The EU’s correct application of human rights standards

On January 28, 2002, foreign ministers of the European Union will decide whether or not the European Union will impose punitive sanctions against Zimbabwe unless it proves that it is serious about human rights and it allows international observers into the country to monitor the forthcoming presidential elections. On October 30, 2001, the European Union put into action Article 96 of the Cotonou agreement that governs relations between the European Union and its African, Caribbean and Pacific partners.

An essential element of the Cotonou agreement is “respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including respect for fundamental social rights, democracy based on the rule of law and transparent and accountable governance.” Article 96 of the agreement states that when a Party has failed to fulfill its obligation stemming from respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law and consultation has failed, “appropriate measures” can be taken “in accordance with international law, and proportional to the violation.”

The Cotonou agreement, which replaced the Lome Convention, reflects the changes which have occurred internationally, whereby issues of rule of law, democracy and governance are now accepted as inseparable from economic development and trade, and “sovereignty” is no longer acceptable as a criterion for non-interference in the case of serious violation of internationally accepted norms of behavior.

Similarly, the Association Agreement is “the main instrument” that promotes bilateral relations between the European Union and Israel. In the meetings of the Association Council and the Association Committee, the European Union has stressed the great importance it attaches to “the correct application of all the provisions of the association agreement.” The European Union has always recognized “Israel’s legitimate security concerns” but stressed that it must be addressed “with full respect for human rights and within the framework of the rule of law, in accordance with Article 2 of [the] Euro-Mediterranean Agreement”, which states that “[r]elations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.”

During the second meeting of the Association Council EU-Israel held in Brussels on November 20, 2001, the European Union made clear its concerns and requests to the Israeli authorities and stated that “it would seek the opportunity of the next Association Council to review it.”

The Union also stated that “it is particularly concerned with human rights and other international law violations,” including extra-judicial killings, administrative detention, collective punishment, the increasing recourse to house demolitions, which “are unacceptable and contrary to the rule of law.” Additionally, the European Union maintained “its conviction that an end to military incursions into areas exclusively under Palestinian authority is indispensable for a reversal of the spiral of violence.”

In the past few months, Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations have documented increasing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel has increased its recourse to house demolitions, it has continued its policy of extra-judicial killings and increased military incursions into areas under control of the Palestinian Authority. Israel did not cease administration detention of Palestinians and continues collective punishment of the whole Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel continued its settlement activities and continues to refuse to alleviate the economic and humanitarian crisis and compliance with the provisions of the 1994 Paris Protocol.

Moreover, Israel continues to prevent the establishment of any impartial monitoring mechanism.

In the light of the current escalation, it is imperative that international observers with a human rights monitoring component be introduced into the Occupied Territories in order to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected. The extension of effective international protection against Israeli violations of international law would be a major factor in convincing Israel that it must indeed accommodate a just settlement to the conflict. Any durable settlement relies on a de facto situation in which international law is respected, international agreements are enforced and third party guarantors can be relied upon to perform their role effectively. The will to seek accommodation presupposes confidence that, having forsworn conquest and coercion, reparations can establish peace. However, this in turn presupposes confidence that international guarantees and the restoration of the rule of law can make peace durable. To satisfy this precondition, and to enhance the perceived feasibility of achieving a durable settlement, the European Union must start by demonstrating their practical commitment to enforcing the body of law that already applies.

Therefore, in the following meeting of the Association Council, the European Union should put into action Article 79 of the Association Agreement. It should call on Israel to immediately allow international observers and ensure respect for human rights in order to end Israel’s material breach of the Association Agreement for the purposes of Article 79. If Israel fails to do so, the European Union should take appropriate measures required to ensure that Israel fulfills its obligations under the Association Agreement.

The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda), and LAW -The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, in Jerusalem.