Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

European Parliament, a Friend for Assyrians

Assyria Times - 9 April 2006

In a session devoted to Human Rights, in Darfur, Iraq and Egypt, a resolution was passed on the situation of the Assyrians in Iraq. Patrons of the Save the Assyrians campaign Glyn Ford MEP and Dr Charles Tannock MEP, who were accompanied by Andy Darmoo, also of the campaign, were pleased to see 86 of the 88 members present voting in favour of a resolution that asks for Assyrian rights to be granted in Iraq. Darmoo said, after the result came through, “Iraq was liberated to bring freedom for all, but all we hear about is deals between Kurds and Shi’ites. Now they are even talking to external countries. However, what about the indigenous people of the country?” He continued, that in previously highly populated Assyrians areas, “it is Assyrians who are leaving Iraq en masse and now living as refugees in Syria and Jordan, while their ancestral homeland is divided up by others.”

EU: Human rights in Darfur, Iraq and Egypt

As usual, the final debates of the plenary session were devoted to three current issues of human rights around the world. On this occasion, Parliament adopted resolutions on the situation in Darfur, on the Assyrian community in Iraq and the situation in prisons there, and on the case of gaoled Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour.

Darfur - Parliament calls for UN action

In a resolution on Darfur, adopted by 76 votes in favour, none against and no abstentions, Parliament deplores the continuation of violence and rape by all sides, and condemns the Government of Sudan's continued support for the Janjaweed militia. It urges the United Nations Security Council to meet to address the violence in Darfur, which is tantamount to genocide, and to act on its responsibility to protect civilians by drafting a clear mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, on or before 1 October 2006 (following the expiry of the mandate of the African Union mission in Darfur on 30 September 2006). It calls on the UN Security Council to extend the arms embargo in Darfur throughout Sudan and support the African Union's efforts in Darfur to reach full operational capacity and to robustly interpret its mandate to protect civilians until the transition to a UN mission.

MEPs underline that the mandate of the AMIS force has primarily been to observe violations of the humanitarian ceasefire agreement. They criticise the international community for not having acted to protect civilians sooner and call upon EU Member States to honour the commitments they have already made to provide military observers, staff officers and civilian police to increase security in Darfur and to ensure that the current AMIS mission is adequately funded and equipped to enable it to interpret its limited mandate as broadly as possible.

Parliament welcomes the decisions taken by the UN Security Council in March on a ban on offensive flights in Darfur. It calls for an effectively enforced no-fly zone across Darfur. It further calls on the EU, the US and other international actors to take all necessary action to help end impunity by enforcing the Security Council sanctions regime and seeking for this regime to include targeted sanctions against individuals who obstruct the deployment of the UN force and otherwise contribute to abuses of civilians.

MEPs call for the international community to support the International Criminal Court's investigation into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Darfur. They join the UNHCR in calling for an end to forced conscription of Sudanese refugees in Chad and also call for the implementation of a Chad-Sudan border monitoring force, as foreseen in the accord signed by the Presidents of the two countries on 10 February 2006. They strongly criticise the Government of Sudan for preventing Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, from visiting Darfur.

Parliament asks the African Union to continue to play a leading role in the Abuja peace talks, and for all those involved in the talks to work to achieve these ends. It calls on the Government of Sudan to work alongside the NGO community for the benefit of its people and urges the Government to revise the Organisation of Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act 2006 to bring it into line with international human rights standards. MEPs insist that Sudan's Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) facilitate the issuing of visas and travel permits to humanitarian workers and stop the harassment of international NGOs; they criticise the lack of independence of the HAC from the Government of Sudan;

Parliament calls on the Government of Sudan to release Ms Amouna Mohamed Ahmed, Ms Fayza Ismail Abaker, Ms Houda Ismail Abdel Rahman and Ms Zahra Adam Abdela while their case is investigated and considers that these girls should be given appropriate care as victims of attempted rape.

Finally, MEPs criticise Russian and Chinese efforts to block UN Security Council actions over Darfur. They urge the international community to exert more pressure on these countries in order to prevent their economic interests in oil and arms sales from undermining efforts to bring peace to Darfur.

Iraq: Situation in prisons and the Assyrian community

Parliament's resolution on Iraq was adopted with 86 votes in favour, 1 against and 1 abstention. It covers two issues: the situation of the Assyrian community and Iraqi prisons.

Regarding the Assyrian community (Chaldeans, Syriacs and other Christian minorities) MEPs strongly condemn all acts of violence against them. They urge the Iraqi authorities and the Multi-National Force (MNF-I) to find the perpetrators of these serious crimes and bring them to justice as soon as possible. MEPs urge Iraq’s authorities to protect the Assyrians from discrimination, in accordance with their international obligations.

Parliament urges Iraq’s authorities to improve the security situation of the Assyrians and to facilitate the return and resettlement of Assyrian refugees in a secure environment where their customs and way of life are respected. It calls for the involvement of the Christians in Iraq in the reconstruction and administration of their land and villages in Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the region in order to preserve their cultural, religious and ethnic identity within one undivided country.

MEPs strongly support calls by most Iraqi political and religious leaders for restraint and urges the communities in Iraq to come together in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect; expresses its full support for the efforts of the UN in promoting intercommunal dialogue within the framework of a national dialogue; welcomes the initiative by the League of Arab States to hold a second conference on national reconciliation with the participation of all Iraqi communities. They urge the Constitutional Committee of the Iraqi Council of Representatives to preserve the cultural and religious rights of all Iraqi communities in its proposals for a constitutional amendment.

MEPs call on the Commission and the Council to take all necessary measures to assist and protect the Assyrians.

Regarding prisons is Iraq Parliament expresses its concern at the conditions of detention in prisons and other places of detention in Iraq. It reaffirms its condemnation of the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners and calls on the Iraqi authorities and the MNF-I to ensure that conditions of detention conform to international standards for the treatment of prisoners. It further calls on them to release immediately the identities of all remaining detainees and to ensure that they have access to legal counsel and prompt access to their families, and are informed of the reasons for their detention, as well as to put in place adequate safeguards to protect detainees from torture and ill-treatment: by ensuring that all allegations of such abuse are subject to prompt, thorough and independent investigation and that any military, security or other officials found to have used, ordered or authorised torture are brought to justice; by ensuring that detainees are able effectively to challenge their detention before a court and are subject to due process; by prosecuting all those currently held without charge for internationally recognisable criminal offences or else releasing them.

MEPs welcome the ongoing investigations carried out by the MNF-I into allegations of abuse of prisoners and the inspection of places of detention throughout the country carried out by the Iraqi authorities. They also welcome the fact that more inspections are underway and that UNAMI encourages this process. Parliament calls on the MNF-I and the Iraqi authorities to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross unfettered access to all British and US detention facilities.

Parliament supports the continuing efforts of the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights to uphold high standards, including for people under detention and the EU’s Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq (EUJUST LEX). It notes that the Iraqi authorities have requested that the mission be extended beyond the end of its current mandate and the scope of the training provided expanded. MEPs urge the Commission and the Council to extend the mission beyond the end of its current mandate and to expand the scope of the training provided to include forensic policing.

Parliament calls on the Iraqi Council of Representatives to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and calls on the Commission, the Council and the Member States to make further contributions to the strengthening of human rights and the rule of law in Iraq.

Egypt - call to free Ayman Nour

MEPs adopted a resolution with 87 votes in favour, none against and no abstentions on the case of the leader of Egypt's El Ghad Party and former member of parliament Ayman Nour and other defendants were arrested after Dr Nour had stood in the last presidential elections and also in the parliamentary elections of November and December 2005, during which intimidation of Dr Nour's supporters was witnessed. Ayman Nour, who came second in the last presidential elections, has been sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment for allegedly falsifying some of the 50 signatures needed to register his party. Parliament is disturbed by reports that Dr Nour's health has seriously declined due to the hunger strike on which he has embarked in protest at the conditions of his trial and detention.

Parliament stresses the importance of Egypt and EU-Egypt relations for the stability and development of the Euro-Mediterranean area, and welcomes the process of political reform which the Egyptian authorities have undertaken to pursue. It says that respect for human rights is a fundamental value of the EU-Egypt Association Agreement and reaffirms the importance of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership for promoting the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.

MEPs call on the Egyptian authorities to act in accordance with the laws of Egypt in the spirit of its professed desire for increased political openness and dialogue, while recalling nevertheless the political context in which this trial is taking place. They urge the Egyptian Government to reform the legal framework, regulating elections in accordance with international standards providing for freedom and transparency, as well as enabling political groups to be founded and civil society organisations to be represented.

Parliament calls on the Council and the Commission to devise practical arrangements in cooperation with the European Parliament for regular assessments of compliance with Article 2 by all contracting parties to the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement, with a view to bringing about verifiable progress, in particular with regard to regular and impartial monitoring of developments in the field of human rights and the extent to which human rights activists and opposition leaders, such as Dr Ayman Nour, are free to act and speak out. It therefore calls for Dr Nour to be released.

MEPs stress the positive and moderate role that Egypt plays in the Middle East peace process; calls on the Commission and the Council to strengthen this role. It calls on the Egyptian Government to establish precise timetables and benchmarks in order to effectively monitor the progress of the implementation of the Action Plan and thereby involve and consult organisations working within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. MEPs urge the Commission and the Egyptian Government to include in the Action Plan the creation of a specific Sub-Committee on Human Rights in the framework of the EU-Egypt Association Agreement and to establish an efficient monitoring mechanism for the Action Plan once it is adopted.

Parliament says the lifting of the Emergency Laws is an absolute necessity if democracy is to be respected. It strongly supports measures to guarantee academic freedom, freedom of the media and private religious belief, putting an end to discrimination between citizens on grounds of sex, religion, race or any other grounds, to be included in the Action Plan. MEPs are worried, however, about the growing role of fundamentalism in this area.

They say the Action Plan should include concrete, measurable and time-bound commitments even if this means prolonging the negotiations beyond the proposed date for the meeting of the EU-Egypt Association Council, scheduled to take place on 12 June. They call in particular, on the Commission and the Egyptian Government to tackle in the Action Plan sensitive issues such as the lifting of the state of emergency, the prevention of and the fight against torture, the abolition of arbitrary detention and the reinforcement of the judiciary's independence.

MEPs call on the Egyptian Parliament to engage in a process of democratisation, and of enforcement of the rule of law and human rights with a view to it playing a leading role in the region as a future model of parliamentary democracy. Finally, they recall their request in a resolution in January to have a follow-up on the conditions and the situation of Sudanese refugees who were subjected to violence in Cairo on 30 December 2005.
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