Safeguarding the universality of human rights against authoritarian regimes

A house in Khan Yunis, Gaza, after bombing.

MEPs denounce increasing violations of human rights and democratic values in the world in their 2023 annual report and call for the EU’s policy and its toolbox to be strengthened.

In the 2023 annual report on human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter, adopted on Wednesday by 377 votes for, 90 against and 68 abstentions, MEPs condemn the increasing violations of human rights and democratic values across the world and deplore the weakening of protection of democratic institutions and the shrinking space for civil societies, as global trends in the field of human rights in 2023.

Particularly, they denounce attacks to the universality of human rights and the rule of law by authoritarian regimes. These regimes abuse multilateral institutions, MEPs add, seeking to neutralise human rights mechanisms and their ability to hold states accountable for human rights violations.

They also deplore the global deterioration of human rights and rule of law situation, for which the EU should enhance its toolbox and act united when opposing the global democratic decline and human rights regression. They call on the EU and its member states to lead by example and strictly uphold human rights, as well as being more vocal when defending human rights on the global scene and within international organisations.

MEPs strongly condemn an increasing disregard for international human rights law and the atrocities, war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. They also call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza strip, and to allow uninterrupted access to food and water for all its inhabitants. The EU and its member states should grant the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ( UNRWA) support with the proper funding to continue and to improve its life-saving humanitarian work, MEPs add.

Promoting human rights for all and strengthening the EU’s toolbox

The report examines a wide range of situations, including women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, gender equality, the rights of national minorities, migrants, refugees and people with disabilities. The text also looks at the situation of freedom of the press in the world, freedom of expression and religion, and emphasises the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and the need to respect human rights in the context of new technologies, particularly artificial intelligence. It takes stock of human rights in the context of EU trade policy, calling on the EU to make consistent use of clauses in trade agreements that protect human rights, including closer monitoring and enforcement of human rights commitments. Furthermore, it states the concerns by the attacks on and harassment of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and the need for a proactive, holistic and long-term approach towards their protection.

MEPs mention the unprecedented human rights challenges facing the world since the adoption of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy by the EU and its member states, and call for an urgent improvement in its implementation. They reiterate their call for greater transparency regarding human rights-related provisions in financing agreements under the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – Global Europe and a clarification of the mechanism and criteria for the suspension of such agreements.

They also call for a real Team Europe approach when defending human rights worldwide, for an enhanced use of the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (GHRSR – The EU Magnitsky Act) as a key political tool and reiterate their call for the introduction of qualified majority voting for decisions on the GHRSR.

The rapporteur Nacho Sánchez Amor (S&D, ES), said after the vote: “One of the humanity’s most fundamental achievements has been to embrace that every human being has a set of inherent, inalienable, individual and indivisible rights. However, in recent decades illiberal and authoritarian regimes have called these onto question. It is therefore crucial, now more than ever, that the EU and like-minded partners invest all efforts and resources in their defence. If the EU wants to be a geopolitical actor, it must assume that defending human rights and democracy at a global level is a commitment to a safer world.”

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