The many reasons why EU External Action is promoting human rights in Lebanon

The principles of liberty, respect for human rights, democratic values and fundamental freedoms are inherent to the European Union, as stated in Article 2 of the EUT “Article 2 -The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities (…)” and constitute crucial objectives in the Union’s External Actions and in its relations with partners. Indeed, as stated in Article 21 of the EUT “Article21- The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation (…) and it shall seek to develop relations and build partnerships with third countries, and international, regional or global organizations which share the principles referred to in the first paragraph”

The EU is a major donor and the main trade partner of Lebanon. The Lebanon Association Agreement, adopted in 2002 and in force since 1 April 2006, constitutes the legal basis for the partnership with the EU, whose main goal is Lebanon’s development as a stable, democratic, politically open and economically strong neighbour of the EU.

Among the sectors of cooperation between the EU and the Government of Lebanon, that range from Economic Development to Social and Cultural Development and many others, Human Rights and Governance play a fundamental role in the relations between the two entities. Indeed, human rights, democracy and the rule of law are gaining more and more importance in the global arena and they have consequently become leading priorities in the EU’s external actions.

Under the umbrella of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), launched in 2004, the EU fosters the protection of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms through continuous political dialogue and financial assistance both to the Government of Lebanon and to various civil society organizations. For examples, the EU supports Human Rights Defenders, engages with civil society, and sends observation missions during elections. The main financial instruments used to support democratic transition and promote human rights in Lebanon are the EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) that presents a budget of Euro 1.3 billion between 2014 and 2020-to be distributed between different countries- and the ENI (European Neighborhood Instrument).

Lately, during the ENP Review process that took place in 2015, was agreed that while continuing defending EU’s values and Human Rights promotion, partners countries would also been engaged in increase cooperation on security matters. The new Policy presents 4 main domains: (a) good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights (b) economic development for stabilization (c) security and (d) migration and mobility.

Furthermore, during the London Conference on “Supporting Syria and the Region”, that took place in February 2016, the EU has remarkably re-affirmed its commitments in delivering additional EU funds with the aim to “provide an appropriate and safe environment for refugees and displaced persons from Syria, during their temporary stay in Lebanon, and to provide a beneficial environment for Lebanon, host communities and vulnerable group”. In particular, in 2017/2020 EU’s assistance to Lebanon will focus on the agreed Partnership Priorities: (a) Security and countering terrorism, (b) Governance and rule of law, (c) Fostering growth and job opportunities, (d) Migration and mobility.

Human Rights should have the same priority status in the agenda of all countries the EU engages with, but situations in the ground are often different due to the diverse role that each country plays in the world arena and its relative political power, as well as geographical proximity/distance to the EU. Among the most controversial aspects of EU’s policy implementation, the dispute on coherence of EU’s actions on policy making in areas such as external actions and foreign policy represents one of major importance.

Indeed, although since the 1990 Human Rights clauses can be found in many International Agreements dealing with a variety of subjects, The EU has been many times criticized due to its different approach in liaising with different countries; in particular, of major concern was the fact that the EU has imposed sanctions to some countries and not to others, while facing similar situations.The Human Rights clauses included in the International Agreements can vary from financial sanctions, freeze of the relations, embargo and others.

In 2005, following Hariri murder, the EU has imposed several sanctions to the Government of Lebanon in accordance with the different UNSCRs. Sanctions have varied from arms embargo to freezing of funds or economic resources of people suspected to be involved in the planning and execution of the act, travel bans and others.

Lately, no Human Rights clauses have been applied to Lebanon as proof of the prosperous relation the two entities are structuring. Although the Syrian crisis constitutes a burden on the Lebanese Government and has brought numerous problems, both politically and economically, to an already weak and instable country, it seems that so far the relations are stable and further cooperation can be developed, opening a rosy future between the two entities.

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