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