The politics of enforcing human rights provisions in the European Union’s trade relations: a case study of Cambodia and Bangladesh
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Human rights promotion in the European Union’s external policy, specifically through its Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) and Free Trade Agreements (FTA), has been an attractive research topic for decades. In principle, all new generation EU trade agreements include human rights conditionality in the form of the ‘essential elements’ clause. Yet we see it enforced only in a few cases despite grave human rights violations, both civil and political, and economic, social, and cultural. This leads to the observation of selective enforcement of the human rights provisions in the EU’s trade agreements, which undermines the EU’s role as a global human rights actor. Typically, selectiveness is tied to interests, but even in cases where both the gravity of human rights violations and the EU’s interests are comparable, variation can be observed where the nature of human rights violations is different. Hence, this Master thesis aims to answer the question of what effect the type of human rights violation has on whether the EU enforces the human rights provisions as enshrined in trade agreements. To answer this question, the study conducts a comparative study of EU enforcement of human rights provisions in its GSP programme in its trade relations with Bangladesh and Cambodia. The results are based on the qualitative analysis of more than 50 reports published by the EU, NGOs, and other relevant international organizations on the human rights situation in Bangladesh and Cambodia – the two biggest GSP beneficiaries. The findings suggest that from 2017 to 2020, the EU only enforced human rights provisions in its trade relations, where the country violated civil and political rights, while violations of economic, social, and cultural were given less emphasis, albeit not triggering enforcement. This concludes that the type of human rights violation indeed plays a role in whether the EU decides to act upon it. This finding is highly relevant as it suggests that by being less insistent on adherence to economic, social, and cultural rights, the EU is neglecting an array of human rights, which are written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, according to the declared commitment of the EU itself, should be promoted in its external relations.
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