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A Two-Part Celebration of Bulgaria

Two Cheers for the EU's Human Rights Policies

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has a new report out calling on the European Union to take the lead in human-rights enforcement, as the U.S. no longer has sufficient credibility to fulfill that role:

"Since the US can't provide credible leadership on human rights, European countries must pick up the slack," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Instead, the European Union is punching well below its weight."

HRW criticizes the EU's tendency toward micromanagement and consensus. Let me declare my interests here: I am a member of HRW, and generally admire their work. Nobody should have a completely uncritical view of international law and human rights doctrine, but you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and HRW generally does outstanding work: unafraid of controversy, but balanced in its judgments, and scrupulous in its methods.

Although HRW praises the generally high level of respect shown for human rights within EU countries, it finds the EU much too generous toward abuses outside the EU, especially in important energy suppliers. Here's the section on Russia:

EU policy toward Russia is dominated by Germany, which will assume the EU presidency in the first half of 2007. Berlin’s new Ostpolitik reflects an apparent determination to engage at any cost, with no strings attached. As Russia’s most important and respected interlocutor, the German government squanders its influence by seeming to assume that achieving energy security—a major European priority—is incompatible with challenging Russia’s disturbing human rights record. German reluctance to engage critically with the Russian government may also be influenced by feelings of guilt due to the millions of Russians who died because of the German invasion of World War II, although why today’s victims of Russian oppression should suffer because of their ancestors’ plight is never explained. The EU has held semi-annual human rights “consultations” with Russia, also at a low diplomatic level, but human rights have not featured prominently on the broader EU-Russia agenda. As with China, the EU periodically responds to individual cases or events such as the new Russian law on NGOs, but human rights rarely enter the public discourse of senior officials. Atrocities in Chechnya have essentially been forgotten, with no public demands for accountability or even a word on the fate of the “disappeared.”

As during her trip to China, German Chancellor Merkel made a point of visiting Russian human rights defenders at the time of her first summit with President Putin. She has also spoken about the importance of human rights and the rule of law in Russia. But no other European leader matched her statements or gestures, and they were not reflected in any common EU position. France’s President Chirac even awarded Putin the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. By contrast, on four occasions in 2006, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia responsible for violating the right to life because of the role of Russian troops and their proxies in the forced disappearance of people in Chechnya. European leaders are missing an enormous opportunity presented by these court rulings to press Russia to curb abuses and end impunity.

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