Justifying EU’s Anti-Human Rights Partnerships

Written by: Julia Micevska – Brussels Correspondent

As a massively influential global actor, the EU espouses that the promotion of human rights is embedded within its very core—that it is a founding value of the European Union. The EU holds that central values such as human rights must not only be prioritised among its Member States, but must be a critical component of EU external relations as well.

On 19 February of this year, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini, nominated Eamon Gilmore as the new EU Special Representative for Human Rights. Special Representative Gilmore has an extensive background in foreign and diplomatic affairs; he has received several international honours and awards for his work for peace, as well as for his leadership on human rights issues.

But, Special Representative Gilmore fills this new appointment at a time when the EU faces a crucial crossroads. The EU has introduced broad schemes of economic, social, and political development with many different countries. Two countries currently benefiting from an EU partnership are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both receive extensive political and financial support directly from the European Union. The aim of these partnerships is to increase the promotion and protection of human rights, while engaging in mutually beneficial trade relations. But the EU has a problem—one it has not been quick to address: these human-rights-oriented programs are failing. And, they are disproportionately failing to protect the human rights of women and girls.

In November of 2018, the EU announced that it would provide 474 million euros to Afghanistan in an effort to promote effective state-building and public sector reforms, as well as secure positive developments in health, justice, elections, displacement, and human rights. In 2008, a Global Rights report found that, in Afghanistan, almost 90% of women experience at least one form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence, or forced marriage. Of that same group of women, 62% experienced multiple forms of violence. In 2018, ten years later, an AIHRC report discovered that violence remained a salient feature of life for Afghan women: 94% of all cases of violence against women still occurred, and occurred in the home. Approximately 90.3% of the violence against Afghan women is committed by men, with 61% originating at the hands of husbands. This violence impacts every single facet of a woman or girl’s life—her health, her livelihood, her access to social and cultural resources, and the educational opportunities that are available to her.

Pakistan is the EU’s most important trading partner; 12.8% of Pakistan’s total trade is with the EU, and the EU accepts 23.7% of Pakistan’s total exports. Because of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+), which aims to encourage both sustainable development and good governance, Pakistan receives generous tariff preferences. Over 78% of Pakistan’s exports arrive in the EU at preferential rates. But, in order to keep its GSP+ status, Pakistan is required to ratify and effectively implement all 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection, and good governance. Pakistan has yet to fully comply, denying Pakistani citizens safety and stability. Most notably, Islamabad banned militant rebel group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) from Pakistan back in 2002, but JeM and other terrorist groups still freely operate on Pakistani soil. The Pakistani State provides them the means and the impunity to implement a country-wide terror campaign. The effects of rape as a weapon of war, inequality, economic discrimination, and limits on educational opportunities resulting from this state-sanctioned terror apparatus all fall more heavily on women and girls.

The EU has questions to answer, and Special Representative Gilmore will be the one asked to answer them. He must justify to the world why the EU has doled out a massive financial package to the Afghani government when women are still being denied a seat at the table in Afghan peace and development processes. He will be the one asked to explain why the EU has continued its preferential treatment of Pakistan even when the international community has had full knowledge of state-sanctioned terrorism and human rights abuses being carried out by Islamabad.

The EU’s official response has to include practical directives detailing the steps it will take to ensure that its foreign partners comply with the human rights protections to which they are bound. Any response that does not include those directives is not only inadequate but offensive to the full spectrum of human rights that the EU claims to protect.

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