Mar 01, 2017

EU Sets Human Rights Priorities for 2017

Photo courtesy of Number 10

On 27 February 2017, the Council of the European Union (EU) released its conclusions on EU Priorities at United Nations (UN) Human Rights fora in 2017. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) welcomes the European institution’s focus on the defence of minority and indigenous rights in several countries. However, significant shortcomings must, regrettably, be noted in the lack of a coherent EU approach to the dire human rights situation in Ethiopia and in its silence on mounting repression against minorities in China, among others. Besides, some of the most shameful and worldwide persisting practices – slavery and forced labour – also do not feature among the EU’s priorities for 2017.

This year, the Council of the EU promises to engage in facilitating the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in meetings of relevant UN bodies. This certainly underpins the work that the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and its members conduct in interaction with UN institutions, such as the recent successful contribution to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances’ report on Pakistan, the organisation’s submissions to the Universal Periodic Review system or organising side events at UN fora on forgotten minorities.

UNPO especially welcomes the EU’s continued support for a human rights-centred solution to the great threat that the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea poses to the Crimean Tatars. UNPO shares the Council’s deep concern at serious human rights violations and supports its call to unrestricted access for established human rights monitoring mechanisms to the peninsula.

The Council further underlines the high rate of imposition of death penalties in Iran. The EU again reiterates its commitment to the abolition of death penalty worldwide. It also assures the international community to continue drawing attention to violations of minimum standards, such as its application to minors, as in the case of Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran, a child bride belonging to the Kurdish minority in Iran.

Linking its call for the elimination of all violent crackdown on and discrimination against people belonging to minority groups to the systematic persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Council demands impartial investigation of all allegations of human rights abuses against members of minorities. It also calls for the conviction of all perpetrators by competent jurisdictions. UNPO welcomes the EU’s promise to find a wide base of support among international and national actors for addressing minority rights in Myanmar.

Regarding the human rights of Abkhazian citizens, while the European institution commendably intends to deal with this topic, it still considers the de facto state of Abkhazia to be a “Georgian region”.

The protection of girls and boys from child, early and forced marriage, as utilised, for example, in Bangladesh to convert non-Muslim indigenous children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to Islam, has been declared another focal point of the EU’s 2017 human rights agenda. Gender equality and the increase of efforts to prevent and eliminate of all kinds of discrimination and violence against women and girls also features highly in the Council’s conclusions. This European approach is in tune with UNPO’s upcoming conference, focusing on sexual and gender-based violence against minority Ethiopian women in conflicts.

While the Council focuses on the gross human rights violations and war crimes being committed in Syria, the tense situation in Iraq remains overlooked. Minorities such as the Assyrians  are still today under threat of attacks by ISIS and are looking towards an uncertain future as a stateless Nation.

UNPO wishes to underline here other issues pertaining to indigenous and minority rights in the world that are not mentioned in the Council’s conclusions. The recent HRW World Report 2017 for example alerted the world in great detail about the unprecedented and persisting human rights crisis in Ethiopia, which especially affects the Oromo, the Ogadeni and other ethnic groups, but the Council’s document seems to overlook this completely. The EU’s human rights scheme, furthermore, avoids any criticism of China’s oppressive policies against its minorities, highlighted by a number of UNPO’s recent events.. The issue of persisting slavery, for instance of the Haratin minority in Mauritania, as well as the widespread disregard for minority rights in Pakistan, and especially in the Pakistani occupied territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, are also not mentioned by the European policy makers.

You may read the Council’s conclusions on EU Priorities here.