More Protection for Human Rights Defenders in Iran

On 17th of June Chairwoman Hautala sent an address to the civil society conference “Iran and Beyond – Local and Global Commitment to Protect Human Rights Defenders”[:], organised by FLARE – Freedom Legality and Rights in Europe. 


Dear colleagues, I am glad to take part in your seminar discussing “Local and global commitment to protect human rights defenders in Iran”, even though I may participate only via this great new technology!

I have been asked to discuss how the EU can protect human rights defenders.

Before I begin to discuss this, I want to pay tribute to brave human rights activists in Iran. Many have taken immense risks in voicing their disapproval of the stolen presidential elections in June 2009. The people taking part in the mass protests are clearly telling the world that they do not accept this. The world must listen to them.

Instead, we have heard of the executions and torture of the people who have been imprisoned at the peaceful demonstrations. We also know of harassment of family members of the demonstrators. This is simply unacceptable. The European Union has strongly condemned the torture and the death sentences and demanded that there must be moratorium on death penalty in Iran.

I have appealed for several people who are facing an imminent risk of execution in Iran and called for the authorities to not carry out the death penalties.

On 3rd of May, I appealed for Mr Kazemi, who is accused of participation in mass anti-government demonstrations that took place at the end of last year. He was arrested on 18 or 19 September, during the intensive period of the demonstrations, and has since been sentenced to death. I have understood that he could be executed at any time now. According to Amnesty International, he is not accused of committing any violent acts but of “enmity against God” and perhaps also of “propaganda against the system”. I do not have very recent information of his situation, but I strongly urge the Iranian authorities to not execute Mr Ja’far Kazemi, and to further refrain from executing any other persons for expressing their views or taking part in these demonstrations.

The people on the streets are exercising their inalienable and inherent rights to freedom of speech and assembly. They deserve our support. And here I must say that in my view the EU should do more to help these courageous people.
Most recently, I have been busy preparing the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs report on Human Rights Defenders. This report aims exactly to help the European Union to do more to help the courageous people defending the human rights of themselves and others.

The time to discuss how the EU can protect human rights defenders better is now. Only half a year ago, the Treaty of Lisbon came into force. This changes the human rights landscape of EU dramatically. Due to this treaty, the promotion of human rights is now both a basic value and a core objective of the Union’s foreign policy.

In this vein, I tackle in my report the question how to make the EU Human Rights Policy more coherent and systematic. At the moment, there are clear gaps and outright disregard in the EU policies and institutions concerning human rights protection. In my report I address these voids systematically and I look at how to make the EU actions more result-oriented in this field.

A key initiative of my report will be the programme of shelter cities. This is, in practice, a very effective way to protect human rights defenders. A person, who has been persecuted in his country for his views or ideas, will be offered safety in another country. This is important because we must understand the real nature of human rights defenders. Yes, they are oftentimes victims, but they are most often writers, artists, directors and free thinkers. Their work matters and we must enable them to continue their work. Simply removing them from the situation is victory for the oppressor who defies progress.

Very closely linked to this issue is my other proposal – swift delivery of urgency visas for human rights defenders who are at risk and in emergency situations.
Another key recommendation of the report is to create so called human rights focal points into the European Parliament, the European External Action Service and the EU Delegations abroad. It is vital to have such people in key positions in these institutions who have specific responsibilities in the field of human rights.

On another but related matter, much of the focus of the report is given to how the EU Delegations abroad could better implement the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. This is an area which has been widely discarded or downgraded in EU Delegations. I hear much varying stories of how human rights defenders have been turned away or ignored by the EU diplomats. It is imperative for the EU to get this finally right.

Our subcommittee had recently a public hearing on new media, surveillance and information technologies and human rights. We are sadly aware of how these tools have been abused to crack down the human rights activists and demonstrators in Iran. In its resolution on 10th of February, the European Parliament strongly condemned Iranian authorities for jamming and interfering international radio and TV networks. The Parliament also criticised certain international corporations, and notably Nokia-Siemens Networks, for providing the Iranian authorities with the necessary technology for censorship and surveillance, thereby assisting them in persecution and arrests of Iranian dissidents.

After this resolution, the Parliament has held several negotiations with Nokia-Siemens Networks about this matter. I am confident that we will reach better standards in this field.

Dear colleagues, I have told my colleagues at the Parliament that the adoption of the report on human rights defenders is only the beginning of our hard work. Many policies must still be developed, activities must be monitored, results analyzed. The EU still has a long way to go, but together with the civil society and human rights themselves, we can make a big difference for all those who put their safety and even lives on the line to defend the rights of others.