During her one-day visit to Brussels on the 23rd of February, UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay held a series of meetings with various EU counterparts. She discussed the general role of international human rights standards in EU policies with European Commission’s President José Manuel Barroso, internal human rights challenges in Europe with the European Commission’s Vice President Viviane Reding and the role of human rights in the EU’s external policy with the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the EU as well as with Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Before her meetings with EU counterparts, the High Commissioner had a round-table discussion with Brussels-based human rights NGOs to listen to their concerns.
Throughout her meetings with EU counterparts, the High Commissioner stressed the importance of consistency between internal and external EU policies in terms of human rights: “Europe should lead by example. Consistency between external and internal human rights policies is essential for Europe´s credibility on the international scene.”
Concrete issues raised in the meeting with Vice President Reding included the difficult situation of the Roma; the large number of children (above all in Eastern Europe) in institutional care, often in appalling conditions; the lack of progress on the adoption of the non-discrimination directive proposed by the European Commission in 2008; and violence against women.
On the external policy side, the High Commissioner emphasized the need to mainstream human rights into all areas of EU external policy and to use international human rights standards and instruments as a point of reference when promoting human rights abroad.In this context the High Commissioner pointed out that the Universal Periodic Review process could be a valuable tool for the EU in promoting improvements both internally and in non-EU countries. She also offered the support and expertise of OHCHR in implementing the Human Rights Based Approach to development.
“The recent events in North Africa show that development policies cannot succeed if they have a narrow economic focus,” said the High Commissioner. “Economic growth is not enough. People will not be satisfied if their human rights are being denied to them, and states which are not built on the rule of law will remain shaky.”
The visit coincided with heightened international focus on human rights issues in the wake of events in Libya and other Arab states. In a joint press statement following her meeting with President Barroso, the High Commissioner referred to the special session of the Human Rights Council that will be taking place in Geneva on Friday the 25th and suggested that an independent investigation into the situation in Libya be launched, stating that “the violence against unarmed protesters could constitute crimes against humanity”. In the context of the North African events, President Barroso also affirmed his strong conviction about the universality of human rights, from which the Arab people cannot be excluded.
All of the High Commissioner’s meetings ended on a positive note with commitments of increased cooperation between the EU and OHCHR.
25 February 2011