The "Human Rights" clause in agreements with third countries Human rights clauses in EC legislation

In document EU annual report on human rights for 1999/2000. 11317/00, 26 September 2000 (Page 34-36)

Article 2 of the EC Treaty makes equality for women and men one of the explicit objectives of the Community Mainstreaming a gender perspective in all activities and policies is explicitly

3. EUROPEAN UNION HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVITIES ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE

3.1. EU INSTRUMENTS AND INITIATIVES IN RELATIONS WITH THIRD COUNTRIES

3.1.8. The "Human Rights" clause in agreements with third countries Human rights clauses in EC legislation

The EU's external trade and cooperation relations have been institutionalised in a series of treaties, ranging from simple bilateral commercial agreements to elaborate association agreements including clauses on different kinds of cooperation.

Since the early 1990s, the EU has inserted human rights clauses in a substantial number of bilateral trade and cooperation agreements with third countries (such as the association agreements,

Mediterranean agreements and the Lomé Convention). In May 1995 the Council approved a model clause, with the aim of ensuring consistency between different instruments. The model consists of a provision stipulating that respect for fundamental human rights and democratic principles as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (or, in a European context, also the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter for a New Europe) and for the rule of law underpins the domestic and external policies of the parties and constitutes an "essential element" of the

agreement. A provision dealing with non-execution of the agreement requires each party to consult the other before taking measures, except in cases of special urgency. An interpretative declaration, and the enacting terms, specify that cases of special urgency usually include breaches of an

"essential element" of the agreement. The Community thus makes it possible to suspend all or part of the implementation of an agreement in the event of human rights violations.

Since then, the human rights clause has been included in all bilateral agreements of a general nature (excluding sectoral agreements on textiles, agricultural products, and so on). More than 20 such agreements have already been signed. These agreements are in addition to the more than

30 agreements negotiated before May 1995. If the Lomé Convention is included, human rights clauses already apply to more than 120 countries.

The human rights clause does not transform the nature of agreements which are otherwise

concerned with matters not directly related to the promotion of human rights. It simply constitutes a mutual reaffirmation of commonly shared values and principles, a precondition for cooperation in the context of those agreements. Such a clause thus does not seek to establish new standards in the international protection of human rights. It merely reaffirms existing commitments which, as general international law, already bind all States as well as the EC in its capacity as a subject of international law.

Besides the human rights clause, most of the agreements concluded with third countries also arrange for regular political dialogue on all subjects of common interest, and aim for cooperation with a view to realising objectives such as peace, security, democracy and regional stability. This dialogue makes it possible for the Community to bring up human rights questions also, as does indeed regularly happen whenever this is necessary, particularly at Ministerial level in the Association Council framework.

In this spirit, the EU has used the mechanisms of the Lomé Convention to seek to resolve problems connected with human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In April 1999, following the coup d'état in Niger, the EU held consultations with the Niger government and the ACP States in line with the provisions of Article 366a of the Lomé Convention. At these consultations the Niger Government committed itself to a plan for transition to democracy; its implementation is accompanied by the progressive normalisation of relations between the Union and that country. Article 366a of the Lomé Convention has also been used in the cases of Togo, the Comoros, Guinea Bissau and Côte d'Ivoire.

In all these cases, the procedure was characterised by a desire to use dialogue to remedy situations in which essential elements of the Convention were being violated, before having recourse to possible unilateral measures to suspend cooperation.

The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) is a scheme under which the European Community grants autonomous and non-reciprocal trade preferences to developing countries in order to use trade as an instrument for development. Subsequently the conception of the scheme is adjusted to the requirements of sustainable development and the protection of human rights. The benefits of GSP preferences may be withdrawn in some specific cases of unacceptable practices. These include any form of slavery or forced labour and the export of goods made by prison labour. This procedure was launched against Burma/Myanmar for practices of forced labour and led to the withdrawal of GSP preferences; it has been in force since 1997.

New ACP-EC Partnership Agreement

The new Partnership Agreement was signed on 23 June 2000 in Cotonou (Benin) by 77 ACP States and by the European Community and its Member States, to succeed the Lomé

Convention. It describes respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including respect for fundamental social rights, democracy, the rule of law, and transparent and responsible

governance, as an integral part of sustainable development.

Respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law constitute essential elements of the Partnership Agreement. The parties refer to their international obligations and commitments on this issue. Equality between men and women is also reaffirmed.

A new consultation procedure has been established for cases where these essential elements are being violated. By comparison with the provisions of the Lomé Convention, the Cotonou

Agreement puts more emphasis on the responsibility of the State concerned and provides for greater flexibility in the consultation process. In cases of particular urgency – in cases of serious violations of one of the essential elements – measures may be taken immediately. They are then notified to the other party and to the ACP-EC Council of Ministers.

The Cotonou Agreement also makes good governance, defined by common agreement in broad terms, a fundamental element.

Furthermore, the parties agreed that serious cases of corruption, both active and passive, could from now on lead to the implementation of a specific non-execution clause. This procedure will be applied not only in cases of corruption involving EDF funding but also more broadly, in every country where the Community is financially involved and where corruption constitutes an obstacle to development.

All these essential and fundamental elements will be the subject of regular dialogue between the parties, which will pay particular attention to ongoing developments and to the continuation of current progress. This regular assessment will take account of the economic, social, cultural and historical situation of each country.

These areas will also be the subject of increased attention in support for development strategies. In this framework, the Community will be able to promote political, institutional and judicial reform and the strengthening of the capacities of those in public and private life and of civil society. By systematically integrating gender-linked questions, cooperation will also aim to ensure the equal participation of men and women. This cooperation should also contribute to improving the access of women to all the resources needed for the full exercise of their fundamental rights.

3.1.9. Regional partnership arrangements

In document EU annual report on human rights for 1999/2000. 11317/00, 26 September 2000 (Page 34-36)