Ashton stresses EU commitment to ensure right to inclusion and participation in public life

The EU is committed to work with governments around the world, through multilateral and international organisations and in partnership with civil society to support new democracies and ensure the right to inclusion and participation in public life can become a concrete reality for all, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said today in declaration to mark Human Rights Day.
Each year, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. Human Rights Day 2012 is focused on the issue of 'Inclusion and Participation in Public Life'.
"Standing up for Human Rights, democracy and the rule of law is the silver thread that runs through EU external relations," Ashton said, adding she could look back on 2012 as a productive year for the EU in human rights, including:
  • The EU adopted a Human Rights Strategy to enhance the effectiveness and consistency of EU human rights policy across the full range of its activities.
  • The EU appointed its first Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, to promote human rights through dialogue with third countries as well as international and regional organisations.
  • The EU was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2012 in recognition of its work on reconciliation, democracy and the promotion of human rights, which helped extend the area of peace and stability across the continent.
The High Representative said this year's theme of inclusion and the right to participate in public life was particularly timely "in light of the transitions to democracy that we are witnessing worldwide".
"A number of countries in our neighbourhood such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt successfully organised democratic elections in the past year, allowing many citizens to vote freely for the first time and offering them an opportunity to participate in the decisions affecting their future," Ashton said.
"Yet much remains to be done to support those who risk their lives in support of the fundamental values they believe in and in the hope of a better future for themselves and future generations. Holding elections can only be a first step towards deep democracy in which human rights take root. Rights need to be enshrined in society through law, but also through daily practice."
The High Representative for Foreign Affairs said the EU was conscious of renewed efforts by various governments to tighten restrictions on the legitimate activities of NGOs – especially but not exclusively those that receive external funding. "The EU is committed to supporting the vital work of civil society. In this context, a European Endowment for Democracy has been established as one concrete expression of the EU’s commitment to support democracy in the Neighbourhood and beyond."
"We believe that everyone must be free to exercise their right to equal participation," she said, stressing in particular women and young people, who had been at the forefront of many of the democratic movements witnessed this year, as well as people with disabilities who still face obstacles in exercising their right to participate in public life. (EU Neighbourhood Info)
Read more
Ashton Declaration
EU Neighbourhood Info Centre – Human Rights Day 2012: key resources on EU support to human rights in the Neighbourhood
EU External Action fact sheet – EU celebrates Human Rights Day
United Nations – Human Rights Day 2012
EU External Action webpage – the EU and human rights
EuropeAid webpage – human rights and democracy

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