EU must lead by example, says human rights envoy
by Daniel Mason
The European Union's new special representative for human rights has described his task as "daunting" and said the EU must lead by example to win the respect of the rest of the world.
Speaking to members of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Human Rights committees yesterday, Stavros Lambrinidis said his mandate was to "increase the visibility, the coherence and the effectiveness of EU human rights policy" so that the bloc spoke with "one voice as the highest common denominator".
The former Greek foreign minister and vice-president of the European Parliament was appointed to the role by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton in July, and took office officially on September 1. His mandate runs until June 2014.
"I will strive to improve the actual effectiveness of human rights policy and through that to increase its visibility," he told MEPs in Brussels. "I will not try to increase its visibility in order to increase its perceived effectiveness. Effectiveness is key, and if we are effective and if we change lives visibility by definition follows."
Ashton has described human rights as a "silver thread that runs through everyone that we do in external relations", and Lambrinidis said his role was as a "face, phone number and facilitator" in implementing the EU's policy framework. The 50-year-old said his own commitment to human rights was founded on his experiences of growing up under dictatorship in Greece between 1967 and 1976. His parents, who died when he was a child, were active in the anti-dictatorship movement.
He added: "We must lead by the force of our example, being diligent in applying the same standard to ourselves that we do to others. Our soft power and credibility in the world – which as much as any economic power can draw the respect and encourage the human rights compliance of third countries – depends on us avoiding double standards." He said he would "endeavour to be close to the people on the ground".
Lambrinidis, an attorney by trade, admitted his task was "daunting" but noted that "human rights are either at the root of the problem or a fundamental element of the solution" in all major conflicts. "I cannot promise you that I'll succeed but I can promise you – and I will promise you – that I give it my all."
Personally I can agree. If we want to avoid double standards sometimes its deeds, not words or dare I say even signatures that count in action - even though one's endeavours and concerns might in the first instance go unrecognised and apparently unacknowledged.
But short of a 'non-appearance' policy, here in the UK we can use our 'raising a concern' policy best, I think, together with our largely unwritten and therefore generous and flexible UK constitution - to make sure time and space can be afforded to respect the position of the weakest or even lowest common denominator.
This could become an appropriate context that actually respects the privacy, dignity and autonomy of ordinary members of the public - so we can help improve things without one being necessarily required by old-fashioned processes to blow one's trumpet in public at the wrong time, in the wrong place, so to speak.
Mrs.Josephine Hyde-Hartley - Bacup, UK