciary. The EU calls upon Cambodia to uphold the fundamental right of all persons to freely express their opinions, especially important in view of the 2013 elections.
The worrying trend of increased censorship; harassment, repression, detention or violence against editors, writers, journalists or bloggers is unacceptable. The EU commends the courageous work of journalists who, in often highly precarious conditions, continue to provide independent information. The EU calls on all States to guarantee the safety of journalists and to allow them to carry out their vital role without fear of violence and recrimination.
The EU also believes that Internet is an indispensable vehicle for promoting freedom of expression. The EU is deeply convinced of the need to condemn disproportionate restrictions on the Internet that are not in accordance with international legal obligations and is concerned about initiatives that limit certain types of the content which risks infringing upon the freedom of expression. The recent conviction of human rights bloggers, indicative of a more restrictive approach to freedom of expression and media in Vietnam, is a case in point.
The EU is profoundly concerned at the tragic wave of self-immolations in the Tibetan regions of China, and urges China to ensure that the human rights of the Tibetan people – and of other minorities such as the Uighurs – are respected. The EU urges China to enter into a meaningful dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama and of the Tibetan people within Tibet. The EU welcomes renewed debate in China concerning the Re-Education through Labour system and hopes that China will take steps to abolish this system. The EU urges China to take steps to ensure the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as minorities’ rights to enjoy their own culture, to practise their own religion, and to use their own language. The EU encourages China to continue its efforts to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998.
The EU reiterates its grave concern at the persistent, grave, widespread and systematic violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The EU will again table a comprehensive resolution on the human rights situation in the DPRK during the present session.
In conclusion, Mr Chair,
The EU believes that the General Assembly, as the United Nation’s premier and universal human rights forum, needs to address the situations and themes mentioned.
The continued attention of this and other human rights bodies will help to reach our common goal: the practical implementation of international human rights standards and full realisation of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms for all.
The EU is ready to make a substantial contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and the support of democracy. We call on all to join forces and to use the new opportunities for the improvement of the human rights situation worldwide.
* Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process
† Iceland continues to be a member of the EFTA and of the European Economic Area