Let’s stand up for Human Rights: Every day

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing - The Philippine Star

As we wrap up the year, we will never forget 2020. The pandemic has brought us closer together and cooperation across the world has strengthened. But 2020 has also magnified and exacerbated some of the world’s greatest challenges, including those in relation to human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

On 10 December, we celebrated human rights day as the UN turned 75. In December, the EU Delegation and EU Member States organised several events raising awareness on issues such as trafficking, disinformation or gender equality.

Human rights aim at protecting human dignity at all times.  Each of us is entitled to human rights. Human rights are always and everywhere applicable, including in times of conflict or crisis. All human rights are equally important to ensure human dignity, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Human rights are at the core of both EU internal and external action and policy. They are part of the EU’s DNA. Why? Because of the often painful history of Europe.

At the core of our motivation is the shared belief among the 27 Member States that certain rights are not negotiable, for instance the right to life. We have a strong and unequivocal opposition to the death penalty at all times and under all circumstances because of its inhuman character and the demonstrated lack of deterrence. Therefore, we have always valued that the Philippines – like more than two-thirds of the countries in the world (in law or practice) - has abolished the death penalty.

We promote Human Rights consistently and coherently in all areas of our work – in our political relations, development cooperation and trade agreements.

How do we engage with the Philippines on human rights? The Philippines-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement mentions the respect for human rights in its very first provision. We hope to hold the first bilateral consultations on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights early next year. This is one of many dialogues with countries in the region from China to Indonesia or from Myanmar to Vietnam. The EU holds a constructive Human Rights policy dialogue with ASEAN.

The promotion and protection of Human Rights are not just words but also concrete actions. In July, the EU donated 70 laptops worth PHP3 million to the judiciary. When I recently met the Supreme Court Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, he confirmed that these laptops were instrumental to conduct court hearings during the pandemic, hence reducing the overcrowding of detention centers. By providing 120 multimedia tablets to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, we enabled prisoners to communicate with their families and lawyers through online video calls amid quarantine measures. These are just two examples of what we do with our Governance in Justice Programme (GOJUST) programme which has been now extended until 2025.

The EU is committed to implement a Rights-Based Approach, encompassing all human rights and mainstream gender equality in all EU development cooperation actions.

How do we promote human rights in our trade relations? The Philippines, and many other countries, benefit from a trade scheme called Generalised System of Preferences Plus. That means zero duties for most products if a beneficiary country complies with 27 international (not EU!) conventions on human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and climate change, and good governance. The system foresees periodic monitoring and constant dialogue with the government.

We do not only engage with the government and the Commission on Human Rights but also with civil society. In my years in the Philippines, I have been struck by the vibrancy of civil society and touched by the personal stories of many about their work for human rights.

Last but not least, I am proud to announce that the 27 Members adopted on 7 December a new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime that will allow the EU to target state and non-state actors and individuals who commit serious human violations and abuses.

Let me conclude by saying that no country has a perfect human rights record – every year, human rights violations are raised in courts in the EU. All governments and societies have a long way to go to ensure that no one is left behind and no human right is disregarded.

On behalf of all my colleagues at the EU Delegation, I want to wish you “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon.”

Let’s all hope for a better 2021. Stay safe!

(Thomas Wiersing is Charge d’Affaires of the European Union Delegation to the Philippines.)

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