The EU 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”. The treaties stipulate that any European state that respects and is committed to promoting these values may apply to become a member of the EU. Candidate states progress towards full membership on the basis of their merits in meeting the accession criteria, which include political obligations on their institutions to guarantee respect for human rights. This requirement serves as a powerful incentive for generating good human rights records in countries seeking EU membership.
The UK Government strongly supports EU enlargement and is committed to supporting the membership aspirations of any European country that meets the criteria. We encourage the EU to conclude accession negotiations only when we are confident that a candidate country is able to meet the political, economic and legal obligations of membership. We work with the EU, its member states and institutions, as well as with accession country partners to ensure that the membership criteria are effectively met and that aspirant countries have the tools to meet the tough EU standards. We also work with the enlargement countries bilaterally to support their reform efforts.
In its October 2012 Annual Enlargement Strategy, the European Commission noted that while “strengthening the rule of law and democratic governance is central to the enlargement process”, reforms remain “pending in most enlargement countries”, with human rights one of the major challenges. The EU enlargement process must continue to ensure that it can address these challenges, and that it remains a credible lever for reform in the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey and serves as an example for other aspirant countries. This is why the UK welcomes the commission’s “new approach” to EU enlargement that aims to address the important rule of law chapters of the accession negotiations from the start of the process to ensure that candidates have the maximum time possible to develop effective track records.
Montenegro, which opened accession negotiations in June, will be the first country to negotiate under the “new approach”. This represents an essential refinement to the accession process, which takes into account lessons from previous accessions and ensures an increased quality of focus on important areas including human rights.
Croatia is expected to join the EU on 1 July 2013 and become the 28th EU member state, following six years of negotiations. Croatia has been the first candidate required to negotiate an additional rule of law-related chapter (Chapter 23) with a specific focus on the judiciary and fundamental rights.
We continue to support the work of the Croatian government as they approach the end of their accession process, including through projects to support their probation service, the effectiveness of court administration and the work of NGOs, including a project to fund an anti-corruption adviser to help local NGOs understand their rights to access information under the government’s new Freedom of Information Act. We continue to support three Croatian NGOs which monitor the country’s domestic war crimes trials, including progress in handling the backlog and the issue of impunity, which remain major challenges. We also supported in 2012 projects which promoted changes in legislation on handling war rapes in Croatia, and which increased the capacity of law enforcement authorities to deal with hate crimes.
The EU will continue to monitor Croatia’s human rights record in the run-up to its accession in 2013. The European Commission, in its October 2012 Comprehensive Monitoring Report, called on Croatia to “sharpen its focus” to ensure that the remaining reforms are completed in full before accession.
As the European Commission noted in its 2012 progress report, there is still more to do on human and minority rights in Serbia. The cancellation of the 2012 Belgrade Pride parade because of domestic political reasons for the second year running – despite calls by the UK and others urging the Serbian government to allow to it to take place – served as a reminder of the challenges. We will continue to support projects on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and wider anti-discrimination measures. We funded adult (Serbian) language education for ethnic Albanians to remove a barrier to their integration and the full enjoyment of their human rights, and also the creation of a national anti-discrimination strategy aiming to protect minorities more widely. In 2013, we will continue to lobby for and fund projects supporting ethnic minority rights, inter-ethnic reconciliation, access to justice and the role of civil society. If Serbia begins accession negotiations in 2013, Chapter 23 covering fundamental rights will be a useful tool for encouraging further progress in the promotion of human and minority rights.
We encourage Serbia to continue its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which the European Commission stated in its 2012 progress report on Serbia was “fully satisfactory”.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we continued to lobby at all levels for progress on reforms that would align the constitution more closely with the European Convention on Human Rights. When he visited Sarajevo in October, the Foreign Secretary raised this issue with the Bosnian Presidency, pressing for early implementation of the European Court of Human Rights Judgment on Sejdic-Finci versus Bosnia and Herzegovina, which ruled that the inability of national minorities to stand for election to the Presidency or upper chamber of the Parliamentary Assembly was discriminatory.
We continued to fund technical assistance in the Bosnia and Herzegovina justice and security sector and to support the implementation of the State Law on Missing Persons and the 2008 National War Crimes Strategy. We funded secondments to the State Prosecutor’s Office to support development of an efficient and sustainable system for processing war crimes cases, maintaining a focus on crimes committed in Srebrenica. We also helped with other projects on developing guidelines and training on witness protection and on preventing human trafficking.
In 2013, we will focus on new initiatives to support the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, addressing both impunity in the justice sector and legacy issues still affecting victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to improve the transparency and accountability of government at all levels.
Kosovo made progress on human rights in 2012 but more needs to be done, including on the promotion and protection of the religious and cultural heritage, notably with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Existing legislation on the historic centres of Prizren and Velika Hoča/Hoçë e Madhe needs also to be fully implemented. On the protection of minorities, targets for minority representation in the civil service need to be met, particularly in the police, as this will boost minority communities’ confidence in the investigation of crimes, particularly when they appear to be ethnically motivated.
The UK remains the biggest bilateral donor in Kosovo supporting the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. We have funded the reconstruction of houses for Kosovo-Serb families in Prizren and for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) families in Istog. These projects, combined with the government’s funding to the Kosovo Property Agency, which resolves property disputes relating to the 1999 conflict, contributed to ensuring that all communities are now able to exercise their right to live in their place of origin.
The Osterode refugee camp was closed in December after the last RAE families were successfully relocated to Roma Mahalla in south Mitrovica. The third stage of this project is to close the last camp in Leposavic. This will be part-funded by the EU and will begin in 2013.
The UK has been active in the promotion of women’s rights in Kosovo. Under the ambit of the Foreign Secretary’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the British Embassy in Pristina held a round table attended by President Jahjaga and a number of survivors to draw attention to the issue of sexual violence during the 1999 conflict. The UK also supported a project training safe-house staff, social workers and police officers to help reduce domestic violence against women and integrate victims back into society.
In 2012, we continued to support the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA), which aims to build a cohesive and peaceful society and is integral to Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, with work on capacity-building and recruitment policies aimed at creating more equitable representation of ethnic groups in the public sector.
Other support for human rights included work improving the Macedonian probation service, strengthening democracy through parliament, anti-discrimination policies and freedom of expression. The UK’s National Offender Management Service and Ministry of Justice continued the work of the previous year to support the development of a probation system in place of default prison terms. In particular, UK expertise on system design should lead to improved standards on human rights within the Macedonian prison and sanctions system.
The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with embassy support, undertook the final year of a project to strengthen the capacity of parliament, introducing regulatory impact assessments which take into account the human rights impact of proposed legislation. We also supported the practical implementation of the National Strategy for Anti-Discrimination, which included training for anti-discrimination advisers, who will in turn train ministries on their legal obligations and best practice.
To improve media freedom within Macedonia, we supported the training of judges and prosecutors on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Expression).
Our work in Albania focused on democracy and justice. We fielded six teams of election monitors to support the OSCE during the May 2011 local elections, and hope to offer similar support for the general elections in 2013. We funded an OSCE expert to advise on electoral reforms which were passed by parliament in July and were one of Albania’s main achievements on the EU accession agenda during 2012. We are co-funding OSCE training for the newly constituted Central Electoral Commission. We provided funding to begin several projects to improve the justice system. The UK is also leading an EU-funded project to establish a probation service in Albania, which has been successful to the extent that there are now more offenders on probation than in prison.
As a result of work with the British Council to promote diversity and equality in Albania, Albania sent its first ever competitor to the London 2012 Paralympic Games. We have in addition lobbied, with international partners, for improved gender equality and increased efforts by the government and police to tackle domestic violence.
We continue to be a strong supporter of Turkey’s accession to the EU. We believe that the accession process, which has prompted reforms in areas such as civilian control of the military and the independence of the judiciary, provides impetus for the country’s modernisation. Significant results have been achieved but, as the Turkish government itself
recognises, more progress is needed. The European Commission’s 2012 Annual Progress Report set out areas of concern, particularly around freedom of expression.
In July, Turkey released its third judicial reform package, which according to the Ministry of Justice, led to the release of 8,600 detainees whose time in detention had exceeded new limits. Two further promising developments were the creation of a national human rights institution in October and an Ombudsman in November. Turkey also took steps to improve women’s rights and gender equality by signing the Law on the Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence against Women.
In 2012, we committed significant funds to support projects to promote human rights and EU standards across a broad range of issues. We will continue to work with Turkey to support their reform efforts in 2013. On a visit to Turkey in October, UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced an extensive joint UK–Turkey programme to train 360 lawyers on Chapters 23 (on the judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (on justice, freedom and security) of the EU acquis. We hope that significant progress can be made towards meeting EU standards on these chapters in 2013.