Inter-Governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court

Mr. Eneko Landaburu, Director General for External Relations, European Commission - Sana'a, 10 – 12 January 2004


Director General for External Relations, European Commission
Excellencies, ladies and gentleman,

First of all, let met thank - on behalf of the European Commission - the Government of Yemen and the NGO “No Peace without Justice” for the invitation to attend this conference. I wish here to express our deep appreciation for having taken the initiative to organise such an important event. I am particularly happy to be here today in Yemen, in a country which despite the difficulties and the problems it has to face, is carrying out important efforts to progress in the field of human rights and democratisation.
The EU’s commitment to promoting human rights and democracy worldwide
Promoting human rights and democracy is an important objective of EU foreign policy, pursued at the international, regional and bilateral level. The EU subscribes wholeheartedly to the principle that human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent. The notion that human rights are a Western concept – what Amartya Sen has termed the “Westernizing illusion” - is belied by the degree to which the international community has subscribed to international human rights’ treaties dealing with the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The two covenants have been ratified by approximately 150 countries, the Conventions tackling racial discrimination, discrimination against women and torture have received widespread support and the Convention on the Rights of the Child enjoys almost universal ratification. Indeed, several Arab countries, including Yemen, have ratified all six major human rights’ conventions.
The argument that human rights and democracy are the enemy of cultural diversity is equally unpersuasive. Quite the contrary: instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights serve to protect cultural differences whilst establishing minimum human rights’ standards. Nor is there a single template for the transition to democracy, the rule of law and full respect for human rights: the new Constitution for Afghanistan which was approved earlier this month, holds out the promise that respect for a nation’s religious and cultural heritage can be fully accommodated alongside democracy and equal rights for all. The EU is determined to assist in the fulfilment of that promise.
The international context for human rights’ protection
Where States have freely undertaken international obligations to respect human rights, it is entirely legitimate for the international community to expect implementation of those obligations and a willingness to accept international co-operation and scrutiny. The United Nations is the lynchpin for international efforts in this regard, not least through its standard-setting, the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Commission on Human Rights and the mechanisms which it has established to report on specific human rights’ concerns. The EU does not pretend to have a perfect human rights’ record and readily acknowledges the need for external scrutiny. That is reflected in the standing invitations which all current and future EU Member States have extended to UN thematic human rights’ rapporteurs, an approach shared by fewer than 30 other States, with the notable and welcome inclusion of Iran. It is demonstrated by the EU’s staunch support for an international mechanism to inspect places of detention, envisaged under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. The EU’s vocal backing for the International Criminal Court, which I will address a little later, also falls within this logic: establishing an effective international legal order is a vital step in addressing the most serious violations of human rights.
Just as the protection of human rights requires an effective international legal order, so the enjoyment of those rights can only flourish where democracy, good governance and the rule of law have been securely established internally, with transparent institutions and a healthy civil society. Embracing these values is in the vested interest of States: they are an essential factor in ensuring political stability as well as peaceful and sustained economic development. As was noted in the much-discussed recent UNDP reports on human development in the Arab world, “lasting reform in the Arab world must come from within”. It must grow organically from within society and evolve from a readiness of governments to foster a new relationship between state, markets and society. The EU stands ready to assist in this process, but it is up to Arab countries to take tangible steps towards full democracy and a free market economy, to extend education to all – women particularly – and to further deepen respect for human rights. The efforts carried out in recent years in Yemen are a bold demonstration of how democratic development can take root in the Arab world.
Co-operation on human rights in the Arab world
Human rights and fundamental freedoms form an essential part of relations between the EU and its Arab and Middle East partners. These issues are pursued at a regional level – for example, during the annual Ministerial meeting with the Gulf Co-operation Council – and in the EU’s bilateral relations with particular countries. The trade and co-operation agreements which the EU has concluded with Arab countries have included the standard clause defining respect for human rights and democracy as “essential elements” of the relationship. This not only provides the basis for raising human rights’ questions during dialogue with third countries: it carries the potential for extensive co-operation to advance human rights. That potential is illustrated in the new approach to human rights and democratisation with Mediterranean partners, agreed by the EU following a Commission Communication on the issue in May 2003. In addition to developing dialogue, the EU will work with partners on the formulation of National Action Plans, fortified by the provision of resources for human rights’ projects under the MEDA programme and continuing support for civil society organisations in the region under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
Respect for human rights in the fight against terrorism
Democracies – new and old – must also ensure that they are sufficiently resilient to meet new challenges. The aftermath of September 11 has sent the promotion and protection of human rights into a tailspin, as governments have responded to real, and in some cases, opportunistically contrived, threats to security. The fight against terrorism must be conditioned on maintaining respect for human rights, not the other way round. More importantly, promoting long-term economic and social development and fostering human rights and democracy should also be viewed as a vital part of the fight against terrorism, as it helps to defuse the conditions which breed it.
The International Criminal Court
I shall now turn to one of the major issues for discussion at this event; the International Criminal Court. The European Union has from the very outset strongly supported the establishment of the ICC. We share the view of Kofi Annan that “in the prospect of an international court lies the promise of universal justice”.
The EU is committed to promoting the universality of the Court. It has engaged in a worldwide campaign of contacts and diplomatic demarches with governments of third countries to ensure the widest possible participation in the Rome Statute and has provided approximately 13 million Euros since 1995 through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights for projects to promote the ICC .One challenge is to further increase the number and broaden the geographical scope of States that have signed and ratified the Rome Statute. As of today, 92 countries have ratified the Rome Statute. This impressive figure should not hide the gap which remains among Asian or Arab countries for instance. Ultimately, we are confident that the efficiency, independence and impartiality which the Court will display during its start-up phase will have a positive impact on the number of States parties.
The EU is committed to preserving the integrity of the Court. We respect the right of States not to become parties to the ICC. However, we believe that those countries which have signed the Rome Statute should not undermine their ICC obligations by the back door. To that end, the EU has adopted a set of conclusions and Guiding Principles to serve as guidelines for States when considering the necessity and the scope of possible bilateral agreements or arrangements on non-surrender to the Court.
We understand the concerns triggered in the US by the prospect of ill-founded or politically motivated complaints. However, it is important to emphasise that the ICC is not a court of frivolous prosecution. We believe that the ICC Statute contains a robust set of safeguards to avoid such a risk, including the principle of complementarity, which gives primary competence to national jurisdictions to prosecute crimes falling within the scope of the Rome Statute, the fact that investigations can proceed only after a pre-trial chamber has determined that there is a reasonable basis for action and that the UN Security Council can decide to block prosecutions for fixed periods. We are committed to pursuing an open and constructive dialogue on the Court with the US and are confident that the US will ultimately return to their historic pattern of support for essential international institutions such as the ICC.
The EU attaches great importance to the principle of complementarity enshrined in the Rome Statute. It is crucial that national jurisdictions should play their role. This is why the EU has provided considerable funding for the reconstruction of legal structures in countries concerned with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. In this respect, I should also mention that the EU has funded several projects aimed at restoring criminal justice infrastructures and training legal professionals in the Ituri district, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the ICC has announced that it would investigate its first-ever cases. We hope that such projects will reinforce the capacity of local judges, prosecutors and lawyers to co-operate with the Court. We will, in the future, make sure that all EU-funded Rule of Law co-operation projects in third countries give proper attention to international criminal justice.
To conclude, the EU is committed to acting as a strong advocate of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and good governance through its contribution to international and regional human rights’ bodies and in the development of its relations with third countries, including those in the Arab world. It is essential that countries from all regions of the world fulfil their international human rights’ obligations, not only as a reflection of their commitment to the international community and legal order, but as a prudent investment in a secure and prosperous society.