This is my final newsletter as EUSR for Human Rights. My mandate comes to an end on February 29. The process of selecting my successor is underway.
It has been an enormous privilege to have served as the European Union’s Special representative for Human Rights for the past 5 years and to have served as the EU’s Special Envoy for the Peace Process in Colombia since 2015.
I wish to thank my team, colleagues in the EEAS and throughout the institutions, the representatives of member States, and all with whom I have collaborated inside and outside the EU.
Ukraine – On 8 December, I participated online the inaugural meeting of the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children, organised in Kyiv. I recalled the EU’s unequivocal condemnation: the forced transfers and deportations of Ukrainian children to Russian-controlled territories, coupled with the granting of Russian citizenship and placement in foster families, disregard children’s best interest and their human rights. I reiterated our commitment to ensuring accountability for those crimes against children. I detailed EU actions to promote accountability and to support the return of Ukrainian children.
Israel-Palestine – On 7 December, together with DMD MENA and MD MENA2, I met with Mr Yehuda Shaul, former Israeli military commander and leading analyst on Israel and oPt. We discussed current developments in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the “Day After”. Mr Shaul elaborated on the issue of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
On 8 December, the advocacy team of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) shared its analysis of the overall political context in the region, the ongoing war in Gaza, the situation in the occupied West Bank, and their differentiated impact on women. On the urgent need for hostilities to stop, I referred to HRVP statements, echoing the calls of the UN, including UN OCHA, for a ceasefire. I reiterated the EU position that IHL must be observed by all warring parties. On accountability, I underlined the EU’s strong support to the ICC.
On 12 January, OHCHR and 10 Special Procedure mandate holders held a private online briefing for the EU and EUMS on the human rights situation in Gaza. I participated in the event and reiterated the EU’s clear and consistent position on the conflict. I emphasised that in exercising its duty to protect its population, Israel must act in line with international law, including IHL and human rights law. I reiterated the obligation of all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures, and not to hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid. I reiterated the EU’s strong commitment to international law and accountability, and our long-lasting support to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On 15 January, together with the EUSR for the Middle East Peace Process, Sven Koopmans, I met with the directors of two Gaza-based human rights organisations: Mr Issam YOUNIS, Director of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, and Mr Raji SOURANI, Director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). Both recently fled Gaza and gave harrowing accounts of the human rights and humanitarian situation on the ground. They expressed grave concerns regarding the impacts the conflict will have on future generations, physically, mentally but also ideologically. I commended their work and encouraged them to keep engaging with the EU.
75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – on 29 November, I delivered an address to the European Parliament in event hosted by the Parliament to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on what makes human rights universal. On 4 December I spoke at an event organised by the Irish Embassy and Irish Permanent Representation to the EU on the next 75 Years of the Declaration.
On 10 December, I participated in a conference marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, hosted by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs in Paris, in the very place where the UDHR was adopted 75 years ago (Palais de Chaillot). I participated in a round table dedicated to Human Rights defenders (HRD). I paid tribute to the essential work of HRDs to promote and defend human rights, and detailed EU actions and instruments to support them.
Visit to Geneva – From 11-12 December I visited Geneva to attend the High Level event organised by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This two-day celebration was the culmination of a yearlong campaign launched by the High Commissioner and featured a pledging session by states and other stakeholders. I delivered the EU pledge and referred to ongoing projects and financial support for OHCHR, support to human rights defenders, the launch of the Global Initiative on Impunity and continued work on the abolition of death penalty and the eradication of torture worldwide. I also held bilateral ministerial meetings with China, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Montenegro.
Saudi Arabia – On 28 November, I co-chaired the 3rd Human Rights Dialogue with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The EU raised a number of issues including the death penalty, trial observation by EU diplomats, severe sentences for social media activities, and the alleged killings of Ethiopian migrants at the border with Yemen. We also raised a number of individual cases.
Tunisia – On 7 December, I met with a delegation from the International Commission of Jurists (the ICJ) MENA programme and the Vice-President of the Tunisian Judges’ Association, against the backdrop of the country’s significant set-backs in the democratic acquis, the Rule of Law and freedom of expression over the past 2 years. We discussed the latest draft law on associations, the erosion of judicial independence in the country, and the latest developments of the EU-Tunisia Memorandum of Understanding signed in July this year. I indicated that an appeasement of EU-Tunisia relations would be a prerequisite for my visit to the country.
Republic of Korea – I opened the conference ‘Live Diversity: Practice Inclusivity’ held in Seoul on 7 December: “It is no coincidence that the first two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underline equality and non-discrimination of all human beings. Diversity and non-discrimination are also fundamental values of the European Union”.
Russia – On 8 December, I met with Evgenia Kara-Murza, Head of Advocacy at the Free Russia Foundation and wife of the Russian opposition politician and human rights defender Vladimir Kara-Murza. We discussed the worsening human rights situation in Russia and the need to support independent civil society and human rights lawyers in the country.
Council of Europe – On 14 December, I spoke at the opening of the Council of Europe’s conference on social rights and the European Social Charter. “We have been reminded of the importance of social rights during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, and during the energy and food crises following Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine. They have come to the fore as humanity grapples with climate change and environmental degradation.”
IHL – On 30 November, I participated in the launch of the 6th Report on the EU guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law, co-organised by the Spanish Presidency and Sweden. “Around the world today, lives are lost, destroyed and uprooted, and human dignity is violated, not for lack of rules, but due to a failure to respect existing rules.”
On 13 December, I participated in the 4th ICRC-EU off-site meeting on International Humanitarian Law, where EU services and the ICRC discuss, in a confidential setting the challenges linked to IHL promotion. I contributed to the discussion on how to tailor humanitarian diplomacy messaging to support better compliance with IHL.
Ethiopia – Between 22 – 25 January I conducted a four-day mission to Ethiopia, with the main objective to take stock of the progress regarding accountability and Transitional Justice in Ethiopia I also visited the Somali Regional State to meet with the local government, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and civil society organisations and witness their joint commitment to sustainable peace, transitional justice and accountability. As part of this field trip, I also met with victims of torture and visited the infamous Ogaden prison.
Colombia – On 9 November, I met with the Director of the Victims’ Unit of Colombia to discuss efforts to address the situation of more than 9.5 million registered victims. On 28 November, I spoke at an event organised by the Colombian Embassy in Brussels to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the signature of the Colombian peace agreement. I held meetings in the margins of the event with Roberto Vidal, the President of Colombian’s transitional justice court (the JEP) and with Rodrigo Londoño, the leader of Comunes (political party founded by former FARC combatants)
In November I visited Colombia. My mission was both in my role as EUSR and EU Special Envoy for the peace process in Colombia. I met with a wide range of interlocutors, including at ministerial level, the UN, civil society to evaluate the current state of the peace process. I also undertook a visit to Quibdó, in the Department of Chocó in Western Colombia, a region which is been both impacted by the conflict, as well as by continuing violence. There I met the regional authorities to discuss the peace process in the region.
Cuba – I co-chaired the 4th Cuba-EU HR Dialogue, kicking-off the third cycle of dialogues established under the Political Dialogue Cooperation Agreement. I had the opportunity to raise all our concerns about civil and political rights, freedoms of expression, assembly and association, academic and cultural freedoms, and specifically to call for the release of political prisoners. We agreed on 4 areas for future co-operation: Womens’ Rights and gender equality; social and economic rights; childrens’ rights as well as continuing our support for the digitalisation of their records, including court records. In addition to the Dialogue, I held high-level bilateral meetings (including the President, Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs, the Vice Minister of the Interior and deputies from the National Assembly) as complementary meetings with non-governmental civil society actors and with families of detainees. In all discussions, the I raised the situation of those detained from the July 2021 protests and conditions of imprisonment, as well as UPR follow up.
In mid-November I visited Mexico, I held bilateral ministerial meetings, met with civil society, the UN and co-chaired the EU-Mexico Human Rights Dialogue. Many of the issues covered included increasing violence, impunity, militarisation of the security forces, enforced disappearances, stigmatisation of civil society, business and human rights, migration, the protection of the human rights defenders and journalists, the regional role of Mexico and the Colombian peace process.
Chile – On 10 November, I spoke at an event organised by the Mission of Chile to commemorate the military coup on Chile: “Human Rights and International Solidarity: 50 years after the breakdown of democracy in Chile, a look to the future”.
Nicaragua – On 7 December, I met with Bianca Jagger, Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation. We discussed the very difficult human rights situation in the country and particularly the situation of the remaining political prisoners.
US – On 8 December, I met with US Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Carstens to discuss cooperation and issues of mutual concern, particularly in relation to arbitrary detention.
African Union – On 25 January I Co-chaired the 19th AU-EU Human Rights Dialogue, focusing on priority issues, such as: right to education, right to development, business and human rights, election observation, death penalty, transitional justice and human rights in conflicts. Here is the Joint communique from the dialogue that was successfully negotiated and adopted.
United Nations – On 13 November, I met with UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Brands Kehris, during her visit to Brussels. It was a wide-ranging discussion, but focused strong on crisis situations around the world.
Civil society – On 4 December, I delivered the opening address at the annual NGO Forum, held a roundtable discussion with defenders, a bilateral meeting with the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and introduced the HRVP for his keynote address.
Abolition of the slave trade – On 6 December, I delivered an opening speech at the Joint event organized by the European Parliament and the European Commission to mark the European Day Commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade and the adoption of the UN Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons.
EU Special Representative for Human Rights