The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide

The European Parliament and the defence of human rights worldwide

Determined to uphold the democratic principles underpinning the European project, the European Parliament made a commitment to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms very early on in its lifetime. However, it was the adoption of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 that drove its Members to step up this commitment. That same year Parliament had welcomed the news that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to dissident and physicist Andrei Sakharov, who was involved in setting up the Committee on Human Rights in the USSR in 1970.

Parliament repeatedly decried the Soviet authorities’ decision condemning Sakharov to exile and their refusal to issue him a visa that would allow him to travel to Oslo to receive the prize in person, and called for Sakharov to be released and for him and his wife to be allowed to leave the Soviet Union. It was even debated on whether an empty seat should be left for Sakharov in the Parliamentary chamber.

Following the first Parliamentary elections by direct universal suffrage in 1979, its Members immediately made it a political priority to develop and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. The number of resolutions adopted on these matters has grown steadily ever since. In 1984, a Subcommittee on Human Rights was set up within Parliament’s Political Affairs Committee. This carried on the work of the committee’s previous working group dealing with human rights issues, including minority rights and the rule of law in countries outside the EU. From then on, in order to publicly denounce human rights abuses, the Political Affairs Committee would draw up an annual report on the global situation of human rights and the development of a common policy on the issue. But the Parliament was always striving for further action, sending Members to observe elections around the world, ensuring that the EU’s international economic and trade agreements contained clauses designed to safeguard human rights and promoting parliamentary democracy by liaising closely with parliaments in non-EU countries.