Human rights – the never-ending struggle

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, 2023, will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Conceived in the aftermath of the devastating events of World War II, the UDHR, established on Dec. 10, 1948, has played a pivotal role in shaping the quest for fundamental rights on an international scale.

Emerging from the collective consciousness of a world scarred by the tragedies of war, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was crafted to lay the foundation for a more just and compassionate global society. For the past 75 years, this historic document has guided nations toward the noble ideals of justice, equality and human dignity.

Unfortunately, the struggle for justice and equality persists globally. The noble cause of human rights demands our unwavering commitment because it faces challenges everywhere. Authoritarianism and the erosion of democratic norms pose threats to civil liberties in numerous regions, with governments restricting freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Systemic inequality, disinformation, misuse of emerging technologies, armed conflict and the rise of populist movements further jeopardize the universality and the indivisible nature of human rights. The impacts of climate change only compound these challenges. Effectively addressing these issues necessitates a united, collaborative effort from the international community to uphold the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and adapt them to the complexities of our world.

In this context, I want to underscore the role that the European Union (EU) has undertaken in promoting and safeguarding human rights globally. The Union’s commitment to human rights is ingrained in the core principles of the European political project and its legal framework, signifying a profound recognition that peace and prosperity can only thrive in societies that respect the intrinsic value of each individual. Should an EU Member-State be implicated in human rights violations, it is held accountable through EU justice and its ensuing consequences. Moreover, the issue holds a central position in the EU’s relations with other countries and regions.

In the Philippines, the EU engages in regular diplomatic dialogues, as established by our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. These dialogues, spanning a broad spectrum of human rights issues, serve as a structured platform for engagement. The most recent dialogue, conducted in October, delved into topics such as civil and political rights, the rule of law, accountability, freedom of expression and social and economic rights. These sessions offer for both parties an opportunity to share insights on best practices, raise issues of concern and collaboratively establish follow-up actions with the aim of ensuring the protection of the human rights of our EU and Filipino citizens.

Nevertheless, our EU-Philippines partnership on human rights stretches further than mere conversations. The EU collaborates with the Government of the Philippines through the Governance in Justice (GOJUST) program, aiming to fortify the rule of law and to reform the justice sector in the country. This initiative focuses on enhancing access to justice in the Philippines by improving the administration of justice as well as the promotion and protection of human rights, with our support extending to the Commission on Human Rights. Within the justice sector component, the program aids the Philippine Supreme Court, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and Local Government in enhancing justice provision. Additionally, it provides grants to civil society organizations and universities working on legal aid, working towards improving access to justice for people living in vulnerable conditions.

One of the key achievements of the program’s justice reform efforts is the establishment of 12 Justice Zones in the country. These zones bring together a city’s justice sector actors such as police, prosecutors, public attorneys, judges and prison staff to collectively identify sector problems and generate common solutions. The ultimate goal is to address the justice needs of people at the local level. As recently as two weeks ago, a new ‘green justice zone’ focusing on the application of the law to protect Palawan’s natural environment was inaugurated in Puerto Princesa with the support of GOJUST.

The EU also promotes human rights in the Philippines by actively supporting civil society organizations (CSOs) through various channels. We offer financial assistance to Philippine CSOs, enabling them to execute projects and initiatives that advance human rights, social justice and democratic values. This funding frequently contributes to capacity-building programs, training sessions and awareness campaigns. Additionally, the EU engages in ongoing dialogue and consultations with Philippine civil society representatives, ensuring that their perspectives are taken into account in discussions on human rights issues.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that the EU-Philippines economic relationship is also significantly linked to trade and sustainable development, including human rights. Indeed, the Philippines, being one of nine beneficiaries of GSP+ worldwide, receives specific tariff advantages for its exports to the European Union. The GSP+ is a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance linked to the implementation of 27 international conventions on human rights, labor, social rights and the environment, all of which the Philippines have ratified. The EU’s GSP+ has contributed to an increase in Philippine exports to the EU, rising from approximately P400 million in 2014, the year before the country started enjoying benefits, to approximately P600 billion in 2022. Furthermore, a potential future negotiation of a Free Trade Agreement will include commitments on human rights.

As we commemorate this milestone anniversary, let us reaffirm our dedication to the principles of the Universal Declaration. The advocacy and safeguarding of human rights represent our ongoing commitment each day. May we persistently work towards a world where justice, dignity and equality are not just ideals but concrete realities for every person. The EU will remain steadfast in its partnership with the Philippines in this important effort.

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Luc Véron is the ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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