By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), which is the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy Service led by Federica Mogherini, put together a nice video for “Human rights day.” It talks about “fundamental rights and freedom” and the “universal declaration of human rights.” it talks about how human rights are universal and how they are essential for democracy and peace. “We’ll continue to protect human rights and those fighting to defend them,” it says. The video even shows Mogherini claiming “you are not alone, the EU will always continue to be with you.”
Despite all the talk about human rights, the EU delegations around the world did not actually do anything to speak up about human rights in dictatorships. Instead they hosted events that neatly catered to the societies they are based in. In more democratic societies they spoke a bit about human rights, whereas they were uncritical of the more thuggish and totalitarian states. In the world’s leading jailor of journalists, for instance, the EU hosted a film gathering. Nothing about human rights abuses, bulldozing towns, extrajudicial killings.
Only in Israel did the EU delegation host an event with critical voices. “Wrapping up a busy day around Israel looking at different human rights issues, with a reception with EU Ambassadors
@Btselem exhibition showing the lives of #Palestinians in the occupied territories,” tweeted the EU in Israel account.
In Sri Lanka the EU delegation tweeted “We support female participation in decision-making structures, a key priority in view of upcoming LG elections, and rights-based advocacy through our partner.” In Mexico the delegation tweeted a generalized tweet against violence against women. In Kazakhstan the delegation discussed people with disabilities. “Around 600,000 individuals in Kazakhstan have a disability. Very often, persons with disabilities don’t get basic opportunities in everyday life. Eliminate obstacles, don’t limit opportunities.” In Vietnam the delegation noted “
#EU and #Vietnam hold Human Rights Dialogue. The Dialogue assessed recent developments in the field of human rights in Vietnam and Europe, and was preceded by meetings with NGOs from Europe and Vietnam.”
In Indonesia the EU had a meeting in which the “EU Heads of Mission in
#Indonesia speak out against gender-based violence.” In Jamaica they focused on “women’s rights” and in Pakistan “stop child marriage.” In Jordan? A song against “gender based violence.” In Syria the delegation was silent on Human Rights Day, it didn’t tweet anything, which shows that when a regime abuses human rights the delegation’s silence speaks volumes.
And what did the EU Delegation to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the Cooperation Council for the Arab Countries of the Gulf do for Human Rights Day? Partner with minority dissidents in Bahrain? Speak out about people imprisoned for critical speech? Perhaps speak out against beheadings, or abuse of domestic workers? Perhaps speak out for the rights of workers kept in a virtual state of slavery and underpaid with their passports confiscated? No, nothing so interesting. The delegation “celebrated” human rights in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the GCC.
Celebrated? In short, the EU supported all these countries and did not critique any of them in regard to human rights. In Riyadh they even gave a man, yes a MAN, an award for “empowering” women. In a region where women lack basic rights, where not so long ago a woman was sentenced to be whipped after she was gang raped by seven men. It’s not even clear if women were permitted to attend the EU event, there were no women in photos. In short, the EU role in the GCC is to support the status quo, not challenge it by partnering with organizations that are critical.
Surely in Niger the EU might find some critical voices? Well, actually, in Niger the delegation held an “official launch of the program of support for the reform of civil status in Niger” under the slogan “one state, civil, modern and effective.” Sounds a bit like a state sponsored event, not exactly a critical event with minorities and dissidents.
In George the EU gave an award to a local film about migration. In Lebanon, any criticism about treatment of Syrian refugees, or abuses of foreign workers such as maids? Any discussion about giving Palestinian refugees rights? Well no, instead the EU praised Lebanon’s ministries as a “focal points for human rights: “Mabrouk! You have the opportunity to take part in developing one of the most important human rights instrument in Lebanon.”
Yes, “Mabrouk,” because surely there is nothing to be critical about in Lebanon.
In Seychelles, a pleasant cocktail party it seems, praising “Minister Maneesh Gobin.” In Fiji, “The Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission,
@UNDP_Pacific & #EU join forces to facilitate & nurture a culture of human rights.” That sounds nice, but isn’t it just another partnership with a government organization? In Malaysia, a country that officially discriminates against minorities, the EU Delegation was all cheerful and smiles. “UN, Europe & Malaysia together in partnership celebrating and promoting human rights.”
Which human rights? Minorities? Umm, no. Celebrating the greatness of Malaysia.
The endlessly hollow EU stand on human rights can be seen by glancing through their hashtag “EU4HumanRights” which should really be “EU4DictatorshipsStatesAndThePowerful.”
That brings us to some other brutal regimes. What about Iran. It seems they don’t have a human rights day there, not even one to praise the regime. But in November the European Union Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis tweeted “
#EU and #Iran teams after human rights talks in Tehran, in context of two sides’ political dialogue led by Helga Schmid.” Helga is the EU’s Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS). In Iran they didn’t meet with minorities or dissidents, just regime officials.
The EU has turned “human rights day” throughout the world into a bizarre caricature of human rights. Tweeting “happy human rights day” when millions around the world lack human rights and as EU officials meet with the regimes that suppress them. It’s Orwellian.
In China for instance the EU released a local statement. “Here in Beijing, each of us continues to witness first-hand China’s success in improving the lives of its citizens,” it reads. And, amazingly, there are some critical statements. ” During the past year, we have been deeply troubled by the deterioration of the situation with respect to freedom of information and freedom of expression and association, including with respect to online activity. ” The EU even mentioned individuals, “also concerned about the recent conviction of human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong and the detention of human rights defenders Ilham Tohti, Wang Quanzhang, Wu Gan, Tashi Wangchuk, Li Yuhan and Huang Qi, each of whom was detained in connection with their promotion of fundamental human rights.”
So why China got such a large statement while the EU was celebrating in Riyadh, Tehran and elsewhere? EU delegations only released several “local statements,” like the one in China. in Sierra Leone the statement reads like the most self-congratulatory generalizations and praise for the local state. “We have equal cause to celebrate Sierra Leone’s unfaltering track record of adherence to democratic values as the country moves towards the 4th free, fair and timely elections on March 7, 2018. The Government under the leadership of His Excellency President Koroma has been making solid progress in implementing the Agenda for Prosperity, despite the adversity brought by the Ebola epidemic and the commodity price downturn.” Unfaltering track record? You’d think the country must be a utopia.
In Papua New Guinea the EU statement was more specific. “Three organisations; Child Fund Papua New Guinea, the ‘National Council of Women (NCW) and the ‘International Organization for Migration (IOM)’ in joint venture with the Department of Justice & Attorney General (DJAG), received grants totalling 3 million Kina to support new projects promoting Human Rights.”
The EU has a janus face when it comes to human rights. On the one hand Mogherini says that “the space for human rights’ advocates is shrinking and the
#EU too is starting to be more and more alone in defending human rights. We need each other. And we will never, never, never give up or let you alone.” Yet abroad the EU is rarely critical, it often “celebrates” non-existent human rights achievements. In Indonesia, where there is widespread discrimination and attacks on religious minorities, such as Ahmadiyya Muslims, the EU says the country “enjoys a free, strong and vibrant civil society.”
There is nothing more ridiculous than the praise constantly heaped on Iran.
“The Vice President of
#Iran on Women and Family affairs Massoumeh Ebtekar @ebtekarm we had very fruitful discussion on progress and challenges on women rights and empowerment, including under the UN Sustainable Development Goals; agreed to explore coop & exchange of expertise.” The EU’s Special Representative for “human rights” even praises Iran’s “death penalty reform.” He claims “Was informed by Iranian counterparts of new law narrowing today’s broad death penalty application for drug offenses. When fully applied law expected to spare life of majority of people on death row today. Important development.” The reality is that no one should receive the death penalty for “drug offenses.” But the EU is silent and calls this an “important development,” when the reality of Iran’s law is an abomination. The EU in Iran never meets with minorities or dissidents, it only highlights the regime’s efforts. It’s a mockery of human rights.
Except when it comes to Israel. The only country in the world where the EU works with actual civil rights activists who are critical of the government is in Israel. It is the only country the EU doesn’t heap praise on. Is Israel’s track record on human rights really so much worse than the rest of the world? But there is no praise for its civil society, no adoring statements about the government, no talk of the “beautiful” country that the EU representatives heap on other nations during human rights statements. No partnering with general broad organizations that work on women’s rights, the way the EU does in other countries partnering with state-sponsored groups that work on broad-based issues.
If the EU behaved in other countries as it does in Israel then it would actually be supporting human rights. If it worked with minorities in Iran, and with dissidents in Bahrain and to aid domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, and to help Ahmadiya people in Indonesia, and to end discrimination in Malaysia and to critique blasphemy laws in Pakistan, then it would be giving a voice to the marginalized and weak. But only in Israel can it find a critical voice on human rights. Almost no where else does it find them, and it purposely avoids any discussions of real human rights issues in many dictators, preferring the company of the state officials and hosting them at events, then partnering with those who are critical or minority voices.