Author: Amnesty international
Site of publication: Amnesty International
Type of publication: Public statement
Date of publication: February 3rd, 2022
Ahead of the European Union (EU)-African Union (AU) summit on 17-18 February 2022, Amnesty International calls on African and European leaders to deliver on their human rights commitments in policy and practice, as they confront multiple challenges together. At the EU-AU Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meeting in October 2021, both sides re-affirmed their commitment to political dialogue aimed at enhancing human rights and informing the overall AU-EU cooperation.
Ensuring equal access to covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments
The EU-AU summit will be a key opportunity to act on both continents and globally for equal access to vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and other COVID-19 health technologies and goods. Equal access to COVID-19 vaccines is vital in ensuring that every individual realizes the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health in the context of the current pandemic. However, the vastly unequal global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has served as a stark reminder of how the pandemic has magnified existing global inequalities. While wealthy countries had fully vaccinated more than 60% of their populations by the end of 2021, in Africa less than 8% of people had been fully vaccinated.
The inequality in the global distribution of vaccines has been created by pharmaceutical companies and mostly wealthy nations. Pharmaceutical companies continue to prioritize supplying high-income countries who in turn have stockpiled more doses than they need and can use. These countries have also blocked attempts to increase supplies to low and middleincome countries. In this context, the EU has blocked the proposal by India and South Africa for a TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The EU-AU summit will be a key opportunity to act on both continents and globally for equal access to vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and other COVID-19 health technologies and goods
The EU consistently opposed attempts to free up intellectual property rights that would enable other states to fulfil their obligations to protect their people. To date, the communications presented by the European Commission to the WTO fail to provide useful solutions and cannot be considered as an alternative to the waiver proposal for global access to vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and other COVID-19 health technologies and goods.
Protecting human rights in conflict situations
In the area of peace and security, the AU and EU must step up the protection of human rights in conflict situations. Conflicts continue to be particularly prevalent in Africa, a reality that compelled the AU in December 2020 to review its deadline for silencing the guns in Africa from 2020 to 2030. African countries currently affected by conflict include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. Perpetrated both by government forces and armed groups, indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure remain pervasive in African conflicts. Impunity for war crimes, crimes against impunity and other serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is equally persistent, leaving victims of these crimes and violations without justice or redress.
Upholding the rights of refugees and migrants
In recent years, a major concern has been the plight of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants, overwhelmingly nationals of African countries, setting off from Libya by boat in the hope of reaching Italy and other European countries through the Mediterranean Sea. With the support of other EU member states and institutions, Italy has pursued cooperation with Libya to externalize EU borders. The core aim of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two countries on 2 February 2017, and renewed without modification three years later, is to ensure that Italy keeps refugees and migrants from reaching its shores and that Libyan maritime forces are equipped to intercept people attempting the crossing of the central Mediterranean and return them to Libya. Exactly five years ago, on 3 February 2017, the heads of state or government of all EU member states signed the Malta Declaration, which supports this approach.
Impunity for war crimes, crimes against impunity and other serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is equally persistent, leaving victims of these crimes and violations without justice or redress
EU institutions and member states have concurrently worked to ensure that rescue obligations would not fall on their own actors, by keeping their naval assets far from the central Mediterranean. Such efforts have reduced the number of refugees and migrants disembarked in Italy, by dramatically increasing the number of people intercepted at sea by Libyan coastguards and returned to Libya – over 32,000 in 2021, bringing the total to over 82,000 since 2017 – despite the international prohibition to return anyone to a place where they face serious abuse. Once disembarked in Libya, women, men and children face prolonged arbitrary detention in horrific conditions and a host of other well-documented human rights violations and abuses, including torture and other ill-treatment, sexual violence, extortion, forced labour and unlawful killings. Instead of addressing this human rights crisis, the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) continues to facilitate further abuses and entrench impunity.
Such efforts have reduced the number of refugees and migrants disembarked in Italy, by dramatically increasing the number of people intercepted at sea by Libyan coastguards and returned to Libya – over 32,000 in 2021, bringing the total to over 82,000 since 2017 – despite the international prohibition to return anyone to a place where they face serious abuse
Serious violations of the rights of refugees and migrants continue to be documented also on other migratory routes, including the Spain/Morocco border, the Greece/Turkey border, the Balkans route and the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia with Belarus. Similarly, refugees and migrants in AU member states face serious human rights violations, including in Libya, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
Safeguarding civil society space
Today, human rights defenders (HRDs) on both continents find themselves more embattled than ever. Government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing activists and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk. In Poland, several women’s rights defenders were detained or faced what they describe as politically motivated criminal charges for actions during protests following an October 2020 ruling starkly restricting access to legal abortion. In addition, these HRDs face serious and violent threats from the public. In Poland and Hungary, the space for civil society continues to shrink, as most recently proven by revelations on the use of Pegasus spyware on journalists, opposition politicians and others in both countries.
To date, no formal invitation for consultations ahead of the summit (nor for an official civil society event) was sent to the Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN) consisting of 58 European NGOs working on these issues
In the run-up to the EU-AU Summit, EU-based civil society access to the institutions ahead of the meeting remained limited. To date, no formal invitation for consultations ahead of the summit (nor for an official civil society event) was sent to the Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN) consisting of 58 European NGOs working on these issues. At the same time, HRDN’s counterpart CONCORD Europe, the European confederation of relief and development NGOs, publicly expressed concern that “civil society has been shut out from having any real influence over the shape or likely outcomes of the Summit” due to “frictions and differences between EU institutions and services” as well as “the more prominent and nationalistic role of many EU Member States.”
Standing for human rights at multilateral level
EU and AU member states must prioritize human rights in their collaboration at multilateral fora and act in defence of crucial human rights gains at the multilateral level. In this regard, Amnesty International makes the following recommendations:
- AU and EU decision-makers must ensure they have concrete strategies to counter the recent pushback on existing human rights norms at multilateral fora, including against the universality and indivisibility of human rights.
- The EU, the AU and their member states must deliver full political and financial support to their respective human rights mechanisms and ensure that these, together with a strong and independent civil society, can guarantee delivery and further progress on human rights for all in Africa and Europe.
- The EU, the AU and their member states must pro-actively counter current restrictions and ensure that civil society participation and space at all multilateral fora are protected and expanded.
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