Europeans, for centuries, have acted as missionaries. As soon as they had the opportunity to travel, they claimed to bring civilisation to the rest of the world. They did this by colonising it, exploiting it and reducing the inhabitants to slavery. Everywhere, during the past century they were driven out, sometimes at the cost of bloody wars and immense suffering.
They restarted this crusade with the European Union (EU): “ The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.” (Article 21, Treaty on EU). The EU wants to place democracy at the core of its relations with other countries which are all practically former colonies, which indicates how the Europeans failed in this endeavour when they held absolute power.
This European desire obviously does not take into account the fact that a large number of countries do not share the cultural heritage of the European States which is at the foundation of the rule of law and therefore do not show the same interest in this form of organisation of power; in Asia, for example, Confucianism offers a different conception of power. It ignores the Resolution 2625 (XXV) of the UN General Assembly when it stipulates that “every State has the inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system without any form of interference by another state.” (October 24, 1970). It refuses to consider that for many dedicated leaders in the South, the development and stability it requires are much more important than the constant clashes between rival political parties.
The EU is neither a political power, nor a military power. It is an economic power. So the only weapon it has is money. It is with the power of money that it wants to impose its conception of politics. When proposing agreements involving financial cooperation, the EU introduces conditions for compliance with a whole series of international texts promoting this political model, texts to which most countries have adhered not out of conviction, but in the hope of obtaining the financial means they need for their development. To obtain EBA, the compliance with no less than 15 international conventions is required.
But the question that must be asked is: does the European Union impose these conditions in the same way on all its partners? This question is crucial. Because trade agreements prohibit any form of discrimination in the name of respect for competition rights. If the EU makes respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law an “essential element” of such agreements, the partner State is entitled to expect this “essential element” to be respected in any case, with all the same kind of EU partners. Any differential treatment by State by the EU creates inequality of which the targeted State is a victim. In the logic of generalised competition that prevails in the free trade regime, to discriminate one State among others is to impose a sanction on it. No offense to the EU, which retreats behind its right to give preference or not.
The application by the EU of its own principles is optional. The right of scrutiny that the EU grants itself in matters of human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law is only a vulgar right of interference according to the political biases of the EU. The following examples demonstrate that the European Union is guided only by varying political opportunities.
1- The most flagrant case of non-respect of its own principles by the EU, the permanence of which since 1967 constitutes an aggravating element, is the refusal by the EU to apply Article 2 of the Association Agreement EU-Israel which bases the provisions of this agreement on respect for human rights and democratic principles. However, it has been demonstrated, on numerous occasions and denounced in numerous UN resolutions, that the State of Israel violates this article 2, in particular in the occupied territories of Palestine: imprisonment of children for “political” reasons, arbitrary administrative detention of political prisoners, military violence against civilians, confiscation of water supplies, confiscation of land, demolition of Palestinian houses and eviction of families in defiance of titles and proof of ownership, continued construction of settlements illegal acts in the West Bank, obstacles to the free movement of Palestinians, frequent incursions by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian homes, catastrophic and scandalous living conditions in the Gaza Strip. In Israel itself, discrimination against Palestinians who are Israeli citizens in access to public services, water, school, roads, health services. This deliberate and systematic discrimination constitutes a real practice of apartheid, the principle of which has been universally condemned, in particular by international law. No European sanction.
2- With the exception of Cambodia, all the countries classified in the category of Least Develop Countries continue without problem to fully benefit from the EBA mechanism, while several are subject to the same criticisms as those formulated with regard to Cambodia according to privileged sources of the EU that are Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The following 5 examples are not the only ones among the 47 countries that fully benefit from EBA despite flagrant violations of the principles the EU uses to impose as conditions:
Angola: violent repression of peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights activists, brutal eviction without the slightest compensation of hundreds of families from their homes, limits on religious freedom, repression against Muslim minority. No European sanction.
Burundi: political or supposed opponents are victims of extra-judicial executions, generalised violations of human rights, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence. Journalists are frequently arrested. The last human rights NGO was suspended on the grounds that it tarnished the country’s image. All foreign NGOs have been suspended until they re-register indicating the ethnic characteristics of their staff. A UN commission of inquiry has gathered evidence of crimes against humanity in 2018 and 2019 perpetrated by State agents. No European sanction.
Mauritania: arbitrary detention of dozens of leaders and activists of the political opposition, abuse of the law on defamation, false news and insults to imprison human rights defenders and political activists, persistence of slavery practices, abusive use of the criminalisation of inciting racial hatred and disrespecting the rites of Islam to prosecute opponents, restrictions on the right of association and movement. No European sanction.
Myanmar: Should it be recalled that a United Nations mission has gathered evidence that high military authorities in this country are responsible for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Muslim minority of the Rohingya? No European sanction.
Rwanda: country whose people were also victims of a recognised genocide, the government is accused of total control of the country by the ruling Patriotic Front of Rwanda, of arbitrary detentions, mistreatment and torture of political prisoners, government control of the media and limits on freedom of expression, “serious violations of civil and political rights” (EU report 2018!). No European sanction.
3- The case of Vietnam. The 2019 Human Rights Watch report says :
« The government continues to restrict all basic civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the rights to freely practice beliefs and religion. It prohibits the formation and operation of any organisation or group deemed threatening to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. Authorities block accesses to websites and request that social media and/or telecommunications companies remove contents deemed to be politically sensitive. Those who criticise the one party regime face police intimidation, harassment, restricted movement, physical assault, detention, and arrest and imprisonment. Police detain political detainees for months without access to legal counsel and subject them to abusive interrogations. Party-controlled courts sentence bloggers and activists on bogus national security charges. In 2019, authorities convicted at least 25 people in politically motivated cases. “
Obviously, such a finding escapes the requirements of Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union since the latter signed a Free Trade Agreement with Vietnam in June 2019 and the European Parliament, suddenly indifferent to human rights issues and of democracy, ratified it on February 12, 2020. Oddly, this agreement does not contain any provision on political and civil rights.
We will understand everything when we remember that Vietnam is the second trade partner of the EU after Singapore, among the countries of ASEAN, with nearly 47.6 billion euros of trade in goods per year and 3, 6 billion euros in terms of services. This explains that. When business is involved, human rights are erased. And the EU Commission and Parliament “forget” the Human Rights Watch reports. What Mrs. von der Leyen confirmed: “Trade agreements, such as the one taking effect with Vietnam today, offer our companies the possibility of accessing new emerging markets and creating jobs for the Europeans.” (July 31, 2020).
4- The EU-Peru FTA, like the one with Vietnam, is part of the same new generation of FTAs passed by the EU. After four years of implementation, the observers of ILO and “Justice and Peace” note that Peru does not respect its commitments in terms of labour law and that Peruvian legislation does not comply with the relevant provisions of the ILO. No reaction from the EU.
5- We must question the legitimacy of the EU to set itself up as defenders of human rights. By what right does the EU judge respect for human rights in others when it is caught failing to respect the most fundamental? For years, the management of migratory flows by the EU has been done with the utmost disregard for human rights and in violation of the relevant international conventions relating to refugees and migrants. The “deal” with Turkey is an insult to the human dignity of the women and men who fled the zones of combat and terror in the Near and Middle East.
6- Need it be remembered that it is the Western claim to impose a “democratic” regime at the convenience of the West in Kabul, Baghdad, Damascus and Tripoli that is at the origin of the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of human beings and the explosion of international terrorism?
We can conclude without doubt that the partial suspension of EBA inflicted on Cambodia constitutes an abusive, partial and discriminatory implementation of the EU’s right to break the commitments made since, in other cases, in the presence of very serious violations of human rights (crimes against humanity and genocide), in the presence of violations of democratic principles and the rule of law, the EU has neither restricted nor suppressed the benefit of the EBA. Double standards is definitely an EU practice.
Thomas Fowler is an ardent Cambodia watcher.