Human rights priorities in the European Union's external and internal policies: an assessment of consistency with a special focus on vulnerable groups

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Abrisketa, Joana
Churruca Muguruza, Cristina
Cruz, Cristina : de la
García, Laura
Márquez Carrasco, Carmen
Morondo, Dolores
Nagore Casas, María
Sosa, Lorena
Timmer, Alexandra
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Deliverable D12.1 provided a mapping of legal and policy instruments of the EU for human rights and democracy support towards third countries, with focus on the identification by the EU of its human rights priorities for this policy. These human rights priorities were set out in the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, which distinguished two types of human rights priorities: ‘vulnerable groups’ and ‘human rights themes.’ These human rights priorities and the instruments for their implementation having been analysed, the main goal of this report is to assess whether those human rights themes and vulnerable groups are effectively and consistently reflected across the range of EU policies with particular relevance for the protection and promotion of human rights: development cooperation, trade, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the external dimension of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Two main tasks have been addressed: (i) the identification of inconsistencies in the understanding and usage of ‘vulnerable groups’ and ‘human rights themes’ by the relevant EU policy documents issued in each step of the policy cycle, from formulation to implementation and evaluation and (ii) the identification of possible gaps in the selection of priorities by the EU, i.e. groups that should deserve special protection but are not prioritised in the context of the policy documents concerned. The report focuses on those external policies which have a significant human rights dimension and therefore where the EU should enhance its efforts to integrate these human rights priorities. These policies are development, trade, CSDP, the external dimension of AFSJ and ENP. Furthermore, the EU’s internal approach to vulnerability and human rights themes also forms part of the report. One of the most controversial issues in connection with the EU’s performance on human rights is precisely the appreciation of ‘double standards’ in the internal vs. external approaches to human rights. In order to address this critique the report will also cover the EU’s internal policy on social inclusion and fight against exclusion. In order to achieve the expounded objectives, the researchers have analysed the main documents issued by the EU in each step of the policy cycle, including documents belonging to the policy formulation phase, as well as implementation documents and evaluation reports. The main documents studied in development cooperation, trade, CSDP and AFSJ have been listed in Annexes I to IV. Regarding ENP, the main documents are the bilateral Action Plans which are listed in the own text of chapter VII. The level of visibility of human rights priorities is not equal in each concrete policy field. In some of them, such as in development cooperation or AFSJ, the sensitivity of the EU towards human rights issues is more developed while there is still much work to do in other areas such as trade or ENP. Accordingly, in the first set of policies, the EU has been much more prolific in the production of documents and materials dealing with the integration of human rights concerns than in the second set of policies. This report has shown that ‘vulnerability’ has multiple meanings and usages within the analysed EU’s external policies. The EU has not defined ‘vulnerability’ nor has developed a framework to identify who are vulnerable in the context of each policy. The meaning of vulnerability can be only determined within the specific context of each policy. Moreover, the EU’s approach in each of the policies analysed is not always straightforward.Vulnerability appears also connected to other concepts such as discrimination, marginalization, victimization, exclusion or protection. The boundaries between these concepts are not always clear when the documents are analysed. In some cases it seems that the EU uses these terms interchangeably; in other cases, certain terms, such as discrimination and protection, appear as central notions to the EU’s understanding of vulnerability and, finally, sometimes one term, such as ‘victimization’ in the context of the AFSJ, is treated almost in equal terms than vulnerability. The lack of definition of vulnerable group in the internal sphere contrasts sharply with the specificity of the EU when it defines vulnerable groups in the internal fields of employment and social exclusion. Both the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion and the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs provide a definition of vulnerable groups. In addition, in the internal sphere the EU prioritizes also within the ‘most vulnerable’, and there is a clear understanding and specific indicators of who are ‘at risk of poverty or social exclusion.’ In the external sphere, two main approaches to vulnerability have been identified in EU’s documents: a ‘vulnerable groups approach’, where the document does not define vulnerability but simply lists the groups that are considered vulnerable in the specific context addressed by the document; and a ‘factors approach’ where the documents rather than listing groups explain the factors which render certain people vulnerable. In addition, the report has identified certain tensions arising from the EU’s conception and usages of vulnerability and vulnerable groups: (i) Universality of human rights vs. the need to prioritise the rights of certain groups; (ii) the internal vs. the external rhetoric regarding vulnerable groups; (iii) the risks of the using the concept of vulnerability vs. its potential and (iv) the diversity of agendas between different actors. The visibility of human rights priorities is much more clearly stated in certain policies, such as CSDP, development and the AFSJ, whereas the human rights component is much less visible in others, such as the ENP and trade. In almost all the policies, the analysis has also identified a clear predominance of the references to vulnerable groups in comparison with the references to the human rights themes. In addition, there is also a clear predominance of some vulnerable groups, namely women and children, within the documents. On the contrary, the protection of other vulnerable groups whose rights could be directly influenced by the policies concerned is recognised to a far lesser extent. This is the case, for example, of minorities and forced migrants within the CSDP, or disabled people and forced migrants within the development policy, although these groups are equally exposed to vulnerability in those spheres. In addition, in some policies such as development and CSDP, a ‘phenomenon of dilution’ of the human rights components has been observed as the policy cycle moves from formulation to implementation. The clarity of the human rights discourse present in the formulation phase becomes blurred when the policies are implemented.