The EU's priorities in United Nations human rights fora in 2022
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On 24 January 2022, the Council of the European Union (EU) adopted its Conclusions on EU Priorities in United Nations (UN) Human Rights Fora in 2022. Adopted every year, these conclusions are meant to serve as a guiding instrument for Team Europe’s (i.e. the EU, the EU’s Member States — including their implementing agencies and public development banks —, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) efforts in the various UN Human Rights Fora (i.a. the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly Third Committee, the human rights treaty bodies,…).
As the Conclusions reaffirm the EU’s commitment to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, democracy, and the rule of law consistently and coherently in all areas of its external action and to support the UN human rights system as a cornerstone of its external action, they can be said to be more than just another policy document. In this article, meant to serve as a primer, the EU’s priorities will be outlined — starting with the country-specific priorities, then turning to the thematic priorities.
The first country to be prioritised by the EU is Ethiopia, which has been grappling with an ongoing conflict since 3 November 2020. In view of the numerous violations and breaches of human rights, such as sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, ethnically targeted violence, as well as possible violations of international humanitarian and refugee law, the EU will continue to press for an immediate ceasefire by all parties to the conflict and to refrain from further violations.
Following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the EU's efforts will be aimed at continuing to stress the responsibility of the Taliban-government’s caretaker to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially for women, children and persons belonging to minority ethnic groups, as well as to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and magistrates, especially women working in the judiciary. Further priorities include an inclusive and representative government, reinstating the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and implementing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan - to be appointed by the Human Rights Council.
The civil war in Syria, with all its undesirable consequences, has been going on since 15 March 2011. Since then, it has been an important issue for the EU. Therefore, as in previous years, the EU will call for an end to violations of international humanitarian law, human rights abuses and violations, including torture, as well as a full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (which calls on all parties to immediately cease all attacks against civilian targets).
The Russian Federation
The systematic repression of civil society, human rights defenders, independent media and journalists, members of the political opposition and critical voices, as well as persons in vulnerable situations, belonging to religious minorities and other stigmatised groups in the Russian Federation, is a matter of grave concern to the EU. It will therefore continue to monitor and condemn these restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Similarly, the deteriorating human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, including the city of Sevastopol, and in areas of Eastern Ukraine that are currently not under the control of the Ukrainian Government, as well as the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, will be monitored by the EU.
Following the disputed presidential elections in Belarus in 2020, mass protests broke out across the country — leading to widespread and systematic torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and the suppression of a wide range of rights and freedoms. Since then, the EU has continued to urge Belarus to cooperate fully with international and regional human rights monitoring mechanisms, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country and the OHCHR-led accountability mechanism.
In regards to Hong Kong, the EU will urge the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to restore full respect for the rule of law, human rights — including freedom and pluralism of the media — democratic principles and the independence of the judiciary, by the Basic Law of Hong Kong and China's domestic and international commitments.
Turkey has a special relationship with the EU as a candidate country and a long-standing member of the Council of Europe. However, the country's deteriorating human rights situation has led to intensified efforts by the EU to ensure that it complies with its respective obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Copenhagen criteria.
The human rights situation in China, particularly in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has long been of great concern to the international community. Furthermore, numerous reports of widespread human rights violations and abuses — including arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment of detainees, the existence of political re-education camps, widespread surveillance and systematic restrictions of freedom of religion or belief, the use of forced labour, and sexual and gender-based violence — have placed the matter high on the international agenda.
While the EU will continue to monitor the entire human rights situation, its focus will be on urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the human rights situation in China, and in particular Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region through an independent and objective assessment.
The continuing human rights abuses and violations by the military in Myanmar/Burmaagainst Rohingya Muslims and other minorities will continue to be followed closely by the EU to seek justice and accountability for those responsible. Furthermore, the EU will continue to condemn in the strongest terms the military coup d'état of 1 February 2021, denounce violence against civilians, including sexual and gender-based violence, and call for an all-inclusive dialogue to restore democracy and the rule of law, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and the immediate and unconditional release of all those arbitrarily detained.
The death penalty
The EU's first thematic priority is the death penalty, which it will continue to oppose in all circumstances while seeking the widest possible ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It will also call on all countries to support the UN General Assembly Resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and on all remaining countries that still apply the death penalty to abolish it (possibly by introducing a moratorium as a first step towards abolition). It will encourage states which have a moratorium in place to abolish the death penalty by law and call for strong participation in the 8th World Congress against the Death Penalty in Berlin in November 2022 (and support other initiatives in this regard).
As with the death penalty, the EU will continue to condemn the widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the world, and will work to eradicate these practices globally. It will press for independent investigations into serious human rights violations and abuses wherever they occur in the world and for perpetrators to be held accountable. The EU will also push for wide ratification and effective implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol and will continue to work through the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade to ban trade in goods used for capital punishment and torture.
Human rights defenders
Both human rights defenders and civil society organisations will enjoy continued support from the EU, especially those who suffer from reprisals following contacts with the UN system. Particular attention will be paid to women human rights defenders, environmental, land and indigenous human rights defenders, defenders of LGBTI rights and workers' rights.
Freedom of opinion and expression
The EU will promote and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and support media pluralism as well as media freedom worldwide. It will continue to condemn threats and attacks against media workers, and recall the responsibility of states to ensure that their national laws, policies and actions are consistent with their obligations under international human rights law. In addition, the EU will continue to express its concern about increased state control over the online space, the protection of democratic processes and ensuring a human rights-based approach to fighting disinformation.
The EU will continue to work actively within the UN fora to draw attention to the impact of new and emerging digital technologies on human rights and to promote a human rights-based approach to the design, development, deployment, evaluation and use of new digital technologies. In addition, it will remain in close cooperation with OHCHR and other partners to implement the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and will advocate for an open, free, interoperable, reliable and secure internet.
The EU will continue to oppose all forms of discrimination, with particular attention to multiple and interlinked forms of discrimination, including on grounds of sex, race, ethnic or social origin, religion or belief, political or other opinions, disability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The EU will promote and strengthen international efforts for gender equality, in line with its international commitments, and will use every opportunity in all relevant fora to reaffirm these commitments, including in the UN Commission on the Status of Women, to address the root causes of gender-based discrimination and inequality. At the same time, the EU will continue to promote the integration of a gender perspective in all UN human rights fora, including in peace and security initiatives (e.g. UN Security Council Resolution 1325), and to support the full, effective, equal and meaningful participation of all women and girls at all levels of decision-making. The EU will also continue to put the prevention and eradication of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence at the centre of its efforts, including through the EU-led Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls; It will also continue to stress the need for a whole-of-society approach to engaging men in ending sexual and gender-based violence, eliminating gender inequalities, addressing discriminatory social norms and combating gender stereotypes.
Freedom of religion or belief
The EU will continue to promote and protect the freedom of religion and belief. To this end, it will condemn discrimination, intolerance, violence and persecution against or by any person based on religion or belief, and will promote and protect the right of all persons to have or not to have a religion or belief, to express or change their religion or belief.
Refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants
The EU will step up its action to enforce human rights law and principles, international humanitarian law and refugee law, about refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants, and will continue to focus its efforts on tackling the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement. The EU will further support countries in migration governance, by disrupting the business models of migrant smugglers and traffickers, by better managing Europe's external borders and by providing opportunities for legal migration. In addition, the EU will continue to strongly condemn and oppose the state-sponsored instrumentalisation of refugees and migrants by third countries (e.g. Belarus).
The climate crisis
The EU intends to remain a global leader on climate change and environmental issues and to support actions to address the serious consequences of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. It wants to ensure that all climate-related human rights, including the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, can be enjoyed in full.
The EU will continue to promote the rights of indigenous peoples, as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and international human rights law. In this regard, it will participate actively in all relevant fora where the rights of indigenous peoples are discussed. Furthermore, the EU will continue its efforts to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples' representatives and institutions in the competent UN bodies on issues that concern them.