How to be a Human Rights Envoy for the EU

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It must be very difficult to be a human rights envoy. That’s what I was thinking as I came back to Berlin after my holiday.

I was thinking about this because for the first time the EU is about to appoint a person who will have the immensely difficult task of promoting human rights in Europe and the rest of the world.

That person will also have to explain to a larger public why the respect for human rights is so central to the EU’s philosophy.

Indeed, they are supposed to guide the bloc’s decisions. That is clearly set out in the recent strategy paper published last month by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief.

Lobbyists are insisting that the envoy must be a well-known person with an international reputation and an impeccable record in defending human rights.

Of course, these qualities matter. But what I think is just as important, if not more so, is that the person must be completely independent from national governments when it comes to speaking out about human rights.

Even though he or she will be chosen by member states, it would be catastrophic if the envoy remained beholden to any of them.

There are far too many examples of European leaders paying lip service to human rights. When interests, such as trade, come into play, human rights often takes a back seat.

Furthermore, governments across the world are adept at applying pressure to individual member states inside Europe in order to prevent the EU from speaking and acting with one voice over human rights violations. The chosen envoy will need special skills to build up resistance against such pressure.

Closer to home, the envoy will have to defend Europe’s own human rights standards. That means being able to criticize those member states who flout the bloc’s values.

I’m thinking of how several European countries cooperated with the United States over running secret interrogation centers or were involved in renditions, or how, for instance in Britain, alleged terrorists are detained for long periods without being tried.

There are countless other examples, particularly when it comes to protecting minorities, that will take up the time and attention of this new envoy.

No one said it was going to be easy, or boring.

 

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