The EU was not prepared for such
By Tonny Raymond Kirabira
It is interesting how true exercise of democracy rapidly changes global events. As the United States warms up for its general elections, Britain has just voted, in a referendum to leave the European Union.
The Leave campaign secured around 51.8 per cent of the vote and subsequently David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister.
This direction has greatly shocked many people, considering the progression of the Europen Union.
Initially, the overall objective of the European Union (EU) predecessors of the 1950s was to promote economic integration within Europe. That was a time when the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community were actively run by Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
As communism collapsed across central and eastern Europe in the 1990s, Europe became more united into a single market and in 1993, the ‘Maastricht’ Treaty on European Union together with the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1999 paved way for the EU.
Emerging global events led to a wider coalition and expanded the scope of the integration from just economic to social and political factors affecting Europe. The two World Wars and the Cold War all contributed to a political reconstruction of Europe, which - combined with the mass atrocities of the Holocaust.
The result of this was creation of a strong desire to put human rights at the heart of the European construction.
The bigger reason why Britain has left the EU has its roots in the EU human rights crisis. Human rights was not at the centre of the earlier policies, but was notably left to other regional organisations, namely Council of Europe.
But with the signing and ratification by Member countries including the United Kingdom of instruments like the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which is the constitutional document of the EU, many challenges have come up.
The EU committed itself to protecting and promotion of human rights globally. Last year, there was an unprecedented influx of refugees (or immigrants) from Asia and North Africa to the EU states. This certainly posed a serious human rights challenge regarding treatment of these people.
The EU was not prepared for such, which was demonstrated by its lack of a single uniform asylum and migration system to establishes safe and legal means of migration of refugees.
However, they planned fast and built the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) in order to ensure that the rights of refugees under international law are protected in its member states. What this means is that migrants have to be moved to countries like the UK which have few arrivals of migrants. The impact of this will be that 160,000 people will be relocated across the EU over the next two years.
The United Kingdom was among the countries that objected to this plan. Countries like Germany however have a different approach which is to welcome people, and this dates back to the 1960s when many Turkish citizens moved to West Germany.
Important to note is that Migration management is a shared responsibility amongst all member states under the European Agenda on Migration which was recently developed in 2015.
By opting out of the EU, the UK is running away from its duty to contribute its share in helping displaced persons in clear need of international protection.
The UK, like other states that ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol are duty bound to promote and protect the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) UNHCR endorsed a target of 20,000 resettlement places for the EU per year by the year 2020.The UK is one of the states with string financial capacity to help achieve this.
According to UN forecasts, Africa will experience a doubling of its population by 2050. The implication of this is numbers of immigrants from Africa to Europe is bound to escalate in future.
The EU established a Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy in 2012.It’s Special Representative for Human Rights contributes to implementation of this Action Plan by pressuring member’s states to comply with EU human rights systems.
The EU and its Member States under Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union have a duty to promote and speak out on human rights and democracy.
Therefore countries like UK are tied by and systems under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights , European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Parliament also asks member states to account for actions on human rights, including refugee protection.
Early this year, three justices of the Court of Appeal in England concluded that journalist David Miranda's detention at Heathrow under schedule 7 of the UK Terrorism 2000 Act was lawful, proportionate and did not breach European human rights protections of freedom of expression.
David Miranda is a journalist who was detained in 2013 at Heathrow Airport and his computer equipment seized by UK police suspecting him to be a terrorist.
From an international human rights law standpoint, the UK exhibited violation of freedom of expression, the European Human Rights Convention together with other International instruments.
However, this would not be recognized by the UK.
There is a weakness of the EU in terms of implementing its decisions and policies which has pushed member states to resort to national actions and mechanisms like tighter border controls, building fences along their frontiers and the most recent decision by the UK to pull out.
What should be done now is to build solidarity among the remaining members to tackle the common challenges that they face.
The writer is a media and human rights lawyer