The EU is on the defensive over human rights in UN forums. It suffered an embarrassing split over the Mavi Marmara but put up a strong fight over sexual orientation.
The EU had another difficult year in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and in debates on human rights at the UN General Assembly. The EU, working with the US, succeeded in maintaining pressure on Iran, Myanmar and North Korea through UN resolutions. However, a statement drafted by the US and supported by the EU on political repression in Iran won the support of just 56 of the UN’s 192 members.
The EU was split on an HRC vote condemning the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli commandos killed members of a civilian flotilla sailing to Gaza (see also components 35 and 59). Italy and the Netherlands sided with the US in rejecting efforts to censure Israel, while the UK and France abstained and Slovenia voted in favour. This followed a pattern of European disunity on Middle East issues set in 2009 during the debate on the Goldstone Report and the Durban II racism conference.
The EU members fought a running battle with African and Islamic countries about sexual orientation. In November, the African bloc succeeded in removing a long-standing reference to sexual orientation as a source of persecution in an annual resolution on extra-judicial killings. Acting on behalf of the EU in December, France coordinated a non-binding declaration rejecting the criminalisation of homosexuality. Although 65 countries supported it, another 60 nations signed an alternative declaration that there was no legal basis for protecting sexual orientation as a human right in international law. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised concerns over France’s policy towards the Roma and thus about the EU’s own human rights record. But the year concluded positively, when both the EU and its usual opponents condemned post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire in December – an unusual display of unity at the HRC.