Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Human rights

Delivered in Plenary - February 23rd 2005

Mr President

High standards of human rights are part of the raison d'Ítre of the EU, both internally and internationally, in its foreign and development policies.

I am, however, a little cynical when I see references to the UN Human Rights Commission, whose current membership includes Saudi Arabia, which publicly beheads people for drug and alcohol offences; Cuba, which executed three people last year for attempting to flee the country in a hijacked ferry and locks up political dissidents, and Zimbabwe, which is a dictatorship in which press freedom is suppressed and people are subject to arbitrary arrest and torture.

Ironically, all three countries are cited in the resolution. This is reflected in the 'no action' taken over Zimbabwe and China, where there is extensive use of the death penalty, even for such crimes as corruption, pimping, drug offences and tax fraud, its systematic torture of dissidents and its restrictions on freedom of speech, including the Internet, and religious practice, getting off the hook. China also has a nasty habit of sustaining brutal regimes like Sudan, Burma and North Korea, irrespective of the atrocities they commit, on the basis of non-interference in their internal affairs.

Nevertheless, the UNCHR is the only international vehicle we have for promoting human rights globally, so we must stick with it.

I welcome the bulk of this resolution, in particular the defence of the state's duty to protect its citizens against terrorism and the need to continue dialogue on human rights with countries such as Iran, whose track record is appalling with the recent execution of a 16-year-old girl for sexual misdemeanours. I also take issue with listing India, which is a democracy and subject to the rule of law, being in the same list as China and Zimbabwe. The Indian State actually practices positive discrimination in favour of the lower castes.

Some recognition must also be given to Uzbekistan and President Karimov's recent undertakings that there have admittedly been excesses in his country in the fight against Islamist terrorists, but he now wishes to free up the press, establish an independent judiciary and abolish the death penalty. These are serious considerations. I feel strongly that we must encourage countries and their leaders who are not totally beyond the pale to move in the right direction and reward them for it.