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Von der Leyen’s human rights hypocrisy

The European Commission chief is emboldening oppressive leaders, in effect telling them, don’t do as I say, if I bother to mention anything, do what you want to do.

February 15, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen landed in Tunis in July, she knew the country’s security forces had just collectively expelled hundreds of Black African migrants and asylum seekers to the Libyan desert. Abandoned in a punishing climate with insufficient water and food for weeks, at least 27 of these migrants died.

Even before then, African migrants had already been facing a wave of racist attacks, forced evictions and other abuses, fueled by speech that U.N. experts dubbed racist — including the words of Tunisian President Kais Saied himself.

And yet, von der Leyen chose to ignore what was happening.

Instead, she trumpeted a new Memorandum of Understanding, pledging hundreds of millions of euros in aid, in return seeking only Tunisia’s cooperation on stopping migrants from heading to Europe. The memorandum pointed out no rights concerns, and required no human rights guarantees. Add to this her silence on the detention of dozens of government critics, the destruction of judicial independence and the harassment of journalists, civil society and opposition figures.

In short, von der Leyen pushed human rights under the rug in Tunisia. And this posture — portrayed as a “blueprint” for other EU partnerships in the region — has epitomized her approach to human rights, one of double standards that severely undermines the EU’s reputation on the world stage.

Tempted by more access to Caspian oil and gas, in July 2022, von der Leyen signed a strategic energy partnership with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev amid a government crackdown on critics — another failed opportunity for the EU to condition closer economic ties on human rights improvements.

And other recent visits abroad have confirmed the trend.

In Manila, von der Leyen only spoke of an improved human rights environment under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., despite the ongoing murderous war on drugs in the Philippines and continued attacks on activists, government critics, journalists and human rights defenders.



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