Today’s topic is focused on Human Rights, their roots and the reasons behind the necessity to sign a treaty stipulating something already existing, as indeed the right of being humans.
The “status” of being human establishes a series of rights either at International or European level.
The history of this sensible topic has deep roots, precisely on the 26th of June 1945 when the United Nations signed the Charter establishing the United Nations organisation.
This, of course, does not mean that human rights were decided or created that day but once the United Nations organisation was established, human rights were proclaimed, therefore seen, to be a subject of international concern.
The principle, in this respect, is the understanding of the values on which the new world order was to be built after the Second World War.
What are Human Rights?
As mentioned before, the “feature” of our essence, that is human, involves all peoples in the world and these rights are:
- the right to life and liberty,
- freedom (from slavery and torture),
- freedom (of opinion and expression),
- the right to work and education
Everyone is entitled to these rights, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.
The European dimension, provide for the treaties and require all Member States to adhere to these values and they also include a sanction mechanism for existing Member States which persistently violate such rights.
Indeed, article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provide a legal basis for a strong EU anti-discrimination regime. Article 6, of the Treaty on the European Union (TUE), is considered the foundation of the EU’s human rights framework by providing the following statement at the third clause:
“Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union’s law“.
A bit of history…
At the beginning, there was no mention of these rights in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), any reference in the Euratom or in the European and Economic Community (EEC) Treaty in the 1950s. Further, the Court was reluctant enough to entertain right-based challenges to EU law.
After long stages, the inclusion of Human Rights in the treaty framework, eventually, found its way into the EU Treaties with the amendments introduced by the Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, and Lisbon Treaties.
Tangibly, there are two main streams of human rights policy and action within the EU dimension: the protection of the fundamental human rights for EU citizens, and the promotion of human rihts worldwide.
The EU intervenes in several areas, namely: Civil Society, Democracy, Election observation, Justice and the Rule of law, Gender equality, Reducing inequality.
Indeed, the EU policy works on:
- promoting the rights of women, children, minorities and displaced persons
- opposing the death penalty, torture, human trafficking and discrimination
- defending civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights
- defending human rights through active partnership with partnercountries, international and regional organisations, and groups and associations at all levels of society
- inclusion of human rights clauses in all agreements on trade or cooperation with non-EU countries
Finally, thanks to the EU charter of fundamental rights, legally binding for Member States entered into force in December 2009, with the entry of the Lisbon Treaty.
The charter contains rights and freedoms under six divisions:
1) dignity (human dignity, right to life, right to the integrity of the person, prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, prohibition of slavery and forced labour)
2) freedoms (right to liberty and security, respect for private and family life, protection of personal data, right to marry and right to found a family, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and of association, freedom of the arts and sciences, right to education, freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work, freedom to conduct a business, right to property, right to asylum, protection in the event of removal, expulsion or extradition)
3) equality (equality before the law, non-discrimination, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, equality between women and men, the rights of the child, the rights of the elderly, integration of persons with disabilities)
4) solidarity (workers’ right to information and consultation within the undertaking, right of collective bargaining and action, right of access to placement services, protection in the event of unjustified dismissal, fair and just working conditions, prohibition of child labour and protection of young people at work, family and professional life, social security and social assistance, health care, access to services of general economic interest, environmental protection, consumer protection)
5) citizens’ rights (right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament, right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections, right to good administration, right of access to documents, european ombudsman, right to petition, freedom of movement and of residence, diplomatic and consular protection)
6) justice (right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial, presumption of innocence and right of defence, principles of legality and proportionality of criminal offences and penalties, right not to be tried or punished twice in criminal proceedings for the same criminal offence)
Moreover, to reflect modern society, the charter includes ‘third generation’ fundamental rights, such as:
- data protection
- guarantees on bioethics
- transparent administration
Today therefore, human rights are occupying a significant space within EU law and policy.
Due to this impact, is it reasonable that the Charter of Fundamental Rights has a binding legal force.
Compliance with human rights standards, indeed, is “condition sine qua non” for the admission of new Member States.