EU trade agreements and the duty to respect human rights abroadPublished 1 October 2019
In recent years, the issue of whether human rights obligations incumbent upon the European Union have an extraterritorial scope has gained much salience. Recent developments, such as the Western Sahara litigation before the CJEU, attest to the increasing significance of answering questions of ‘extraterritoriality’ of EU human rights obligations in the context of trade agreements.
The ESIL Interest Group on the ‘EU as a Global Actor’, CLEER and T.M.C. Asser Instituut are jointly organising a one-day conference on 11 December 2019 entitled “EU Trade Agreements and the Duty to Respect Human Rights Abroad” and will be hosted at T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague.
To what extent is the EU bound by human rights obligations towards individuals outside the territory of its Member States when it concludes trade agreements with third countries? Under international law, questions of ‘extraterritoriality’ of human rights obligations are notoriously complex and the term itself is interpreted in multiple ways. While ‘extraterritoriality’ may refer to the conduct of a subject of international law outside its borders, it can also extend to cases where mere territorial conduct (such as the adoption of legislation) may have extraterritorial impact on the enjoyment of human rights by individuals in third countries. The relevant international human rights framework – especially in cases pertaining to the extraterritorial impact of domestic measures – has been described as fragmented and even contradictory. Any attempt to apply this complex (and still nebulous) framework in the context of the EU is further frustrated by the ambivalence in the EU’s own system for the promotion and protection of human rights. While the EU does not enjoy a general competence in the field of human rights, the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty make it abundantly clear that human rights have become an important component of EU external action. Art. 3(5) TEU provides that the EU shall contribute to the promotion of human rights while Art. 21(1) places human rights at the centre of the EU’s external action by providing that “the Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation” – including democracy, the rule of law and the universality and indivisibility of human rights.
At the same time, the discrepancy between the lack of general competence in human rights and the premium placed on human rights as a value in the EU’s external action generates a number of questions. Is the EU bound to protect human rights extraterritorially and if so, what is the legal basis for this duty? These questions are associated with the extent to which Art. 3(5) and 21 TEU can produce normative effects as well as with the issue of whether the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights establishes a duty to respect/protect human rights outside the territory of Member States.
In this light, this workshop aims to explore the question of whether the EU is bound by human rights obligations towards individuals outside the territory of its Member States when it concludes trade agreements with third countries. See programme here.
The conference is organised around four broad themes:
- The EU’s Trade Agreements and the Duty to Protect Human Rights Abroad: Theoretical Underpinnings
- The EU’s Trade Agreements and the Duty to Protect Human Rights Abroad: An International Law perspective
- The Western Sahara litigation and its Impact on establishing the EU’s Duty to Protect Human Rights abroad
- Case-Studies regarding the EU’s Duty to Protect Human Rights abroad
To register for the event click here.