EU set to appoint human rights champion
by Daniel Mason
The European Union is this month set to appoint a special representative for human rights to advocate EU principles and guidelines around the world, and to lead dialogues with the United Nations and third countries.
Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, speaking in the European Parliament this week, said the role would help the bloc to "be more visible and to promote human rights across the whole range of the EU's external policies".
She said she was looking for "somebody with an established track record and international experience in human rights, as well as strong understanding of EU policy". There have been five applications for the position, according to a statement by the European People's Party group in parliament. Ashton said: "Member states have put forward some excellent candidates, and I look forward to a swift appointment."
The special representative would serve a two-year term, renewable once, Ashton added, because it was "important that the mandate should be long enough to deliver on issues that are inherently long-term". At the moment a number of separate officials deal with human rights in specific regions or relating to certain issues – such as South Sudan, the Middle East and the Arab spring – but Ashton said the new appointment, who will come under her authority, would "add considerable value to our existing work".
She also gave her "full commitment" that the special representative would brief the parliament regularly, and that MEPs deserved "credit for championing this idea" since 2010. This week the parliament adopted a set of recommendations on the proposed role of the human rights envoy. It said the special representative should "be granted a strong, independent and flexible mandate not define by narrow and specific thematic responsibilities".
According to MEPs, the office should be concerned with issues such as minority rights, freedom of expression and association, tackling all kinds of discrimination, the fight against torture, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and international justice. They said the should be allocated sufficient funding and staff to do the job.
Andrzej Grzyb MEP said: "Appointing a special representative for human rights should increase the effectiveness and the coherence of the EU's human rights policy. The special representative would chair high-level human rights meetings and would be a partner for its counterparts in third countries and at international organisations such as the UN, the Council of Europe or the UN high commissioner for refugees."
Adding that human rights were one of her "top priorities", Ashton said she would continue to be "as personally involved as ever" in these issues, "but now with additional, high-level, expert support". The Council of the EU is expected to appoint the representative when foreign ministers meet on June 25, as part of a wider review of human rights policy. The nominee should face questions in parliament, said MEPs.
This week Ashton said the EU's latest annual report on human rights and democracy showed that the bloc could "really make a difference where it matters most". She added: "Since January, we also conducted 14 in-depth human rights discussions with countries around the globe, with another 22 still to come this year. From Jordan to Vietnam, from Ukraine to the United States, from Argentina to Pakistan, the EU sits down in the spirit of partnership to see how together, we can improve the situation of human rights."
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