But on a different topic, one that was mentioned at the press conference here today but worth outlining a bit more in detail – the EU’s response to the human rights situation in Myanmar and Cambodia, respectively.
In Myanmar, we have seen a deeply worrying and worsening situation for the Rohingya minority. A recent report from a United Nations fact-finding mission calls for the prosecution of top military leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity. The report describes indiscriminate killings, widespread rape by the military, assaulting of children, and the burning down of entire villages. The country’s leadership has repeatedly disregarded calls from the EU and the international community to put a stop to this.
In Cambodia, meanwhile, we are seeing very troubling developments with a clear deterioration of human rights and labour rights, without convincing improvements in sight. Our recent EU mission to the country demonstrated serious and systemic violations of, for instance, freedom of expression, labour rights and freedom of association. This comes on top of longstanding issues as regards workers’ rights and land-grabbing.
Both Cambodia and Myanmar benefit from the Everything But Arms arrangement, or EBA, which guarantees completely tariff-free access to the European market for all exports except for weapons and ammunition. However, this access is not without conditions. It comes with a responsibility to uphold and respect the values enshrined in 15 fundamental conventions of the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation.
As I have underlined many times as Commissioner for Trade, our EU trade policy must be led by our values. Accordingly, when we are faced with blatant disregard for those values, the EU must act.
Therefore, the European Commission and the European External Action Service will notify the Myanmar authorities of our intention to send an emergency, high-level EU mission to the country in the coming days to assess the situation on the ground. This high-level mission is within the framework of a potential withdrawal of Myanmar from the Everything But Arms arrangement. There is a clear possibility that a withdrawal could be the outcome.
With Cambodia, we are a step further in the process. Many of the issues here date back several years, and in some cases the country has gone backwards. The elections in July of this year – coming after our EU mission to the country – were marked by harassment and intimidation, as well as severe restrictions when it comes to essential political rights. Today, High Representative Federica Mogherini and I have therefore notified Cambodia that we are launching the process for the withdrawal of their Everything But Arms preferences. Without clear and evident improvements on the ground, this will lead to the suspending of the trade preferences that they currently enjoy.
Needless to say, we will keep our channels of dialogue with both countries open. There will be space for negotiation and dialogue with both countries throughout this process, and we will also keep EU Member States informed of the next steps.
We are not yet at the cliff edge and there is still time for Cambodia and Myanmar to draw themselves back from the brink. However, the consequences of the course that these countries are on are now clearly in sight.