The European Parliament, Human Rights  champion – By Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP

Despite the profound changes the world has undergone since the fall of the Berlin wall, torture, unlawful imprisonment and genocide still haunt us.
That is why the end of the European Parliament’s mandate is an opportunity to review the vital work done by the EU ensure the promotion and protection of human rights and democracy worldwide.
I have long advocated human rights and democratic reforms, particularly across the ex-Soviet bloc, the Arab world and China.
In 1990, I founded the EU’s €160 million Democracy and Human Rights Instrument (EIDHR), after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world’s largest programme to promote and encourage democracy and human rights worldwide in transition countries.  It is the only EU programme which can operate without host country consent.
As the first politician to get to Cairo during the revolution in 2011, and a frequent visitor to North Africa before and since, I am more than most conscious of the elation there giving way to frustration over the slow pace of change and worse: in Egypt a counter-revolution.
It is vital that the EU continues to give a voice to the voiceless and hope to those without hope.
With others, and especially the Human Rights and Democracy Network of more than 40 Brussels-based NGOs, I long argued for the recently-established European Endowment for Democracy to act as an expert, flexible and deniable complement to the EIDHR. We also pressed successfully for the new EU Special Representative on Human Rights & Democracy.
A poll by Eurobarometer showed that Europeans continue to put human rights worldwide as their first aspiration for action by the European Parliament.
A key element in our year  is the Sakharov Prize, which deservedly went in 2013 to Malala Yousafzai, the courageous schoolgirl who pleads for female education, and was shot by the Taliban on her way to school.
Human rights and democracy is a primary part of EU foreign policy, and the EU must continue to push the agenda, including in trade agreements.
Last year, I launched the Defending Freedoms Project in Brussels and Washington together with blind Chinese activist Chen Guancheng. The transatlantic project between the EU and US highlights human rights abuses around the world and calls on MEPs and US congressmen and women to advocate on behalf of individual prisoners of conscience worldwide. My own case is that of imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
For too long, authoritarian regimes have taken away basic freedoms and western governments have simply stood by.  For example, oppression of certain religious and political groups in China continues, and amounts to genocide. Today, even China may be feeling the pressure of the EU and US as purported reforms are underway.
If the EU and US continue to work together taking a coordinated approach to human rights, the world’s rising authoritarian powers would no longer be able to act with impunity. Of particular concern is the brutal power now being wielded once again by a Putin-led Russia. Europe needs a Magnitsky Act, systematically barring offenders from visiting the EU, and we should also set up an Impunity Register to log individual cases of torture or inhumane treatment, pending the opportunity of trials in the International Criminal Court, itself part-funded by the EIDHR.
It is a full agenda, but a wholly worthwhile endeavour. I am proud of the European Parliament’s efforts.

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