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  • The impact of the resolutions and other activities of the European Parliament in the field of human rights outside the EU
    The European Parliament
    February 25, 2013

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    Executive Summary

    Commissioned by the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), this report evaluates the impact of the European Parliament (EP) activities in the field of human rights in third countries between 2007 and 2011. It assesses how reforms introduced in the past five years, most notably through the Lisbon Treaty, have affected the EP's commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.

    Our concern is to judge the impact that EP resolutions and other activities have had on the ground in third countries. We do this through six country case studies: Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. We carried out an extensive range of interviews with activists and civil society groups in these countries to attain local perspectives on EU human rights policies.

    Three different areas of EP activities are identified: the protection of individuals and organisations whose rights have been violated; third country government authorities and policies violating human rights; and specific causes supported by the EP. We offer a range of indicators to assess the varying levels of EP impact.

    The instruments and activities assessed (formal and informal ones) include: the EP's deliberative, legislative and budgetary responsibilities; EP resolutions; the yearly Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought; public hearings; EP delegations; the activities of the DROI subcommittee; activities by the EP president, political groups and individual MEPs.

    We find that the EP has carved out a clear and distinct role within the field of human rights. It has achieved significant visibility when highlighting the plight of individuals and denouncing instances of human rights violations. However, our in-country empirical research suggests that systematically translating this human rights profile into a tangible improvement in the situation of individuals or human rights policies remains a largely unmet challenge.

    In some cases such as Cuba and Zimbabwe, the activities of the EP have been conditioned and determined by elements of the broader EU position towards these countries - respectively, the Common Position and targeted restrictive measures. In both cases, the low level of impact on the human rights policies of the two countries contrasts with the EP's success in highlighting the plight of specific individuals.

    In these countries, and also in Sri Lanka, the low level of impact has been compounded by the hostility of these regimes - a constant across all six case studies - but also by the role of external actors with great regional influence - the US, South Africa and India. In addition, internal political divisions within the EP regarding Sri Lanka have limited the impact of activities. This is because the EP has failed to make its stance clear and avoid being utilised for its own purposes by the Sri Lankan government.

    Another important determinant of the impact of EP activities is the leverage which the EU as a whole can exert over third countries. A neighbouring country in which the EP has played a positive role and has been was able to make a difference in a number of instances is Egypt. Here however, the high number of activities carried out in 2011, as a result of the dramatic political events within the region, had a lower impact than desired - partly because the voice of the EP has been crowded out by a cacophony of other actors. Unlike specific activities prior to 2011 which had a greater impact.

    By contrast, the impact in Belarus has been limited. Despite being an immediate neighbour to the EU, Belarus remains as one of the world's worst human right offenders and the only country in Europe not to have abolished the death penalty. Despite its proximity, which provides at least some potential for greater EU leverage, the impact of EP activities has been low. The reasons for this policy failure are largely beyond the EP's control.

    In the case of China, the large number of EP human rights activities are perceived by local groups has having had negligible impact. Here, the EU's limited overall leverage over China appears as the main factor, rather than negative impressions of the EP per se. Nonetheless, our interlocutors did suggest that the EP could do better by relying less on official contacts and adhering to a less narrow political focus. Our case studies present a number of interesting lessons regarding the conditions which determine the impact of EP activities. These can be divided among those internal to the EP, those external to the EP but internal to the EU, and those external to the EU.

    Within the first group, conditions internal to the EP, the most positive aspect is the high degree of visibility which EP activities in the field of human rights enjoy within third countries. The EP is invariably seen as the most principled and outspoken of EU institutions. At the same time, other internal factors can limit the EP's impact. These include: the lack of full coherence in the messages that the EP sends; the inconsistency of activities across time; and the need for better coordination across different activities and instruments, particularly between the plenary and the work of committees and delegations. Among those conditions that limit the impact of activities that are external to the EP, but internal to the EU, two decisive factors emerge from our consultations: the need for more fluent communication and coordination between the EP and the EEAS; and, more broadly, the need for EP activities to dovetail more effectively with member states¡¦ diplomacy and funding.

    A final set of conditions, those external to the EU but which determine the impact of EP activities, are highlighted by our research: the degree of leverage which the EU has over the country in question; the attitude of third country governments and the internal political dimensions shaping these attitudes; and the role of other international actors.

    Based on the findings of our case studies, a number of conclusions regarding the impact of EP activities in the field of human rights suggest themselves. First, while EP activities enjoy a certain degree of visibility, these have had a medium-to-low degree of impact; although there is an important variation in impact among activities. In most cases the factors that most strongly condition the impact of EP activities in third countries are external to the EP, and largely outside its and the EU's control. Of those factors internal to the EU, divisions among member states and a lack of coordination between the EP and the EEAS especially on the ground - are seen as those most seriously diluting the impact of human rights activities. Finally, and internal to the EP, the level of coherence, consistency and coordination of EP activities in the field of human rights constitutes the key determinant of their impact. The results obtained from the different case studies, allows the following recommendations to be made:

    • The EP should multiply and strengthen its contacts with civil society in third countries, including individual human rights defenders, as a way of reinforcing its role and position as a consistent supporter of human rights both among EU institutions and on the international arena.
    • The EP should increase its internal coherence and the coordination across different instruments as a way of rendering human rights a guiding force for all EP activities. An important degree of political support is needed for this to be effective.
    • The EP should more fully utilise the new budgetary and co-decision powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, to promote an effective common EU human rights strategy and increase the role the EU plays in this field globally.

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