Human Rights Govern the EU–GCC Relations
It is true that international relations are mainly governed by
interests, whereby many countries in the world tend to sacrifice
human rights, and ignore human rights violations when these contradict
their interests. Hence, economic interests are no longer an absolute
determiner of relations between countries. Due to the active work
of international human rights organizations and an increased awareness
of human rights principles, human rights have become another determiner
of relations between countries. The issue has gradually taken its
place next to economic interests and sometimes it has even become
more influential. This is reflected in the amount of pressure, which
some countries are under, whether from local civil society or international
human rights organizations.
All the countries in the world, and especially the Gulf States,
must have noticed that the issue of human rights has moved from
the margin to the centre of relations between countries. However,
some countries resist human rights becoming a core issue in international
relations, including not only totalitarian countries, but also some
Western ones, who do not wish to give human rights more importance
than economic interests. However, international human rights standards
have forced these countries to restructure their relations with
countries that might have previously been regarded as friends or
The issue of human rights has become part of the laws that organise
relations between countries in some Western countries. For example,
out of all six GCC states, the U.S. signed the Free Trade Agreement
(FTA) only with Bahrain. The reason for this is the refusal of these
states to link economic relations with human rights, in addition
to lacking the suitable human rights foundation. The Agreement with
Bahrain was approved after a close study by the U.S. Congress where
several things were checked including: the existence of trade unions
and an elected legislative authority, the existence of transparency
and freedom of expression, respect of human rights in general, developed
laws and legislation system.
The EU also wants to sign the FTA, but the meetings that took
place in recent years with all GCC states did not yield anything.
The reason is the refusal of some Gulf States to include human rights
standards as an integral part of the agreement. The countries of
the EU insist that their laws do not allow them to develop free
trade in areas where a suitable human rights’ ground does not exist.
This is in addition to increasing pressure by local and international
human rights organizations to guarantee that human rights principles
are included as an essential part of their trade and economic relations,
as well as political and security ones.
The last ministerial meetings between the EU and the GCC took
place last June. The EU guaranteed that the subject of respecting
human rights would be part of the Agreement. The FIDH welcomed this
move in a statement issued in Brussels on 11 June 2010, and pointed
to the European Parliament’s decision in April 2008, which stressed
on including human rights articles in any free trade agreement signed
by the EU.
The GCC countries made a minor concession in April 2009, when
they reaffirmed that they share the universal values of respecting
human rights and democratic principles, which are an essential part
of their relations. They also reiterated their continued commitment
to the promotion and protection of human rights and other fundamental
freedoms. This compromise was not enough and was just words and
ink on paper. The FIDH remains concerned about the general pattern
of human rights violations in the GCC countries, for very few steps
have been taken by the authorities in the GCC countries to improve
the enjoyment of human rights on their territory.
The FIDH urged both the GCC and EU to give specific attention
to the following priorities: adopting concrete measures to protect
the rights of migrant workers and women’s rights, taking effective
measures to improve the enjoyment of freedom of association and
establishing societies, developing the situation of human rights
defenders, guaranteeing freedom of expression, taking effective
measures to guarantee non-discrimination on religious or sectarian
In summary, it is difficult for the GCC countries as well as
the other countries to avoid their commitments regarding human rights.
It is best for them to reform themselves instead of allowing others
to impose reforms on them, or put themselves in an embarrassing
situation. Perhaps, human rights could be used as an excuse for
interference in their internal affairs.