On the 25th Jan 2010, Cathy Ashton (High Representative of the Union’s Foreign and Security Policy) chairs her first Foreign Affairs Council (‘FAC’ formally known as ‘GAERC’s). This is her, and “Post-Lisbon-EU’s” chance to stand up and show that they can act coherently in this interim period and perform as a global player. Just because everything in the Lisbon treaty is not operational does not mean the EU cannot and should not act as a global player.
On the council there are some agenda points that should be easy for the EU to draw up some strong council conclusions on. Iran and Somalia are both examples of situations with deteriorating human rights situations where a strong external voice could bring about real change. I will briefly look at the situation of Iran to illustrate this.
There has been a human rights crisis in Iran since the disputed presidential election in June 2009. The Iranian authorities have responded to the ensuing demonstrations with the arbitrary detention of demonstrators, human rights defenders, journalists and opposition figures. Torture and other ill-treatment are widely reported, non-violent demonstrations have been met with excessive use of force leading to unlawful killings. There are now signs that the Iranian authorities may soon start executing people in connection with the post election events.
Iran, however is in an internationally sensitive position (more so than usual) with the up-coming UN Universal Periodic Review process and the up-coming UN Human Rights Council (1-26th March). Iran has recently sent the defiant message of refusing to accept a European Parliament delegation. Iran knows however, that they can afford to do this for as long as they are respectful of the main power base of the EU for Common Foreign and Security Policy in the EU (The Council and now Baroness Ashton). If, Ashton pushes for really strong conclusions in this up-coming FAC then it will leave Iran in a really tricky situation. Do they ignore Ashton, and the EU’s new structures (possibly damaging future relations) or do they implement the (what will probably be ‘modest’) human rights proposals put forward by the FAC.
The FAC and Ashton must include some human rights language in their conclusions. As a minimum this must call for the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to be allowed access to Iran. If they really wanted to be brave they could mention; the excessive use of the death penalty, the routine use of torture, the blanket oppression of the freedom of expression, assembly and association or even the on-going violence used by security forces.
This is the first real big test for Ashton (as opposed to announcing relief aid to Haiti – which according to some commentators she managed to screw up). We need a strong performance by Ashton to bring on board all the member states to push for some sort of human rights language in the council conclusions. We will wait and see if this materialises.