UK/EU: Open Letter to Blair and Other EU Heads of State Warns of 'Vacuum' at The Heart of Hague Programme

The letter warns of a 'vacuum in the substance of the programme as to how the stated ambition [of ensuring the protection of fundamental rights] is to be realised'.

Amnesty International’s Open Letter examines the human rights content of the 'Hague Programme' (to be adopted at this week’s EU Summit) which sets out a five-year policy framework designed to 'strengthen freedom, security and justice' in the European Union.

The letter voices particular concerns about asylum issues, warning that:

'The fact that asylum is principally a human rights issue seems to be lost amid all the discourse surrounding migration management. With the EU’s justice and home affairs agenda driven by counter-terrorism and the fight against 'illegal immigration', there is a growing risk of a one-sided emphasis on 'security' at the expense of the elements of 'justice' and 'freedom'.'

Among the issues covered:

Common European asylum system

While welcoming the commitment to a single asylum procedure, Amnesty International is concerned that the common asylum system is to be based on the low standards agreed so far and urges Member States to amend the directive on asylum procedures in order to ensure that basic guarantees are fully available in fast track, admissibility and border procedures.

External dimension of asylum and migration

The Hague Programme marks a decisive shift in the EU’s ambition to take the fight against 'illegal immigration' into the domain of external relations. 'Partnership' with third countries has become a principal focus in efforts to stop people from entering the EU. However, as seen in the recent discussions over 'reception facilities’ in neighbouring countries, there are many questions to be answered in regard to the EU’s stated ambitions to control immigration, provide humanitarian assistance and support capacity building if protection obligations are to be fully respected.

Amnesty International’s Open Letter says it is significant to note that the conditions on third countries for such cooperation have been watered down from 'fulfilling the obligations under the Geneva Convention' to 'demonstrating a genuine commitment to fulfil the obligations'.

Proposed EU Human Rights Agency

Amnesty International says the move to set up an EU Human Rights Agency does not prove there is a real willingness on behalf of EU Member States to address their own human rights performance. Confidence in the EU’s determination to protect fundamental rights is not inspired by the Commission’s suggestion that the agency be 'a lightweight structure in terms of staff and budget.'

Shared EU-wide safeguards in criminal proceedings

In the proposed Hague programme, the balance between the need to fight crime effectively and the need to protect individuals’ fundamental rights is insufficient.

For the full text of the letter, go to www.amnesty-eu.org

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