Plenary speech on the Annual report on human rights (2008) - EU policies in favour of human rights defenders

Marietje Schaake (ALDE) – Mr President, I would also like to pay tribute to the colleagues we work on human rights with. It is a really pleasant collaboration on such an important topic. There can hardly be a more urgent moment to address Europe’s responsibility when it comes to human rights in the world. I just want to stress that we, as Members of the European Parliament from all political groups, have just launched a written declaration on behalf of the European people to support the Iranian people and their call for human rights. We have just met with Nazanin Afshin-Jam, who is a human rights leader who focuses on ending child executions. This is just one reminder of the brutal things people do to each other and the practices we really have to stop. The External Action Service will lead to a more effective and coordinated European foreign policy, and human rights deserve ongoing attention in an integrated, comprehensive manner. Unfortunately, we have a sad competition of geographical areas where human rights violations take place, as well as horizontal issues – such as women’s rights and freedom of expression – that need attention because they are being violated. Iran’s regime serves as an example of all these violations. Iran is on our political agendas but the international community is mainly preoccupied with the nuclear challenge. As challenging as this is, we cannot allow this to be a zero-sum game versus human rights. Sanctions will be imposed by the UN and the European Union but I am not necessarily optimistic about the concrete results that these will render. Empowering the population and standing up for their rights as autonomously legitimate may also render bottom-up reforms. Domestic opposition thus far seems to move the Iranian regime more than international sanctions, so this is a clear indicator. This week, it has been one year since the presidential elections took place in Iran, and they mark the beginning of a renewed and brutal crack down by the regime against its own people. Over the past year, the regime has cut off the minimal freedoms that the population still had and has virtually silenced the opposition. Many have fled and they could have an opportunity if they could be taken into Europe as human rights defenders and dissidents. They could be considered an asset in developing our policies and should not just be seen as a threat or a burden.