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EU report on human rights in 2003

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EU report on human rights in 2003

The EU annual report on human rights presents human rights policies and actions both within the European Union and in the context of its external relations. The report, covering the period from July 2002 to June 2003, also seeks to evaluate the EU's human rights policy and to identify possible improvements.


EU annual report on human rights - 2003. General Affairs Council of 10 October 2003.


The report is an analysis of internal and external EU human rights policies and actions implemented during the period from 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2003. It is based on the idea that the European Union is defined by its commitment to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Nevertheless, final responsibility for respect for human rights lies with governments.


Following a recommendation by Parliament, in September 2002 the European Commission set up a network of experts on fundamental rights aimed at improving information and analysis as regards the situation in each Member State. As part of its mandate, the network must draw up:

  • an annual report on the situation of fundamental rights within the European Union and its Member States, based on the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
  • thematic observations on specific issues, chosen by the Commission.

Racism and xenophobia

After the adoption of the Amsterdam Treaty, which provided the European Community with new powers to tackle discrimination, the most important measures that have been adopted are the following:

  • Directive 2000/43/EC on racial equality;
  • Directive 2000/78/EC on equal treatment in employment;
  • Community Action Programme to combat discrimination (2001-2006);
  • Communication on immigration, integration and employment.

On 16 June 2003, the Commission launched an information campaign with the slogan "For diversity, against discrimination". In late 2002 and early 2003 the Commission and the European Union's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) organised a series of round tables on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Finally, through the AGIS programme (2003-2007) the Commission cofinances actions on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters covering, inter alia, racism and xenophobia and assistance to victims.

Asylum and immigration

The twelve-month period from July 2002 was marked by intense activity in the areas of asylum and immigration. The Seville European Council in June 2002 set deadlines for reaching agreement on a number of legislative instruments in this field. In June 2003, the Thessaloniki European Council adopted conclusions on integration policies for fair treatment of third country nationals. Two Directives were adopted in 2003, one on the right to family reunification and the other on long-term residence status for third-country nationals.

In order to facilitate closer cooperation with third countries of origin and transit, on 3 December 2002 the Commission adopted the communication COM(2002) 703 on integrating migration issues into the Union's relations with third countries. For its part, the Council adopted Directive 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers in the Member States and Regulation No 343/2003 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national (Dublin II).

In the context of managing migration flows, the Commission repeatedly stressed the cross-cutting nature of the measures adopted, most recently in its communication of 3 June 2003 on the development of a common policy on illegal migration, smuggling and trafficking in human beings, external borders and the return of illegal migrants.

Protection of minorities

In 2002 Europe was confronted by anti-Semitic incidents. The EU strongly condemned those incidents and undertook a series of measures to tackle the causes. The reports of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights also raised issues related to the situation of social exclusion of Roma in the EU area and the acceding countries. In this context, the PHARE programme has funded projects that aim to improve the situation of Roma.

Trafficking in human beings and rights of the child

The most important document in respect of trafficking in human beings is the Brussels Declaration, the final outcome of the European Conference on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, which was held in Brussels from 18 to 20 September 2002. As recommended in this declaration, on 25 March 2003 the Commission decided to set up a consultative body - Experts Group on Trafficking in Human Beings - consisting of 20 independent experts. The Declaration was also the main basis for discussion during the workshops on trafficking in human beings in the framework of the EU Forum for the Prevention of Organised Crime.

As regards legislative measures, the Commission adopted the Framework Decision on combating trafficking in human beings, which introduces a common definition of trafficking in human beings at EU level, and the draft Framework Decision on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.

In 2002, the STOP II programme provided financial support for 16 projects aimed at combating trafficking in human beings and/or sexual exploitation. When it expired, this programme was replaced by the AGIS framework programme on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

Fundamental rights of women

The Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality (2001-2006) establishes a comprehensive framework to promote gender equality in five areas of intervention: economic life; equal participation and representation; social rights; civil life and gender roles and stereotypes. On 5 March 2003 the Commission published its seventh report on equal opportunities.


In July 2002, with a view to promoting the development of corporate social responsibility, the Commission adopted a communication on corporate social responsibility (CSR) - a business contribution to sustainable development. A European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on CSR was also launched on 16 October 2002 bringing together a wide range of EU-level organisations representing business networks, trade unions and NGOs.

At international level, the EU continued to take an active role in promoting the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises of the 37 signatory countries.

In response to a request from the Council and Parliament, the Commission drew up a draft regulation designed to ban or limit exports and imports of certain categories of instruments that could be used for torture or capital punishment.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

In the draft European Constitution, the Convention on the future of Europe proposed that the Charter be fully incorporated into the future European Constitution as Part II, making it legally binding.


Instruments used in relations with third countries

Common strategies, common positions and joint actions (the main legal instruments of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)) are often focused on human rights. During the period covered by the report, the EU continued to implement common strategies on Russia, Ukraine and the Mediterranean. In the first two countries, the emphasis was on freedom of the media. In the Mediterranean, the EU continued its efforts to set up a more structured dialogue in the human rights field. The following joint actions relevant to human rights were adopted: the European Union Police Mission (EUPM), the European Union military operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the extension of the mandate and appointment of EU Special Representatives in certain third countries. The report also examines the human rights-related common positions adopted during the period of the report. They refer to different countries and geographical zones and to the International Criminal Tribunal.

The human rights dialogue is one of the EU's preferred instruments for promoting improvements in the human rights situation in third countries. During the period covered by the report, the dialogue with China produced some headway. In October 2002, a structured dialogue was initiated with Iran with the objective of making progress on human rights, non-proliferation, terrorism and the Middle East peace process.

Human rights consultations with the USA were held in October and December 2002 and in February 2003. They were also held with Canada and the associated countries.

Currently a human rights clause is automatically included in the cooperation agreements that the Commission signs with third countries. This clause constitutes an essential element of the agreement. In the event of a breach, there are a range of measures that can be taken against the country concerned, ranging from the alteration of the contents of cooperation programmes to the suspension of cooperation.

In 2002, a budget of EUR 104 million was available under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and more than a hundred projects were financed. The following areas were covered: abolition of the death penalty, fighting impunity, prevention of torture and rehabilitation of torture victims, combating racism and xenophobia and discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, and strengthening good governance and the rule of law.

EU action in international fora

During the 57th session of the UN General Assembly, the EU's main human rights statement for the first time focused on two specific themes: eliminating the death penalty and the prevention of torture. During the session, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture was adopted by a large majority.

During the 59th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the EU introduced over ten initiatives and several resolutions on human rights in different countries and regions. It also put forward Chairperson's statements on Colombia and East Timor. Work in this body was more closely coordinated than in the past between Community institutions and also with third countries, associated countries and NGOs.

In November 2002, the EU Member States took part in the second Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies. An action plan focusing on human rights, the rule of law, free elections, freedom of association and the separation of powers, as well as a statement on terrorism, were adopted.

The EU welcomed the initiatives taken to uphold human rights in the Council of Europe during the period covered by the report. The same holds for the activities of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), particularly on combating trafficking in human beings.

The EU supported the activities of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. The main part of the Pact's human rights-related work during the period covered by the report focused on freedom of the press and on local democracy and cross-border cooperation.

Thematic issues of particular importance

Combating terrorism is one of the EU's priorities. The EU continued to cooperate with the Counter-Terrorism Committee, set up by the UN after the 9/11 attacks. In the UN context, the EU also contributed to preparing a draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism and a draft International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. A resolution supported by the EU on the protection of human rights and international legality while countering terrorism was adopted at the 57th session of the UN General Assembly. The EU also backed the adoption of a resolution on the same subject at the 59th session of the Commission on Human Rights.

The EU welcomed the fact that in June 2003, 149 countries had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 2002, the EU took steps on issues relating to religious freedom in Pakistan, Belarus and Georgia. It also sponsored a resolution on eliminating religious intolerance. In 2002, the EIDHR funded projects on the abolition of the death penalty, fighting impunity, preventing torture and supporting the rehabilitation of victims of torture, combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination against minorities and indigenous people, strengthening democratisation, good governance and the rule of law.

The report stresses that the same importance should to be given to economic, social and cultural rights as to civil and political rights, bearing in mind that the full realisation of the former may not always possible in the short term.

The European Union is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. In its relations with third countries it defends its universal abolition. In this context, the EU warmly welcomed the recent abolition of the death penalty in Cyprus, Serbia and Montenegro and Turkey. The report lists all the countries with which the EU raised this subject during the period from July 2002 to June 2003.

Actions designed to ensure systematic implementation of the EU's guidelines on torture and other inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment, were taken during the period covered by the report. The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture was adopted in 2002. It provides for independent visits to places of detention in order to prevent torture. For the period 2002-2003, the Community allocated EUR 25 million to torture rehabilitation centres and for the prevention of torture.

The statute of the International Criminal Court came into force in July 2002. It was inaugurated in 2003 and its first chief prosecutor appointed. The EU adopted a Common Position to support the effective functioning of the Court and the widest possible participation in its Statute. Since 1995, the European Commission has channelled over EUR 13 million through the EIDHR to activities in support of the ICC.

Election support continued to be a key component within the overall EU strategy to support democratisation in third countries. During the period covered by the report, the EU continued its activity in the field of election support in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan, Madagascar, Nigeria, the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Yemen, Jamaica, Ecuador, Mozambique and Georgia. Horizontal activities to strengthen the legislative capacity in the Balkans, and the training and selection of election observers were also funded. Election observation activities under the EIDHR were supported during the same period in Ecuador, Pakistan, Madagascar, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

In 2002 some EUR 21 million was allocated to projects under the EIDHR to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination towards ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples. This issue became one of the EIDHR's priorities for the period 2002-2004. In the report the EU welcomes the appointment by the UN Secretary-General of five experts responsible for ensuring the follow-up to the World Conference against Racism. Several Member States signed the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cyber Crime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems.

The EU also urged all States to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts. It also urged States to speed up ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which includes, as a war crime, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen.

At the 57th UN General Assembly, the EU Member States sponsored two resolutions on women's rights, which were subsequently adopted by consensus, concerning the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honour and any form of discrimination towards women. In 2003, during the 47th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, texts were adopted on women's access to the media and information and communication technologies, the situation of women in Afghanistan, women with AIDS and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into UN policies and programmes. At the 59th session of the Commission on Human Rights, a resolution was adopted on the impact of the socio-economic environment on women.

In 2003 the Commission provided EUR 12 million to activities to support the European Year of Persons with Disabilities. The UN Committee set up to consider proposals for an international Convention on the Protection of the Rights and Dignity of People with Disabilities adopted a decision establishing a working party to prepare a draft text.

In November 2002, the EU Council adopted conclusions on indigenous peoples. The Commission subsequently set up an inter-service group, drawing together relevant units, and organised the training of personnel on the issue of the rights of indigenous peoples.

From July 2002 to June 2003, the EU continued to be the largest donor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR). In this forum, an agenda for international protection was adopted in October 2002. At the 57th session of the UN General Assembly and the 59th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, EU Member States sponsored resolutions on the HCR, assistance for refugees, returnees, displaced persons in Africa and on internally displaced persons.

The EU attaches great importance to the work done by human rights defenders. At the 57th session of the UN General Assembly and the 59th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Member States sponsored resolutions on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms, and on the extension of the mandate of the Secretary-General's Special Representative on human rights defenders for a further three years.

Situation of human rights in the world

The report examines the EU's response to developments in the human rights situation in the various regions of the world.


The report also contributes to the discussion on how to improve the EU's human right policy. The priorities suggested by the Council to launch this discussion are as follows:

  • greater coherence between Community action, CFSP and development policy;
  • mainstreaming of human rights issues in the EU's other policies and actions;
  • greater transparency in human rights policy;
  • identification and systematic review of priority actions for implementing human rights policies.

In December 2002, the Council took action on these priorities by undertaking:

  • to include human rights on the agenda for its annual discussion on the EU's external policy priorities;
  • to discuss human rights issues likely to arise at the different UN bodies with a view to defining the EU's general position in advance of the sessions concerned;
  • to continue to review the implementation of resolutions initiated by the EU at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

The report concludes that the EU does not always realise its human rights goals. Experience has shown that the EU is more likely to achieve favourable results where:

  • goals are articulated clearly (in the form of guidelines or common positions);
  • where concerted efforts are made to address particular human rights issues in relations with third countries (e.g. through political dialogue);
  • resources are made available to underpin the EU's strategy (for example through the EIDHR).

Last updated: 05.06.2007