September 26, 2016

EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy Recognizes Persistent Threats to Minorities

Photo courtesy of myri_bonnie @Flickr

On 20 September 2016, the Council of the European Union adopted its Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2015. The report confirms the importance and urgency of UNPO’s efforts to bring awareness to the causes of our members, who often face continuous infringements on their basic Human Rights. UNPO is pleased to note that the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities have remained an important theme to the European Council. However, we remain of the opinion that the EU could do more to address the hardships suffered by our members, and to provide tangible measures to confront the Human Rights abuses it denounces.

In addition to a focus on the urgent theme of migration and refugees, which has affected Europe throughout the past years, some of the main world-wide challenges identified in the Annual Report of 2015 are the support and protection of human rights defenders, the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities, freedom of religion and belief, and the fight against discrimination, causes central to the work of UNPO. In its discussion of countries and regional issues, the report refers to several issues related to specific UNPO members, among whom the Oromo in Ethiopia, the Haratin in Mauritania, and the Uyghurs and Tibetans in China.

The report calls attention to the situation in Mauritania with regards to slavery, noting that in spite of considerable legal progress in Human Rights, implementation and enforcement of new laws remains a worrisome issue. Specific concern is expressed over the imprisonment of the leaders of the anti-slavery movement, Biram Ould Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane, who were released in May 2016. Although EU projects targeting the economic empowerment of former slaves and the peaceful  coexistence among communities are welcome initiatives, a lack of action by the European Union regarding the issue of slavery was noted during a hearing at the EP’s Subcommittee for Human Rights in December 2015.

The report emphasizes the precarious Human Rights situation in Ethiopia, with specific mention of the situation in Oromia, where student and farmer protests were met with a severe crackdown. One of the main concerns with regard to the situation in Ethiopia is the scarcity of accurate and independent sources of information. HR/VP Mogherini discussed ways in which the EU could assist during her visit to Addis Ababa in October 2015, but no further measures have been taken.

In regards to the situation in China’s autonomous regions, the EU is straightforward in voicing its concern and disapproval. The report mentions “credible allegations of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians”, as well as the mass incarceration of human rights lawyers and activists. A telling case is that of renowned Uyghur scholar and activist Ilham Tohti, who is unjustly serving a life sentence in prison on trumped up charges of “separatism”. Ilham Tohti was recently nominated for the European Parliaments’ Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Throught thanks to UNPO’s advocacy efforts.

The report further calls attention more generally to the rights of minorities and the freedom of expression, religion and belief, as well as a plethora of human rights abuses occurring in countries like Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. In particular, for the latter, the persistence of enforced disappearances, recently discussed by UNPO at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as the failure to protect minorities are highlighted. While briefly discussing the struggle of minorities in Iraq, the report refers to the concerning situation of the Yazidi community, also highlighted by the media, but doesn’t mention the Assyrians or the Turkmen ethnic components, whose situation is also extremely worrying. The paragraph of Iran unfortunately falls short of mentioning the country’s persecuted minorities, focusing mainly on the worrisomely large application of the death penalty and on restrictions to freedom of expression and association.

The UNPO welcomes the EU’s outspoken concern over Human Rights violations the world over, and is delighted to find in it a partner in raising awareness for the abominable situations many minorities and indigenous peoples around the world face every day. The UNPO also hopes to see the concerns listed in this report translated into concrete and targeted measures to confront these atrocities and work towards the improvement of these communities’ human rights situation.

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