MINELRES: EU Human Rights Dialogues: Opprtunities for Promoting Religious Freedom Worldwide

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Table of contents

EU Human Rights Dialogues: Opportunities for Promoting Religious Freedom

30 November 2005
Editor-in-chief: Willy Fautre
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EU Human Rights Dialogues: Opportunities for Promoting Religious Freedom

Policy Paper for Religious Freedom Advocacy

Willy Fautre, Human Rights Without Frontiers Int.

The issues of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for
fundamental human rights have underpinned the EU activities since its
inception and are accordingly incorporated into all its meetings and
discussions with third countries, at every level. 

In the framework of its external policy, the EU is engaged in specific
forms of dialogues on human rights with a number of states the
objectives of which vary from one country to another and are defined on
a case-by-case basis. The geographical scope of the EU in this regard is
quite large and encompasses all continents. 

The various forms of dialogues initiated by the EU with third countries
provide a technical framework inside which issues such as freedom of
religion or belief, the rights of religious minorities, religious
discrimination and religious intolerance in its multiple forms
(Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Christianophobia, etc.) could be taken up.

It is however noteworthy that among the issues covered in the human
rights dialogues freedom of religion or belief is not mentioned
explicitly and is therefore not considered a priority. Religious
intolerance and the rights of religious minorities are also absent from
the list of the EU main concerns. Only the issue of religious
discrimination can be included in one of the priority issues: the fight
against all forms of discrimination.

Types of dialogues

1. Dialogues or discussions of a rather general nature based on regional
or bilateral treaties, agreements or conventions dealing systematically
with the issue of human rights. 

These include in particular:

Relations with EU-candidate countries; 
The Cotonou Agreement with the ACP States and the Trade, Development and
Cooperation Agreement with South Africa; 
Relations between the EU and Latin America; 
The Barcelona process (Mediterranean countries); 
Political dialogue with Asian countries in the context of ASEA and ASEM; 
Relations with the Western Balkans; 
Bilateral relations in the framework of association and cooperation

2. Dialogues focusing exclusively on human rights. 

This type of dialogue, dealing solely with human rights, has so far only
been used with countries with which the EU had no agreement and/or where
the agreement contained no “human rights” clause.

For several years, the EU has maintained a highly structured dialogue
with China at the level of senior human rights officials. 

3. Ad hoc dialogues extending to CSFP-related topics, including human

The EU has maintained such a dialogue with Cuba and Sudan at the level
of heads of missions.

4. Dialogues in the context of special relations with certain third

Every six months, the EU represented by its Troika, the United States,
Canada and the associated countries organize a meeting of experts to
prepare the sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the annual
UN General Assembly. The main objective of these dialogues is to discuss
issues of common interest and the possibilities for cooperation within
multilateral human rights bodies.

5. Political dialogues with the ACP countries.

These dialogues have their own arrangements and procedures which are
defined in Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement. However, for
consistency’s sake, exchanges of information and experience are also
held on a regular basis in the COHOM Working Party framework.

Issues covered in human rights dialogues

The issues to be discussed during human rights dialogues are determined
on a case-by-case basis but the EU has selected and prioritized a number
of them:

- the signing, ratification and implementation of international human
rights instruments;
- the cooperation with international human rights procedures and
- the combating of the death penalty;
- the combating of torture;
- the combating of all forms of discrimination;
- children’s rights;
- women’s rights;
- freedom of expression;
- the role of civil society;
- international cooperation in the field of justice;
- the promotion of the processes of democratization and good governance;
- the prevention of conflict.

The EU Guidelines on Human Rights provide that “dialogues aimed at
enhancing human rights cooperation can include – according to the
circumstances – some of these priority issues. They can also prepare and
follow up the work of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, the
Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York and of
international and/or regional conferences.”

Procedure for the initiation of human rights dialogues

The Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) plays a major role in the
initiation process of a human rights-specific dialogue. Any move to
start such a dialogue requires, after discussion, a first decision taken
by the COHOM together with the geographical working parties, the Working
Party on Development Cooperation (CODEV) and the committee on measures
for the development and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law,
and for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The final
decision however lies with the Council of Ministers. From then on, the
COHOM can start the preliminary assessment of the human rights situation
in the country concerned. 

The assessment is carried out by the COHOM in coordination with other
Working Parties. It is based, inter alia, on reports of heads of
mission, the UN and other international or regional organizations, the
European Parliament and various human rights NGOs. The Commission
strategy papers for the countries concerned are also a major source of

The geographical working parties, the Working Party on Development
Cooperation (CODEV) and the committee on measures for the development
and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law, and for the respect
of human rights and fundamental freedoms are also involved in this
decision-making process.

At last, the COHOM is responsible for following up the dialogue together
with the other aforementioned bodies.

Practical arrangements for human rights dialogues

The practical arrangements are mainly determined by the feasibility
conditions and the concern for maximum efficiency. In this regard,
dialogues are supposed to be held at the level of government
representatives responsible for human rights. For the sake of
continuity, the EU is to be represented by the Troika, at the level
either of representatives from the capitals or of Heads of Mission.

Dialogue meetings are regularly held in the country concerned so that
the EU delegation can have a better grasp of the local situation and,
with the agreement of the country’s authorities, can contact and visit
alternative sources of information (human rights activists, legal
experts, professors, etc.). 

As far as possible, the EU asks the authorities of countries involved in
the human rights dialogue to include in their delegations
representatives of the various institutions and ministries responsible
for human rights matters. Likewise, civil society can also become
involved in the preliminary assessment of the human rights situation, in
the conduct of the dialogue itself in the follow up and the assessment
of the dialogue. The EU can thereby signify its support for defenders of
human rights in the country concerned.

Managing human rights dialogues

The European Council Presidency is responsible for the preparation of
the dialogues, their follow-up and their annual assessment.

The European Council Secretariat centralizes all the data, prepares both
the content and the logistic of the dialogues.

The European Council can rely on the input of the Presidency of the EU,
the European Council Secretariat, the geographical working parties, the
Working Party on Development Cooperation (CODEV) and the committee on
measures for the development and consolidation of democracy and the rule
of law, and for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The EU can also consider, on a case-by-case basis, the possibility of
associating a private foundation or organization specialized in the
field of human rights with one or more dialogues as it occurred with the
Wallenberg Institute in the context of exploratory talks with North
Korea in June 2001 in Brussels.

Articulation between EU dialogues and EU Member States’ bilateral

For the sake of maximum consistency between EU dialogues and EU Member
States’ bilateral dialogues, the EU Guidelines on Human Rights advise:

- to exchange information through the COREU or the COHOM;
- to collect relevant information on the spot by the diplomatic mission
of the EU Presidency;
- to organize informal ad hoc meetings between the members of COHOM, the
relevant geographical working parties or study groups with other
countries which maintain human rights dialogues with the country
concerned (as is the case of the current dialogue with China.)

Source: EU Guidelines on Human Rights, 49 p, ISBN 92-824-3130-4,
published by the Council of the European Union, May 2005

Acronyms in alphabetical order

ASEM: The origins of the ASEM process lay in a mutual recognition, in
both Asia and Europe, that the relationship between the two regions
needed to be strengthened. In November 1994, Singapore and France
proposed that an EU-Asia summit meeting be held, to consider how to
build a new partnership between our two regions. Following the
Singaporean proposal, the first ASEM Summit was held in Bangkok in March
1996. Since then, Summit-level meetings have been held every two years
(London in April 1998, Seoul in October 2000, Copenhagen in September
2002 and Hanoi to be held on 7-9 October 2004).

Barcelona Process: The Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers of
Foreign Affairs, held in Barcelona on 27-28 November 1995, marked the
starting point of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Barcelona
Process), a wide framework of political, economic and social relations
between the Member States of the European Union and Partners of the
Southern Mediterranean. 

The latest EU enlargement, on 1st May 2004, has brought two
Mediterranean Partners (Cyprus and Malta) into the European Union, while
adding a total of 10 to the number of Member States. The
Euro-Mediterranean Partnership thus comprises 35 members, 25 EU Member
States and 10 Mediterranean Partners (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan,
Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey).
Libya has observer status since 1999.

CFSP: Common Foreign and Security Policy

CODEV: Working Party on Development Cooperation.

COHOM: Working Party on Human Rights.

COREU: COREU is an EU communication network between the Member States
and the Commission for cooperation in the fields of foreign policy.

Cotonou Agreement: After the expiration of the Lome Convention (February
2000) regulating the relations between the European Union and the
African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), a new ACP-EC agreement was signed
on 23rd of June 2000 in Cotonou (Benin). It was concluded for a
twenty-year period from March 2000 to February 2020.

The Cotonou Agreement is based on five interdependent pillars with the
underlying objective of the fight against poverty: an enhanced political
dimension, increased participation, a more strategic approach to
cooperation focusing on poverty reduction, new economic and trade
partnerships and improved financial cooperation.

Troika: The Troika consists of the Member State which currently holds
the Presidency of the Council, the Member State which held it for the
preceding six months and the Member State which will hold it for the
next six months. The Troika is assisted by the Commission and represents
the Union in external relations coming under the common foreign and
security policy

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