Europe needs international action plan centred on core values

Written by Madi Sharma on 13 March 2015 in Opinion

The scale of civilian death resulting from conflicts is a reminder that human rights must be at the core of our external relations, writes Madi Sharma.

An Amnesty international report published on events in 2014 serves as a reminder and a wakeup call of the inadequacies and draws attention to the lack of concrete efforts from governments and the international community to addressing some of the greatest tragedies of recent history.

According to Amnesty, more than 200,000 people have died in Syria and for the most part as a result of attacks by government forces. Around four million Syrians are now refugees in other countries. More than 7.6 million are displaced within Syria. Throughout the conflict Islamic state jihadi militants have been responsible for war crimes, have carried out abductions, execution-style killings, and ethnic cleansing on a massive scale in northern Iraq.

In Nigeria, the kidnapping of the 276 schoolgirls from a religious school was only the start of what has proven to be a lengthy conflict between Boko Haram militants and government forces or militia. Last May, the UN reported that more than 2000 people have been killed by Boko Haram, including a massacre at an agricultural college in Yobe state, during which gunmen entered dormitories under the cover of darkness and shot dead 40 students in their sleep.

The UN assistance mission in Afghanistan reported that casualties among civilians not involved in hostilities is at an all-time high. The Taliban and other armed insurgent groups were responsible for more than 74 per cent of civilian casualties. A further 12 per cent of casualties occurred during ground engagement between pro-Afghan government and Taliban insurgents. There has also been reported a lack of access to justice and repatriation for the victims and their families of unlawful acts.

"The UN assistance mission in Afghanistan reported that casualties among civilians not involved in hostilities is at an all-time high"

Another UN report on the country, published last month, said 35 per cent of the 790 conflict related detainees in the Afghani prisons, interviewed between February 2013 and December 2014, claimed to have been subjected to mistreatment. This included beatings with pipes, electric shocks and near asphyxiation. The report also outlined that there has been just one criminal prosecution for torture since 2010, oversight within security organisations is lacking and many officials do not appear to see torture as illegal.

Last December marked the deadliest terrorist attack in Pakistan's history when the Pakistani Taliban-led attack on the army public school in Peshawar resulted in 149 deaths, including 132 children. In response, the government lifted the moratorium on carrying out death sentences and swiftly executed seven men previously convicted of other terror related offences. It also announced that military courts would be established to prosecute those accused of involvement in terror related activities, a move which could prove to be a great concern because of the rights of the accused to a fair trial. Extrajudicial killings have also alarmed human rights advocates in the country.

Furthermore, Amnesty international has said freedom of the press is still under threat in Pakistan with media organisations being subject to harassment by authorities. At the same time, minorities are facing prosecution under blasphemy laws being used as means to eliminate dissent and political or other opponents.

Despite commitments and declarations from Europe and the international community, the fact is that not enough is being done to effectively address such conflict situations. We need to be more vigorous and concrete in our efforts to combat violence especially when civilians are targeted. As Europeans, we need to put in place a realistic action plan that puts our core values of respect for democracy and human rights at the centre of our dealings with third countries.


About the author

Madi Sharma is president of the EESC's human rights committee

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