The EU must improve human rights in its member states as it expands to the former communist countries of eastern Europe, Amnesty International warned yesterday.
Amnesty told Ireland, which took over the union’s rotating presidency on January 1, that only two of the 15 current member states – Luxembourg and the Netherlands – could be given a clean bill of health.
Britain stands accused of “serious human rights violations” in its responses to the September 11 attacks on the United States. Abuses were being committed in the name of the “war on terror” and the fight against illegal immigration, according to the report “Human Rights Begin at Home”.
“The EU human rights machine appears to be running out of steam,” complained Dick Oosting, director of Amnesty’s Brussels office. “It is not enough for the EU to preach human rights abroad. Europe must look to itself first. Otherwise the EU’s human rights credibility in its international relations will always be called into question.”
Amnesty highlighted the deportation of Chechens from Germany to Russia and an allegation by a Greek citizen that police there had used electric shocks on him while he was in custody for a motoring offence. Spain was criticised for the way it has dealt with suspected Basque terrorists.
It called for special attention to conditions in the 10 countries joining the EU on May 1, including eight former communist countries still working on the judicial and police reforms needed to match standards in the current member states.
The EU was urged to go beyond paying “lip service to lofty goals” and do more to mainstream human rights observance into its relations with third countries, especially Russia and China.
“In external relations, the EU’s political will to implement policies, to put human rights into practice, appears to be on the wane,” the report said. “When the going gets tough, EU member states seek the lowest common denominator and are willing to sacrifice principle for political compromise.”
Amnesty had harsh words for the union’s new security strategy, which deals for the first time with issues such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It says the plan, drawn up amid EU disarray over Iraq, focuses on the military aspects of crisis rather than underlying causes.
“We must recognise that the EU has both the ambition and the potential to be the most powerful global force for human rights. But … there is too little to show in terms of impact and effectiveness,” it said.