Human rights issues snag RP-EU cooperation pact

Published by rudy Date posted on February 11, 2009

Certain political issues as sensitive as human rights remain a stumbling block to forging an expanded economic, political and security cooperation between the Philippines and the European Union, a top diplomat said at the end of the first round of talks for a Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA).

“There are political issues that might delay the process, like human rights. We differ in priorities and their level of standards on this is probably higher than us,” Foreign Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Edsel Custodio told a press conference.

The EU has been emphasizing the incorporation in the prospective joint agreement of certain provisions stipulating protection and promotion human rights. And although Custodio failed to specify the issues of contention in forging PCA, he was quick to say that both sides were trying to find a common ground to resolve their differences.

“We have to move at the pace we’re comfortable with but the European Commission should realize they’re dealing with a situation entirely different with standards (consistent) with (our) national security objectives,” he said.

Echoing EU’s position, James Moran, EU’s Director for Asia and chief European negotiator, stressed that human rights should be one of the cornerstones of the PCA. “The EU position on this is very clear. We hope to find common ground very quickly as far as matters on political and civil rights is concerned and this is fundamental in any human rights discussions,” Moran said.

The Philippine government has been criticized not only the by European Community but also by a United Nations Agency — and condemned by international human rights groups as well — for the spate of extra-judicial killings of journalists critical of the Arroyo administration and anti-government activists. Although the number of killings dropped sharply in 2007-2008 after much condemnation by human rights groups and international pressure, extra-judicial killings have persisted in the Philippines.

Despite this, Moran took cognizance of Manila’s support for human rights and democracy in international fora, but said the EU was still expected to make progress on the issue with Manila during the negotiations for PCA.

Diplomatic sources also see as a stumbling block to the negotiations the Philippines’ failure to ratify the EU-backed Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In February 2004, the EU developed an action plan on the ICC, detailing a wide range of the Union’s initiatives to support the Court.

The plan envisages that the EU, among others, mainstreams the ICC in its political dialogs with third countries, and integrates an ICC clause into the negotiations of external agreements.

“EU’s 27 members are very supportive of the ICC and our members have ratified the Rome Statute. We hope that more of our partners would be more like us and we hope we could find ways (for) the Philippines (to ratify it) as well,” Moran said.

The Philippines is the 5th Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) member to negotiate a PCA with the 27-member EU. Negotiations have been completed with Indonesia and are currently at an advanced stage with Singapore and Thailand. The EU has recently begun negotiations with Vietnam and is expected to soon start formal talks with Malaysia and Brunei.

Second round of negotiations between the Philippines and the EU are scheduled on July 2009 in Brussels, Belgium. –Michaela P. del Callar, Daily Tribune

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