Date: Wed, 11 Mar 98 01:02:30 CST
From: Amnesty International <>
Article: 29748
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Human rights violations in Central and Eastern Europe neglected by European Union leaders

Press release by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, 11 March 1998

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Brussels—The European Union should ensure that the issue of human rights is considered seriously before the official beginning of the accession negotiations with Central and Eastern European countries, Amnesty International said today.

Right before the European Conference—the ceremonial meeting which will mark the start of accession negotiations—of 12 March 1998 in London, the human rights organization expressed its concerns about the current lack of priority for human rights issues in the negotiation process.

Just five years ago, the Copenhagen European Council put as a first condition for accession stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. However, in the European Commission document, Agenda 2000—For a stronger and wider Union of 1997 and in subsequent Commission documents concerning enlargement, this degree of priority is no longer maintained. In the future Accession Partnerships between the European Union and the Central and Eastern European Countries, human rights are not the subject of improvement programmes. On the contrary, they are simply mentioned as a condition to obtain or suspend financial aid devoted to other priorities, such as economic adjustment or implementation of the acquis communautaire (the whole European Community legislation).

The current view by the European Commission that respect for fundamental rights is in principle guaranteed in most of the applicant countries is in Amnesty International's opinion far too optimistic. Examples of structural human rights violations are abundant in these countries. Ill-treatment by law enforcement officers, lack of alternatives to military service for conscientious objectors and insufficient protection of asylum seekers are three constant concerns. And although all candidate countries have a moratorium on the death penalty, several of them have not yet officially abolished it. All these issues are not seriously addressed in the EU's assessment of preparedness for membership, nor in the programmes designed by the Union to assist Central and Eastern European countries to meet the accession conditions the human rights organization said.

Since the signing of the Amsterdam Treaty respect for human rights is a constitutional principle of the European Union. The process of enlargement to Central and Eastern European countries will be one of the first opportunities for the EU Member States to give concrete and positive meaning to this commitment. It will be a chance to further improve the human rights situation for all individuals in an enlarged Union, Amnesty International concluded.