Tag Archive: Human Rights


The European Union’s Fight for LGBT Rights in Partner Countries

On October 2, 2013, Nick Westcott, the European Union’s most senior official in charge with relations in Africa, proclaimed the European Union should stop lecturing Africa about gay rights.  Westcott believes the European Union needs to be understanding of Africa’s cultural differences.  When asked to elaborate on cultural issues at a debate in Brussels about European Union foreign policy, Westcott stated “We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values.”

Protecting the rights of the LGBT community is a fundamental value of the European Union.  Westcott’s stance on how to handle gay rights in Africa is contrary to the European Union’s overall foreign policy on the rights of gays and lesbians in partner countries.  Article 21 of the the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.The principle of equal treatment is a fundamental value for the European Union, which is going to great lengths to combat homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In July 2012, the European Parliament released a resolution to help combat violence against lesbian women and the rights of the LGBT community in Africa.  In July 2013, the European Parliament submitted another resolution condemning a law passed by Nigeria that criminalizes not only same-sex marriage, but those who fail to denounce them. Even more than that, the law made it illegal to show a public display of affection to someone of the same sex.

The European Union’s fight for LGBT rights also extends to other parts of the world.  The European Union recently condemned Serbia’s ban  of a gay pride parade for the third consecutive year.  They have also condemned the Ukraine for its new laws banning propaganda of homosexuality, and threatened the Ukraine’s ties to the European Union because of it.  It appears Westcott’s opinion on how to handle LGBT rights in Africa is not the majority view of the European Union.

Turkey’s Ongoing EU Candidacy

In October of 2005, both Turkey and Croatia began the process of becoming member-states in the European Union. Croatia has succeeded and is now the twenty-eighth member of the EU. Turkey, however, remains deadlocked in the preliminary negotiation stages of the candidacy process. Contrasting opinions from the EU and its members (although not entirely unjustified) have led to a complex and controversial candidacy where a lot more appears at stake than simply the addition of another member-state.

Efforts at further integrating Turkey into the European community began as early as 1963 with the signing of the Ankara Agreement. This agreement created a customs union between the European Economic Community and Turkey. Arguments in favor of Turkish accession point to Turkey’s remarkable economic growth over the last four years. Such economic success has presented Turkey as an attractive addition in light of the fact that the EU economy has just endured its longest recession in its fourteen-year history.

However, admission to the EU is not based solely on economic stability. A prospective candidate must demonstrate an adherence to “principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law”. It is amongst these latter criteria where concerns have been raised.

Turkey has drawn considerable criticism from European officials for violations of freedom of association and freedom of religion. Criticism culminated this past summer as the world watched Turkey’s crackdown on public dissenters. In response, Germany blocked the recommencement of Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. Another example of Turkey’s harsh treatment towards political dissent has been its targeting of opposing political parties. According to an article by Ashleigh E. Hebert, published in the Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law, the European Commission has consistently noted the frequency and the manner in which dissolution of political parties is sought.

On the other hand, there are others that argue that bringing Turkey into the EU is very thing that would catalyze change in Turkey’s domestic political process. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule have both stated publicly that bringing Turkey into the EU would commit them towards democratic reforms more aligned with EU principles. In other words, EU membership for Turkey would alleviate the very concerns that now stand in the way of its EU membership.

Only time will tell whether Turkey’s EU aspirations will one day be accepted or if the door will finally close on Eastern expansion.

The European Union’s Leadership in the Debate against the Death Penalty

Amnesty International called the year 2012  a “setback” for the fight against the death penalty because the number of death penalties increased in a number of countries.  Specifically, there was a rise in executions in Iraq and nations such as Japan, Gambia, and India resumed executing individuals. The European Union (EU) does not fall within the  “setback” categorization  because the EU is staunchly opposed to the death penalty.

The European Union has led the charge against employing the death penalty for years. Nations that would like to join the EU must disavow the death penalty or they will not be admitted. Europe is the largest region in the world where the death penalty has been abolished. Belarus is the only European country to continue the practice, in spite of the EU’s disapproval.

One of the European Union’s guidelines concerning human rights is to ensure and protect human dignity. The guidelines also include universal abolition of the death penalty and  the EU also asks for the nations that still employ the practice to  restrict the instances that the procedure will be applied.  The European Union’s fight against the death penalty does not end within its borders. The EU is one of the largest donors to the cause against the death penalty being employed across the globe.  The European Union has taken an active approach in intervening in cases for individuals that are being prosecuted by the death penalty and the EU also advocates against the policy to countries that still use the death penalty.

The European Union even has issued formal statements to families who have endured the loss of the person who was executed. For example on August 7th, 2013, the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, commented on the execution of Mr. John Ferguson in Florida. Ashton stated

”It was with deep regret that I learnt that Mr. John Ferguson was executed on August 5 in the State of Florida. A plea by Mr Ferguson’s lawyer calling for the execution to be commuted, mentioning a 40-year history of paranoid schizophrenia, was turned down.

The European Union recognizes the serious nature of the crime involved and expresses its sincere sympathy to the surviving family and friends of the victims.

However, the EU opposes the use of capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances
and calls for a global moratorium as a first step towards its universal abolition. With capital punishment, any miscarriage of justice, from which no legal system is immune, represents an
irreversible loss of human life.”

The EU uses statements like these to illustrate the position that it takes against the implementation of this policy. The EU has steadily advocated against this policy and will do so to ensure that human dignity will remain a principle worth fighting for. 

 

The EU and Serbia’s Gay Pride Parade Ban

The European Union (EU) has strongly criticized Serbia’s decision to cancel a gay pride parade in Belgrade scheduled for October 6, 2012. The Serbian government’s decision was also criticized by the United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International. The Serbian government cancelled the parade because of complaints from the Serbian Orthodox Church and threats from far-right political groups. A day before the gay pride parade ban was announced, a Serbian Orthodox Church leader referred to the event as a “parade of shame.” Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic explained, “Based on all security estimates and recommendations, the interior ministry made the decision that it is necessary to ban all gatherings announced for October 6th, including the pride march, for the sake of citizens’ safety.” The cancellation of the parade marks the second straight year that the event has been cancelled; last year’s parade was cancelled because of similar threats of violence. Nonetheless, Serbian homosexual activists have vowed to continue fighting for homosexual rights.

In 2009, Serbia applied for EU membership. In March 2012, Serbia acquired EU candidacy and accession talks have been ongoing. However, Serbia’s decision to ban the gay pride parade has raised concerns among senior EU leaders and international human rights groups about whether Serbia is committed to “so-called European values.” Human Rights Watch notes that the European Commission has confirmed that homosexual rights are an important component of the criteria required for EU membership. As such, Human Rights Watch argues that that the EU should consider the treatment of homosexuals when evaluating Serbia’s admission to the EU. Furthermore, the gay parade ban likely reinforces growing concerns in recent months that Serbia will “abandon its European path and return to the nationalism of the past.” The current Serbian government consists of nationalists and Socialists that were formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic.

The Serbian government’s decision to ban the gay pride parade may violate several articles found in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. First, the ban may violate Article 11’s explicit protection of the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression specifically includes the “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Second, the ban may violate Article 12’s explicit protection for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels. A Human Rights Watch official argued that the Serbian government’s security risks argument should be rejected. The official noted, “Pointing to security risks without any visible effort to come up with a reasonable plan to make the Belgrade Pride Parade happen is succumbing to threats of violence. Basic human rights are being thrown overboard.” Finally, the gay pride parade ban may violate Article 21, a provision that expressly prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Birgitta Ohlsson, Sweden’s European affairs minister, described the ban as “deeply troubling” and stressed that “[t]he rights of minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly should be guaranteed in countries that are members of the European Union or applying to join.”

EU or National Government Solution To Illegal Immigration?

The economic hardship and uncertainty facing European Union countries such as Greece and  Spain have led to controversial measures to stop the cost and flow of illegal immigration into EU countries. Greece’s crackdown on illegal immigration, with police setting up detention centers to house undocumented immigrants prior to their deportation,  has  human rights groups such as  Amnesty International calling Greece’s policies a violation of  international human rights and “should stop immediately”.  The Spanish Government passed a measure that would deny illegal immigrants access to free health care. Critics of this Spanish measure have taken to the streets, saying that the measure  “will strip the more than 150,000 illegal immigrants in Spain of their national health cards” and that “No human being is illegal”.  Charges of human rights violations have also surfaced, as many protestors have deemed this Spanish measure as “health apartheid”.

Anxiety over uncurbed illegal immigration is understandably higher in Greece compared to many other EU countries.  Around two- thirds of all illegal immigration into the EU enter through Greece . And given Greece’s ruthless recession and economic turmoil,  it becomes  more clear why anxiety over illegal immigration might lead the Greek Government to be more proactive in halting the tide of undocumented immigrants.

It is not a coincidence that both Spain and Greece, two member nations of the EU who are facing possible Eurozone ejectment due to their precarious economic conditions and massive debt, are implementing strict immigration measures to save perceived costs due to illegal immigration.  With opposition from Germany to bond buying debt of Eurozone countries with high borrowing costs, it puts incredible pressure on Spain and Greece (who are among the high borrowing EU nations) to find alternative measures to reduce their costs and debt.  Such measures has come in the form of stricter immigration policies to save costs, whether it be deportation of illegal immigrants (Greece) or preventing illegal immigrants from access to free health care (Spain).  Neither of these two countries wants to be seen as an economic burden to creditor nations of the EU- thus the need to resolve their own economic issues.

It would be interesting to see how the European Union responds to the measures taken by Greek and Spain. Would the EU move towards instituting national borders between European nations to help stop the flow of illegal immigration or simply let the national governments deal with the issue? In 2011, the EU confronted this dilemma where it contemplated establishing national borders between member states.  Most Europeans, according to a poll in Transatlantic Trend, “showed that majorities across the European Union want their national governments, not the broader European Union, to control who enters their country and at what rate”.  Whether Spain and Greek’s new policies will further this trend remains to be seen, as the debate between EU vs. national control over immigration issue will continue to occur.

 




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