Amnesty International called on the European Commission to act adopt a more consistent and thorough approach to its efforts to uphold human rights principles within its borders.
Noting that the Commission has declared next year as the European year of the citizen and their rights, the rights activists are concerned that an online questionnaire made no reference to human rights violations, so they launched their own, garnering 11,000 responses, but the Commission has refused to accept the petition.
Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office explained to New Europe why they were protesting.
“When the European Commission said they wanted to listen to the citizens they omitted to ask question on what hindered people from getting their human rights, no question about discrimination which may hinder freedom of movement.”
There are concerns over rights, but is this a serious problem?
“Yes. It’s a serious problem for say, Roma children who can’t get into education, there is homophobic bullying in schools and there are women, one quarter of whom have experienced physical violence, which hinders them from enjoying their rights, such as the right to move, rights in the workplace. Discrimination and violence against women is a serious problem and we lack the political will to address this properly.
“We went out and asked people their opinions and 11,000 people signed our petition, but unfortunately the Commission has not been willing to receive us and talk about what 11,000 people signed up to.”
What reason did they give for not seeing you?
“They said they didn’t have the time, but we asked them three months ago.”
This is unusual, because the EU says human rights are central to their vision of Europe
“We think there is a general reluctance, both in the EU and the member states to address the human rights deficit. We see a massive increase in xenophobia, people being excluded from society. It’s just not very hip to talk about fundamental rights. The Commission has all the legal tools it needs; it just needs to apply them more boldly. We just don’t see any appetite to address the problem.”
Has the human rights issue slipped off the agenda because of austerity and the financial crisis?
“There won’t be a prosperous future for any of us without a respect for human rights. That sounds like a blanket thing to say, but it is a reality. Rights are important economically, like the freedom of movement.”
What are you asking for?
“Specifically, we are asking finally to see a strategy on violence against women, we need to see the new anti-discrimination directive move forwards, we need to see more monitoring of member states implementation, we need to see leadership from the Commission to push this. We need to see a much bolder program on discrimination against the Roma, we need to see more emphasis on Muslim women accessing the labour market, these are only some of the issues that urgently need addressing.”