Human rights in the Lead : Actions for a better future in the Euro-Mediterranean region

Europe, Justice and the Rule of Law, Policy Brief

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Brussels, 09 May 2019

The European Parliament elections of 23-26 May 2019 take place at a time when the Euro-Mediterranean region is at a turning point. This Europe Day, 9 May, EuroMed Rights calls on the candidates and future European parliamentarians to take a strong stance and lead by example in promoting the founding values of the European Union (EU), protecting human rights within and outside the EU, and activity supporting civil society and democratic reforms.

Safety for migrants and refugees

Protecting the rights of migrants and refugees is a central human rights issue that shapes the EU’s relations with its Mediterranean neighbours. In a region marked by war, occupation and instability, EuroMed Rights is particularly concerned to observe abuses in the management of European borders. Priority is given to strengthening means of control and push-backs of migrants and refugees to countries where they are at risk. Within the EU, free movement has been widely disrupted by the return of national border controls. This approach compromises respect for the universal human rights values upon which the EU is built. Negotiating deals with the leaders of third countries to block migration movements damages the EU’s credibility as a promoter of human rights and democratic principles in the region.

The European Parliament must take a brave stance in favour of a human rights-based approach to migration and asylum by:

  • Promoting free and safe mobility across the Euro-Mediterranean region;
  • Ensuring the right of refugees to access clear and fair asylum procedures and free judicial counsel and to receive effective protection in the EU;
  • Protecting migrants and refugees when arriving at EU borders, and through search and rescue operations at sea;
  • Offering political and financial support to reform initiatives, civil society organisations and social movements in the Mediterranean neighbourhood that help migrants and refugees, and continuing to stand against their criminalisation.

Protect spaces for civil society

In recent years, many governments across the region – including within the EU – have adopted restrictive measures and policies that undermine the activism of civil society and individuals who act for a peaceful cause and the full respect of human rights and democracy. Spaces for civil society are dramatically shrinking in many countries when it comes to freedom of expression, association and assembly, access to information and to decision makers, freedom of movement and access to funds.

Promoting and protecting an enabling environment for civil society is crucial and a prerequisite for a healthy democracy. The European Parliament must work proactively on:

  • Promoting safe spaces for civil society groups by offering them clear, unequivocal and public support, particularly in cases of physical and verbal attacks, harassment, and intimidation;
  • Calling for respect of the freedom of the press and of journalists, the freedom of association and the freedom of assembly. The right to protest must be promoted and respected so that citizens can stand against the attacks on human rights observed in many countries of the Euro-Mediterranean area;
  • Promoting civil society’s participation in public affairs, for example by inviting human rights defenders to hearings, and encouraging the development of safe spaces for dialogue between them and national and regional authorities, and reacting strongly when civil society actors face reprisals;
  • Ensuring that funding and financial regulations enable civil society organisations to carry out their work.

Keep women’s rights at the heart of actions

Some progress for women’s rights in the Euro-Mediterranean region has been met with attacks from populist movements and political groups. These movements have exacerbated the pressure on women’s rights defenders, who find themselves facing significant risks and threats, and have challenged international human rights norms pertaining to gender equality and combating violence against women.

The European Parliament has a strong role to play in supporting gender equality and women’s rights by:

  • Promoting initiatives aimed at strengthening women’s rights in law and in practice;
  • Supporting women’s rights defenders in their fight against gender-based inequality, through, for example, capacity-building activities;
  • Combating violence against women in all its forms and working towards the signature and ratification of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention by all states of the region;
  • Supporting and monitoring gender mainstreaming efforts throughout EU policies and actions.

Economic and social rights are key for a sustainable future

In recent years, the EU has remained the main trading partner for most of its southern neighbours, while increased free trade and neo-liberal policies have transformed economic and social relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Economic and social rights are key human rights concerns both in the North and the South, and their widespread neglect fuels continued discontent of citizens and social movements in the region.

The European Parliament must act to ensure that economic and social rights are given the attention they require by:

  • Systematising human rights impact assessments – including gender perspectives – of all trade agreements and EU financial support to programmes and projects and ensuring that these assessments go beyond mere box-ticking exercises and generate concrete measures and guidance;
  • Making sure that cooperation agreements actively promote economic and social rights;
  • Promoting spaces for active, democratic participation of citizens in defining sustainable economic and trade policies and the role of the EU in this regard.

 

Join and spread this call to the future European parliamentarians!