The EU is founded on human rights. Just in time for Human Rights Day on the 10th of December, the EU has adopted a landmark human rights sanctions regime to target individuals involved in human rights abuses. This “European Magnitsky Act” is truly significant as it enables the EU to take decisive action against human rights abuses around the globe. In light of these events, let us examine the merits of the EU’s commitment to human rights a little closer.
Abroad, the EU underpins its commitment to human rights by extensively funding a variety of programmes aimed at promoting and protecting human rights. Closer to home, self-interest seems to be more critical. In November, the UN blamed the European Union’s refugee policy for the drowning of hundreds of asylum seekers. In addition to this inaction, the EU funds the Libyan coast guard, which captures migrants at sea and deports them back to Libya. Here, they face human trafficking and other abuses.
The EU lacks commitment to human rights in other areas as well. The EU’s hesitancy to condemn China’s mistreatment and internment of its Uyghur Muslim population is another example. Worsening relations with China can be problematic due to the sheer size of trade between the EU and China. Should the EU only pursue human rights when the economic stakes are low?
Civil society organisations routinely criticise the EU’s trade policy. For example, they argue that Europe’s upcoming trade agreement with Latin American countries may threaten the livelihood of indigenous Amazonian peoples. More trade with certain regions is directly linked to environmental degradation and human rights abuses. To prevent this downward spiral, the EU routinely includes special clauses aimed at protecting human rights, the environment and sustainable development in its foreign trade agreements. Whether these provisions show a real effect or amount to mere appeasement of the critics remains to be seen.
Does the European Union care about human rights? What do you think? Is the EU’s commitment to human rights worth more than the paper on which it is written? Can the EU uphold its reputation as global mediator and bastion of human rights or does realpolitik govern its actions? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!