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Human rights vow over trade talks

Gulf Daily News, Bahrain

Human rights vow over trade talks

By Geoffrey Bew

16 April 2008

Human rights issues will be high on the agenda in negotiations between the European Union and the GCC on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a senior official declared in Bahrain last night.

European commissioner for external affairs and neighbourhood policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner gave the pledge during a meeting with activists in Bahrain.

She held talks with officials from the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), the now-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, on the sidelines of a two-day regional visit.

Ms Ferrero-Waldner, who leaves Bahrain today, also met with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Nazar Al Baharna and government officials in Saudi Arabia, as part of efforts to explore further EU co-operation with both countries.

BHRS assistant general-secretary Dr Abdulla Al Deerazi said human rights activists raised a series of Gulf-wide concerns with the visiting official, including political and civil rights, freedom of expression, women’s rights and those of human rights activists and migrant workers.

He said they also sought guarantees that the FTA would not have a negative effect on the economic, social and cultural rights of the region’s people.

"We strongly believe in what she said - that human rights, by principle, should be included in the FTA" said Dr Al Deerazi.

"This is very important because when you negotiate on economic issues, there will be importance to legislation with respect to migrant workers and women’s issues.

Ms Ferrero-Waldner’s meeting with human rights groups follows a five-day trip by Gulf activists to the EU headquarters in Brussels last month, aimed at improving its links with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).

"We are pleased about her comments and that she gave us the time to express ourselves and she was receptive to our concerns," said Dr Al Deerazi.

He said a similar trip to Brussels was planned for next month, to be held parallel to the next ministerial GCC-EU FTA meeting so activists could raise further awareness about regional human rights issues.

Dr Al Deerazi added Ms Ferrero-Waldner also backed plans to hold seminars in the Gulf, once the FTA deal was concluded, to educate the private sector and civil societies on its implications.