Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion

By Agnese Olmati

Last January (2019) I had the opportunity to get in contact with the European Women’s Lobby in Brussels. There, I discussed the current situation of women’s right in the European Union, focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
The EWL, which is the biggest European network of women’s associations, aims at influencing the general public and the EU decision-makers in support of women’s human rights. It is continuously working to ensure every woman’s dignity and the respect of SRHR in the Union.
Here are some reflections following my contact with them.

Looking back at the events and debates that occurred across Europe in 2018, we are likely to notice that, on some issues, the European puzzle is rapidly falling apart. For several decades, the different puzzle pieces have been struggling to get closer through a long and demanding process of integration, but recently many of them have started to outdistance and even to crumble. Brexit was just the most evident expression of breach and disagreement, yet the EU appears quite fragmented also in other domains, including women’s rights – and especially SRHR.

Gender-based violence, surrogacy, pornography, abortion – the facets of SRHR are numerous and intricate and thus require a deep analysis. This article will concentrate on violence against women and right to abortion in Europe, as these topics have been in the limelight during the past year and have caused great disagreement among the member states, contributing to the breakdown of the puzzle.

First of all, it is important to recall the strong commitment of the EU to women’s rights. The Treaty on the European Union (TEU) upholds the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination (Article 2), whereas the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) confirms the political commitment of member states to fight against all forms of domestic violence (Declaration 19 on Article 8). The Charter of Fundamental Rights warrants people’s right to dignity (Title I) and equality (Title III) and includes specific provisions on people’s right to physical and mental integrity, outlawing any form of discrimination on the grounds of sex.
These (founding) documents present concepts and positions in a dreamlike manner – but do the reality of the EU and the actions of its decision-makers correspond to them? Continue reading “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion”

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Get out of this jail!

By Guilherme Becker

Berlin, August, 2006. After two weeks traveling from London – where I used to live at that time -, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, I had arrived in one of the most fascinating cities of the world – at least in my imaginary, which could easily be confirmed later. Summer breeze was blowing through the cafes and bars of Prenzlauer Berg. Kastanienallee was the perfect picture of how Berliners could enjoy their lives on a Saturday afternoon, with groups of friends and families hanging out and experiencing all types of foods and drinks, listening to different kinds of music and appreciating the sunny weather. All way down to Alexanderplatz distinct generations were sitting together in front of yellow, blue, green and red buildings talking about life and keeping problems completely away. Alone, I observed that and could barely believe that only a little more than 15 years earlier that part of the city was not that colourful and had nothing similar to that.

On the other side, Mitte was also full of people on the pavements observing passersby. Unter den Linden was like an anthill made by tourists that after walking the whole day could finally have some rest in the “Biergarten(s)” around. The city was beautiful, alive and tender following a World Cup that Germany had hosted less than a month ago and only a few days after the Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and Jon had launched the classic “Young Folks”. You could feel the tenderness in the air. You could feel the spirit of happiness flowing freely in such a vibrant and great atmosphere. It was simply wonderful.

I knew, though, that at least in one of the seven days that was going to stay there I needed to take some time to cross the city and leave all that happiness and good vibrations behind. It would not be easy or pleasant, but I needed to do it. The goal was tough: Sachsenhausen.

Continue reading “Get out of this jail!”

Espera, la ayuda viene!

By Maeva Chargros

What would it look like, if the Charter 77 was still active, with members from all across the world and from all generations? One of the answers to this rather odd question took place for the 30th consecutive year in the city of Caen, in Normandy (France), on January 25-27, 2019. In French, it is called “Concours de Plaidoiries”; a competition of defence speeches and pleas for fundamental freedoms. Four of these fundamental freedoms were named by President Roosevelt on January 6, 1941: “the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear”[1]. And for this 2019 edition, the competition covered all four of them, defended by high school students aged from 15 to 18 years old, law students, and lawyers. Why, then, would this competition be in the continuity of the famous Charter 77?

It is essential not to forget, when it comes to history, for otherwise, we might not repeat history, but we might fail at taking a step further and risk taking a step back. The initial point is an improved version of our world two hours ago, but also ten centuries ago. Improved? For the sceptics among the readers of this article, please allow me to mention that ten centuries ago, the United Nations did not exist, nor did the Geneva Convention, the Istanbul Convention, and most of the texts quoted during the event I am writing about today were not even drafts, not even thoughts. Improvement does not mean perfection. And this is precisely what the Charter 77 was about: reminding a sovereign state of its own duties, namely, respecting human rights, international law, and the Helsinki Declaration.
This is precisely what these 37 people did during three days in the “Cité de l’Histoire de la Paix”, in this Memorial dedicated to peace and human rights: reminding sovereign states of their duties. They were coming from all corners of France and beyond.

Among the ten lawyers present, only four were from France. Two were from Belgium, one from Québec (Canada), one from Switzerland, one from Mali, and one from Benin. It is this one, from Benin, whose defence speech is the source of the title I chose for this article. These were among the last words Maître Koukpolou said in his plea. “Hold on, help is coming!” (“Espera, la ayuda viene!”, in Spanish.) Even if he did not win any award, his speech was among the most touching for me. His word symbolised the message of this year’s edition: there is still hope, as long as there are still humans who care about and defend others. He was the only one, of all three competitions, to focus on the political and humanitarian crisis currently killing so many people, including children, in Venezuela. The title of his plea: “Give me food and I’ll do whatever you want”. Continue reading “Espera, la ayuda viene!”

Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe

By Nikhil Verma

On June 2014, a tattered body with a swollen face was dumped in a shopping cart in North Paris. After having found the lying body on the road, Ion Vardu Sandu, 49, a Roma mechanic, said that “he was barely breathing, and his eyes were closed.” In the following sentence, he added “but he was also a notorious thief. Teens like him steal and give Romani people like us a bad name.” The body belonged to a 17-year-old Roma known as “Darius” and who went into a coma.
Two months earlier, more than 7000 kilometres away, in the village of Kharda, India, Nitin Aage, a 17-year-old boy was found hanging on a tree. Nitin was a ‘Dalit’, and his only mistake was to speak to a girl from an upper-caste community. All 13 men who were accused of Nitin’s murder were acquitted in 2017.
But what killed Darius, Nitin and million others like them? Is it the dehumanisation, the stigma or the fear of loss of dominance? While the magnitude of the violence varies, the undercurrent remains the same. A similar social hierarchy can be observed in other parts of the world. The condition of Buraku in Japan, African-Americans in the US, Osu in Nigeria – groups that also suffer prejudice in their respective countries – also mirror the terrible condition of ‘Dalits’ in India, and ‘Roma’ in Europe. Racial and caste discrimination manifest themselves in ways that are demeaning to the core of human existence.

Caste & Race

In an essence, caste and race are contemporaries. Segregation, discrimination and violence along with a social status determined by birth occur in these societies. The Indian discriminative order is based on the notion of ‘Sanctioned Impurity’ often reiterated through menial jobs such as manual scavenging and leather tanning by Elitist Brahminical upper-caste forces; the African-American varies and is based on the notion of an inferior subhuman race and often reiterated through violence – termed as untamed ‘savages’ by European settlers who encountered native population.
However, in terms of similarity, both ‘Dalits’ and ‘Roma People’ stand at the lowest level of the socio-economic hierarchy in respective continents of Asia and Europe. Both groups are intentionally excluded from consumer markets, employment and housing. Both ‘Caste’ and ‘Race’ impose enormous barriers in civil and political rights.
Babasaheb Ambedkar and Martin Luther King Jr. were fighting against the oppression of their own kind. But while King was able to humanise white people, Ambedkar couldn’t emulate the same in the Indian ethos due to Gandhi’s intervention on a multitude of legislative and social fronts – most famously his persistence to keep Dalits in the Hindu fold by denying them a separate electorate, the communal award and subsequently blackmailing Ambedkar to sign the Poona Pact through his hunger strike[1]. While political activism has been able to consolidate ‘African-Americans’ in the US, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Indian social fabric.
This is evident from the fact that Dalits sit separately in government schools in 37.8% of the villages. In 27.6% villages, Dalits were prevented from entering police stations, In 25.7% of the villages, they are prevented from entering ration shops, and in 33% of the villages, public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes.
In the case of Roma, there is pervasive illiteracy or semi-literacy (e.g., half of Roma adults in Greece, 35% in Portugal, and 25% in France report being illiterate) and extremely low-rates of completion of secondary schooling (from 77% to 99% of surveyed Roma across 11 European countries do not have an upper secondary school diploma). Continue reading “Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe”

70 Years Later: Lights & Shadows of Human Rights

By Agnese Olmati

Today, on December 10, 2018, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrates its 70th anniversary. After seven decades and many achievements, it is certainly important to honour the document which became a major milestone for the history of human rights and is now regarded as a yardstick by all nations. However, it is also necessary to highlight that the UDHR is not all black and white, as well as the declarations it inspired, like for example the European Convention on Human Rights (1953) or the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union (2009).
All these papers, their articles and their words demonstrate the states’ commitment to the protection of human rights but, despite this, it is clear that today, nations and the institutions created to protect those rights are often failing. A simple example? Even if the three above-mentioned declarations prohibit slavery, servitude, forced labor and the trafficking of human beings, all these can still be found in many countries around the world and around Europe[1].

The practical failure in the protection of human rights is now of great concern especially in Europe, where these rights are some of the main principles on which the European Union was built. Recent events have questioned the willingness of Europeans to actually support other people to be able to enjoy their same human rights and have shown the difficulties the EU encounters in guaranteeing the fruition of these rights to its citizens, thus challenging the accomplishment of the entire European project.
But flaws do not only concern the practical protection of human rights. Considering the theoretical aspect, there are several obstacles in the understanding and consequent application of the UDHR. Continue reading “70 Years Later: Lights & Shadows of Human Rights”

The European Parliament Triggers Article 7 against the Hungarian Government

By Karin Kämmerling

On September 12, the European Parliament voted on the triggering of Article 7 measures against Hungary. With 448 votes in favor of the motion, 197 against and 48 abstentions the required majority was achieved[1]. Now, the Council of the European Union has to approve the vote unanimously in order to launch possible sanctions. The Hungarian government, accused of silencing critical media, targeting academics and NGOs as well as removing independent judges, said the decision was an insult to the Hungarian nation and people[2].

What is the Article 7 about?

Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union states that the EU can take measures in case “there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2“[3]. These include “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”[4]. Members of the European Parliament must support the resolution by two thirds in order to launch the Article 7 procedure as it happened last month in Strasbourg in the case of Hungary. With this vote, it is now possible for the Council of the European Union to make demands to the Hungarian government in order to improve the situation and even launch punitive measures if the requirements are not fulfilled. Possible sanctions may be a harder access to EU funding and can even lead to the loss of voting rights in the EU institutions. Continue reading “The European Parliament Triggers Article 7 against the Hungarian Government”

Lampedusa: A Tragedy with a Plot Twist

By Agnese Olmati

A small strip of land in the middle of the Mediterranean, 205 km off the Sicilian coast and 113 km away from Tunisia. Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy, has become popular in the recent years as the symbol of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Today, even if its name is no longer on the front pages, the island is still at the core of migration flows through the Central Mediterranean route and still serves as lifebuoy for many. According to statistics, the death tolls and number of arrivals have decreased in the past couple of years, but people continue to land in Lampedusa – and die in its surrounding sea. Estimations show that 2016 was the deadliest year, with 4,587 dead or missing at sea[1] and 500 arriving in Italy by sea per day, compared to only 61 since June 2018 till today.

However, this is not a positive signal meaning that the Italian and European migration policies are giving the expected results. In fact, 19% of those who have tried to leave Africa last September died or went missing, a percentage that has never been registered before[2]. Past scenarios in which the island, with its 6,000 Lampedusani, was hosting 10,000 people on its small territory[3] are not likely to happen again. Lampedusa is not facing any serious problem in welcoming and hosting migrants in its hotspot, where their process for seeking international protection starts and where they normally spend just two days before being transferred to the mainland.
However, the migratory phenomenon is still profoundly affecting Lampedusa and those who live there. Different people and places around the isle can show what living on an island on the European border means, with all its peculiarities and paradoxes. Continue reading “Lampedusa: A Tragedy with a Plot Twist”

Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity”

By Nikhil Verma

The Hidden Indian ‘Apartheid’

In October 2015, two three-year-old kids were set on fire and torched inside a house along with eight adults of the same family in the Indian town of Ballabgarh, Haryana. [1]
Similarly, in 2010, a polio-stricken teenage girl was torched while she was sleeping, her elderly father who went to save her was also locked by an upper-caste mob until both of them were charred to death. The spokes of the rusty handicap tricycle which was meant to assist the polio-ridden condition of the obliterated girl laid darkened in the corner. These are not excerpts of stories from Auschwitz, these are everyday stories from Modern India – so-called progressive India.
These are narratives of caste-based violence and atrocities which occur without any fear of prosecution in India. In both stories, the perpetrators belonged to ‘Upper-Caste groups” i.e. the ‘Caste Elites of India’, whereas both the families on the receiving end belonged to the most socially stigmatised community of Indian society – “The Untouchables” which are now mostly recognized as “Dalits”. The word ‘Dalit’ means ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ (recognized as Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes under the Indian Constitution).

In India, such heinous crimes against ‘Dalits’ are not an exception but rather a norm. Moreover, such crimes are committed with impunity which is made evident by the conviction rate which stands at 5.3%.[2] ‘Dalits’ cover almost one-fifth of the Indian population with 200 million people which is bigger than the combined population of Germany and France. Such a large population experiences caste discrimination in forms of sexual assault, physical violence, forced prostitution, manual scavenging, and denial of most basic human rights. This is tribalism of the highest order and the international community is not paying enough attention to it.

Despite the fact that caste discrimination is outlawed in India since 1947, it is omnipresent in India and the situation is not showing any signs of progress as the crimes against Dalits have increased by 66% and the rapes of ‘Dalit’ women doubled between 2007 and 2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Continue reading “Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity””

LGBT & EU Legislation: An Overview of the Recent Developments

By Júlia-Janka Gáspárik 

The EU’s motto is “United in Diversity”[1], which means that it is a shared community, but member states also preserve their national characteristics. At the same time, this motto can also sum up one of the biggest problems of the EU: the definition of the limit between having common laws and undermining a country’s sovereignty. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) rights are a very delicate part of the EU legislation, trapped somewhere between universal (and EU-protected) human rights and national sovereignty. The EU – opting towards an ever-closer union – is trying to bring together its member states with social policies in order to reach an integrated society also on the cultural level, and not only on the economic and monetary ones. On the other hand, anti-LGBT/pro-traditional family groups often use the argument of sovereignty against the common EU LGBT framework[2]. This is what partially makes this issue of LGBT so complicated: some people argue that this minority should be protected with a stronger mechanism at EU level, while others say that it would undermine their countries’ sovereignty.

The European Union law mentions the issue of LGBT only in terms of discrimination: discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal and rights pertaining to this aspect are protected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU[3]. NGOs and civil right organizations are fighting for the rights of the LGBT people. However, since the attitude towards sexual orientation is considered to be a cultural-societal-religious issue, the EU has not established a compulsory legal framework in any of its member states. On the other hand, it can be argued that this is not a societal issue but one of fundamental rights. When learning about LGBT in the EU, it also becomes clear that the main obstacle in not introducing the civil union and same sex marriages in some European countries is the predominant position of religious values in that state[4].
This article explores the complex issue of LGBT rights in the EU and the member states by examining the issues’ cultural and human rights facade. It will be illustrated with one case, namely the recent case of Coman-Hamilton (Relu Adrian Coman and Others v Inspectoratul General pentru Imigrări and Others). Continue reading “LGBT & EU Legislation: An Overview of the Recent Developments”

European Arrest Warrant & Detention Conditions in EU Member States

By Giorgia Spolverato

Is the risk of undergoing “inhuman and degrading treatments” enough to refuse the surrender of a prisoner from a European Union country to another?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) tried to answer this question on the occasion of the joined cases Aranyosi and Căldăraru.[1] Due to its functions as described in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the CJEU was asked by the Higher Regional Court of Bremen (Germany) to give an interpretation of article 1, paragraph 3 of the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision (EAW-FD), with a special focus on its compatibility with the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment included in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.[2] This measure was adopted in 2002 by the Council of the European Union to replace the outdated extradition procedure within the EU member states. What is relevant to us is that the new regulation tool is based on the principle of mutual recognition, which is one of the cornerstones of the European Union integration and cooperation process, especially in the fight against international crime.[3] The principle entails a high level of mutual trust among EU member states. In the field of judicial co-operation in criminal matters, it basically means that a decision taken by an authority in one member state may be accepted as it is by another state.[4] However, this supposed “blind trust” among the member states can cause complications in cases where the principle of mutual recognition clashes with other principles; as in the case at stake, the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment. Continue reading “European Arrest Warrant & Detention Conditions in EU Member States”