‘Double standards’ undermine EU legitimacy in Global South: Human Rights Watch chief

Tirana Hassan, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, at the Euronews studio in Brussels on October 25, 2023.
Tirana Hassan, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, at the Euronews studio in Brussels on October 25, 2023. Copyright Euronews
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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The European Union’s "double standards" on human rights could erode the bloc’s legitimacy in the Global South, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Tirana Hassan, told Euronews.


"The EU risks developing a reputation where it says one set of rights applies to a certain group of people - people close to Europe - and another set of rights applies to people outside," Tirana Hassan said in an interview on Wednesday.

"That will undermine European leaders and the EU's legitimacy in the eyes of many countries in the Global South," she added.

Reflecting on the Israel-Hamas war, the chief of the New York-based international watchdog called out inconsistencies between the EU's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and its reaction to other global humanitarian crises.

"The EU institutions rallied behind the Ukrainian people. We saw the entire arsenal of tools to protect human rights being mobilised, including allowing refugees into Europe," she explained, adding that we haven't seen the same "consistent and unanimous response to other crises and conflicts in the world."

Hassan welcomed the EU's condemnation of the "atrocious crimes" committed by Hamas against Israeli citizens, but said that the "same level of condemnation" has not been expressed in response to indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians in Gaza.

It was also "disappointing", she said, that calls for the respect of humanitarian law were absent when the conflict started. 

"It is the expectation of EU leaders that they would call on all warring parties to abide by international law," she added.

EU leaders need to get "explicit" on aid

Speaking a day before EU leaders are expected to call for a temporary pause to fighting to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid in a Brussels summit, Hassan said leaders must ensure they are "explicit on what is meaningful humanitarian assistance."

Divisions emerged between EU foreign ministers earlier this week on whether to call for a full humanitarian ceasefire or simply a "pause" to ensure lifesaving aid can reach Gaza, with top diplomat Josep Borrell saying the latter would be less ambitious.

Ahead of Thursday's summit, EU diplomats have been splitting hairs over the wording of the joint statement. Diplomatic sources told Euronews that Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria want to avoid calling for a humanitarian ceasefire for fear it would dilute the EU's proclamation of Israel's right to self-defence, while leaders such as Spain's Pedro Sánchez have openly called for a humanitarian ceasefire.

But Hassan says that - ceasefire or not - the aid reaching civilians in Gaza is not sufficient to address their basic needs.

"The humanitarian needs will not be met by truckloads of water and cartons of medicines," she said. "There needs to be a meaningful, full, free flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, not only from the Egyptian crossing, but also from the Israeli side."

"This is the first time that we have seen the Israeli crossings actually closed to allow humanitarian assistance in. We haven't seen this in other conflicts."

European leaders need to call on Israel to "turn on the water", she added, saying fuel is also key to saving lives as it keeps hospitals running, including incubators needed to keep newborn babies alive.

She also warned against a potential public health crisis sparked by the "dangerous trifecta of no electricity, raw sewage and no clean drinking water." 

'Structural repression' needs to be understood

Human Rights Watch has been documenting structural repression in Palestine for the past two years, and found in a 2021 report that some of the deprivations suffered by Palestinians under occupation "amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."

Hassan told Euronews this backdrop of "structural repression" needs to be understood when negotiating a path towards peace.

"It is going to be fundamental for European leaders to acknowledge and understand the history of repression that has taken place prior to this last horrific bout of violence so that when we move forward from this and look for peace and solutions, we ensure that we're acknowledging the basis and the underlying issues," she said.


She hopes that European leaders can demonstrate their commitment to international law by ensuring there is "accountability" for all atrocities and war crimes committed in the region.

"The International Criminal Court, for example, has jurisdiction over Palestine and even the crimes that have been committed inside Israel," she said. 

"It is incredibly important that European leaders actually fund the International Criminal Court and encourage the Israeli authorities to allow the Court to undertake investigations into what has happened. If this what happens in the future," she added.

"Accountability for all the crimes committed will play an incredibly important role in where we go after this conflict is over."

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