European Parliament discusses human rights in ACP countries

On January 24, the European Parliament Committee on Human Rights (DROI) had an exchange of views on human rights in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Countries.The speakers discussed the Cotonou Agreement that governs the relations between the European Union (EU) and the ACP countries, and which expires in 2020. In the coming two years, a new text will be negotiated including changes and new additions to make it more applicable to the current ever-changing state of play.

Human Rights at the forefront

During the discussion, there was an emphasis on the diversity of situations that make up the African continent and which cause considerable challenges to a comprehensive agreement. The speakers raised the question of whether there is complete impunity for government actions like those in Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. On this basis, the members of the European Parliament (MEP) DROI Committee highlighted Art. 9, par.2 of the Cotonou Agreement where the international obligations to respect human rights are laid out, as well as Art.96, where it is stated that consultation procedures may be triggered in case of human rights breaches.

Some MEPs criticized the fact that the basis for the current discussions is development and trade, leaving human rights as if of secondary concern. The understanding of human rights needs to be mutually agreed upon by the negotiating parties in order to foster the dialogue, MEPs say.

One of the suggestions of the representatives of the European External Action Service (EEAS) was that the African Charter on human rights should be fully implemented, with an emphasis on the abolition of the death penalty. Another suggestion was that, to help the development of the ACP countries, the EU could invest in human rights through the educational sector and through improving the judicial system.

Restructuring of funding and exports control system

The MEPs present at the sitting not only described that the countries receiving EU funding ‘do not do anything in return’, but also that the EU does not check if they use them appropriately, and urged for better management of the situation. Another important issue raised concerned the exports of EU goods which are not properly controlled; the EU’s export of arms and arms licenses has saw a 100% increase since last year,  while at the same time, there has been a noticeable increase in weapons in the North and Sub-Saharan regions of Africa. MEPs analyzed that under international humanitarian law, the EU has to carefully check the destination of the arms to protect civilians.

‘The EU has to work on the reality as it is, not as we want it to be’, stated an MEP. The Parliament Committee called for replacing the existing technocratic viewof the situation with a political one and they also suggested that the role of the European Parliament should be reinforced.They also stressed that the charter of the African Union contains the principle of non-indifference and urged the EP as a whole not to remain indifferent to situations of human rights violations.

At the same time, representatives of the Commission urged the MEPs to show up in greater numbers at the meetings.