§ Lord Avebury
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether any record is made of the human rights matters discussed at meetings of association councils held pursuant to European Union association agreements; and how the Government decide whether breaches of human rights in the states concerned are sufficiently grave to justify invoking the penalties specified in the agreements. [HL3307]
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean):
Association councils comprise (i) a plenary session and (ii) a political dialogue between Ministers. Human rights issues are typically covered in the latter. The council secretariat produces a restricted note of these discussions.
All association agreements contain a human right clause. This allows the European Union (EU) to take "appropriate measures", including suspendinq provisions in the agreement, if it considers that the third country is failing to meet its obligations under the agreement, including respect for fundamental rights. To date these clauses have not been invoked. However human rights are a core agenda item at many of the association councils. Equivalent articles in the Cotonou agreement have been invoked on a number of occasions.
If the Government had concerns about the situation in a particular country, they would initiate discussion with partners in the relevant EU working group. These groups regularly consider the human rights records of third countries in relation to the human rights clause of association agreements. As a new initiative, human rights sub-committees are being established in relation to some third countries.