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Impact of the pandemic on elections around the world: From safety concerns to political crises

17-07-2020

The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on electoral processes around the world, with many elections being postponed because of emergency situations. Ideally, postponing elections should involve a sensible balancing act between the democratic imperative, enshrined in international law and national constitutions, to hold regular elections, and public health requirements restricting large gatherings and minimising close contact between people. While some countries have decided to go ahead with elections ...

The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on electoral processes around the world, with many elections being postponed because of emergency situations. Ideally, postponing elections should involve a sensible balancing act between the democratic imperative, enshrined in international law and national constitutions, to hold regular elections, and public health requirements restricting large gatherings and minimising close contact between people. While some countries have decided to go ahead with elections, most countries with elections scheduled since the beginning of March have postponed them. Among those that have held elections during the pandemic, South Korea has emerged as a model for having organised a highly successful electoral process, while protecting the health of its population. Others, such as Burundi, have set a negative standard, ignoring health risks putting both population and politicians in peril. Postponing elections as part of the policy response to the crisis ideally requires a broad political consensus. However, rescheduling has proven divisive in many cases. Those in power have often been accused by the opposition and other critics of trying to reshape the calendar to their own advantage, either by lifting lockdowns too early to allow for the restart of the electoral process (such as in Serbia − the first European country to hold parliamentary elections after the crisis) or by prolonging transitional situations unnecessarily (such as in Bolivia, which has an interim president). The crisis provides a unique opportunity for electoral reform. Extending opportunities for early and remote voting has been seen as a way to reduce risk. However, much caution is needed, particularly as regards remote online voting, which involves either limitations of the right to voting secrecy or serious and still unmanageable cyber-risks.

2019 report on human rights and democracy

06-07-2020

Parliament's July plenary session is scheduled to feature a statement by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, and a debate on the recently published 'EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019'. The report takes stock of all EU action in 2019 in support of democracy and human rights in the world. Parliament will subsequently respond with its own report issuing recommendations for the future.

Parliament's July plenary session is scheduled to feature a statement by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, and a debate on the recently published 'EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019'. The report takes stock of all EU action in 2019 in support of democracy and human rights in the world. Parliament will subsequently respond with its own report issuing recommendations for the future.

Sakharov Prize laureates in difficulty: Facing repression for defending human rights

05-06-2020

The Sakharov Prize is awarded by the European Parliament each year for outstanding achievements in the service of human rights. Defending human rights in countries where they are most under pressure does however come with significant risks for defenders, who are often harassed, persecuted, and deprived of personal freedom. Since its beginning, the Prize has been awarded to human rights defenders, some of whom were behind bars, serving long prison sentences because of their fight, such as Nelson Mandela ...

The Sakharov Prize is awarded by the European Parliament each year for outstanding achievements in the service of human rights. Defending human rights in countries where they are most under pressure does however come with significant risks for defenders, who are often harassed, persecuted, and deprived of personal freedom. Since its beginning, the Prize has been awarded to human rights defenders, some of whom were behind bars, serving long prison sentences because of their fight, such as Nelson Mandela. This has not changed much today. Several Sakharov laureates of recent years were in jail when they were awarded the Prize and are still not free today. Others suffered new or additional prison terms because of their activity. The Sakharov Prize brings the cause and the fight of its laureates to world attention. On the occasion of awarding the Prize, Parliament, through the voice of its President, usually calls for jailed laureates to be released from prison. Parliament also uses all the means in its parliamentary diplomacy toolbox to protect from state repression those that it honours through the Prize. The steady follow-up by Parliament of the situation of Sakharov laureates and the urgency resolutions which mention those in difficulty regularly help to keep their struggle in the spotlight. EU diplomacy complements Parliament's efforts through statements, dialogues, and démarches, in line with the general EU policy on protecting human rights defenders. While such actions add to international pressure to secure the release of human rights defenders, they do not always succeed in moving repressive regimes. 2019 saw the liberation of Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian film-maker who received the Prize in 2018, from a Russian jail, but other countries such as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Venezuela have been relentless in their repression of Sakharov laureates, not giving in to EU calls for their liberation. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic puts jailed laureates at particular risk, but none of those in prison has benefited from the conditional release awarded on a large scale to common criminals, for example in Iran.

Coronavirus in Africa: A crisis with multiple impacts

07-05-2020

At the beginning of May, the number of Covid-19 cases in Africa was lower than in other regions of the world. North African countries and South Africa are the most affected by the pandemic. Limited testing capacity and Africa's young population are often mentioned as possible explanations for this overall low rate. The very early preventive measures adopted by most governments are also credited for slowing down the spread of the disease. Africa's medical systems are poorly equipped to handle a massive ...

At the beginning of May, the number of Covid-19 cases in Africa was lower than in other regions of the world. North African countries and South Africa are the most affected by the pandemic. Limited testing capacity and Africa's young population are often mentioned as possible explanations for this overall low rate. The very early preventive measures adopted by most governments are also credited for slowing down the spread of the disease. Africa's medical systems are poorly equipped to handle a massive epidemic, despite notable recent progress in preparedness for epidemics in general and increased testing capacity for the coronavirus. On the other hand, African economies have been severely hit by the pandemic. The drop in oil and other commodity prices, the disruption in global supply chains affecting African exporters, the drying up of external financial flows compounding an already difficult financial situation for many states, as well as the effects of confinement particularly on urban populations living off informal daily activities, are taking a heavy toll on the continent's economies. This creates a risk of social instability, with poorer people already facing food deprivation in urban slums. Long-term confinement and social distancing are simply impossible in many African settings. The pandemic has also affected the fragile democratic institutions of some African countries. Restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the postponement of elections can undermine recent democratic progress. Africa needs massive help to overcome these challenges. The international community has prepared various packages, including a debt moratorium to relieve the economic and financial burden. The European Union is refocusing the funds earmarked for Africa to fighting the pandemic. The consequences of the outbreak will profoundly reshape the discussions on a renewed Africa-EU partnership, and if correctly seized, might be the opportunity to strengthen this partnership.

COVID-19's impact on human rights outside the EU

03-04-2020

In their attempt to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries around the world have imposed limitations on freedom of movement and other related freedoms within their territories, thereby severely curtailing certain fundamental rights. In the event of a public emergency, international human rights norms do allow for the imposition of limitations under strict conditions. Moreover, so far no other approach has been as effective in slowing down the outbreak, while also upholding the right of the ...

In their attempt to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries around the world have imposed limitations on freedom of movement and other related freedoms within their territories, thereby severely curtailing certain fundamental rights. In the event of a public emergency, international human rights norms do allow for the imposition of limitations under strict conditions. Moreover, so far no other approach has been as effective in slowing down the outbreak, while also upholding the right of the most vulnerable to health and life. However, some governments may be abusing the situation to suppress human rights and wield undue power.

Religion and the EU's external policies: Increasing engagement

12-02-2020

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

Peace, justice and strong institutions: EU support for implementing SDG 16 worldwide

04-02-2020

The 16th sustainable development goal (SDG 16) to 'Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels' represents a new milestone compared with the earlier millennium development goals. While several of its targets (such as peace, corruption-free institutions and freedom from violence) were once seen as prerequisites of sustainable development, the adoption of SDG 16 marked ...

The 16th sustainable development goal (SDG 16) to 'Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels' represents a new milestone compared with the earlier millennium development goals. While several of its targets (such as peace, corruption-free institutions and freedom from violence) were once seen as prerequisites of sustainable development, the adoption of SDG 16 marked the first time that they were globally recognised as development objectives in themselves. To achieve universal recognition, SDG 16 leaves out explicit reference to internationally recognised political and civil rights norms, attracting some criticism. Its very general scope has also stirred controversy regarding the type of data required in order to assess progress rigorously. The state of play with regard to the implementation of SDG 16 indicates that substantial progress is still needed in order to achieve the SDG targets by 2030. Violent conflicts continue to affect many parts of the world, societal violence remains widespread in many countries and violence against children in particular remains a pervasive phenomenon, especially in developing countries. At the same time, fundamental freedoms have come under increased attack from regimes that disrespect human rights and undermine international and national norms in this area. The EU has committed to contributing to the achievement of all the SDGs, and the specific targets of SDG 16 have been given special recognition. From the Global Strategy to the 'new consensus on development', various policy documents acknowledge the crucial role of peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law for sustainable development. The interconnection between the pursuit of these fundamental values and EU efforts to help developing countries achieve the SDGs is obvious in numerous measures undertaken in the framework of EU external action. The European Parliament is a strong champion for these values in the world.

Taking stock of EU human rights and democracy action: Annual report for 2018

09-01-2020

The annual report on human rights and democracy in the world is a comprehensive exercise that takes stock of all European Union (EU) actions in the human rights and democracy field. The report provides the European Parliament with an opportunity to recommend future EU action, considering current challenges, in its yearly resolution adopted in response to the EU report. The report for 2018 underlines that the EU should continue to play a leading role in tackling global democracy and human rights challenges ...

The annual report on human rights and democracy in the world is a comprehensive exercise that takes stock of all European Union (EU) actions in the human rights and democracy field. The report provides the European Parliament with an opportunity to recommend future EU action, considering current challenges, in its yearly resolution adopted in response to the EU report. The report for 2018 underlines that the EU should continue to play a leading role in tackling global democracy and human rights challenges, a view shared by the Parliament.

Children's rights and the UN SDGs: A priority for EU external action

11-11-2019

The United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for sustainable development includes a strong commitment by all states to respect human rights, in line with international law and other relevant international documents, in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This covers the rights of the child as enshrined mainly in the UN Covenant on the Rights of the Child and other relevant human rights treaties. No action to implement the SDGs can be detrimental to the rights of the child. More ...

The United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for sustainable development includes a strong commitment by all states to respect human rights, in line with international law and other relevant international documents, in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This covers the rights of the child as enshrined mainly in the UN Covenant on the Rights of the Child and other relevant human rights treaties. No action to implement the SDGs can be detrimental to the rights of the child. More than a normative framework guiding the implementation of the SDGs, the rights of the child are a fundamental enabling factor for sustainable development and vice versa. Healthy, well-nourished, well-educated children, who are protected from violence and abuse, are the best guarantee of long-term sustainable development. On the other hand, the rights of the child can only be realised in an appropriate environment – peaceful, prosperous, protective of the child and fostering human development. Thus, there is a natural convergence between the SDGs and specific children's rights. The SDGs, through the comprehensive and regular monitoring they put in place, provide an opportunity for an assessment of the state of the most fundamental rights of the child, as enshrined in the Covenant. Most recent data actually warn that many relevant SDGs may not be achieved by 2030. While progress has been steady in certain areas, particularly on health-related issues, in others, progress has been less conclusive. The EU prioritises children's rights and relevant SDGs in its external action. It aims at mainstreaming human rights including children's rights in its development assistance to connect the normative and developmental dimensions. The European Parliament has repeatedly defended the need to protect and promote children's rights through EU external action, and has asked the Commission to propose a strategy and action plan in this sense.

Oleg Sentsov: The 2018 Sakharov Prize laureate

09-10-2019

Thirty years since it was first awarded, the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought retains all its symbolic meaning, as human rights are continually under threat in many parts of the world. By awarding the 2018 Prize to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, Parliament aimed to increase the pressure on the Russian government to release him. The award also drew attention to all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula. On 7 September 2019, Sentsov ...

Thirty years since it was first awarded, the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought retains all its symbolic meaning, as human rights are continually under threat in many parts of the world. By awarding the 2018 Prize to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, Parliament aimed to increase the pressure on the Russian government to release him. The award also drew attention to all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula. On 7 September 2019, Sentsov was released as part of a major prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine. He is due to receive the award in person in Strasbourg on 26 November 2019.

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