I propose to takes Questions Nos. 177 and 178 together.
The European Union is a community of shared values, founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. These principles come from the constitutional traditions and international obligations common to the member states of the Union. Arising from these principles, the EU seeks to respect and promote universal human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the subsequent international covenants on civil and political rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966. Besides these and other UN human rights instruments, the human rights policy and positions of the EU are also based on regional human rights instruments, primarily the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.
The protection and the promotion of human rights not only constitute defining principles of the EU, but also form part of Community legislation. They were explicitly incorporated into and stated as common European objectives in the Treaty on European Union, which entered into force in November 1993. This step represented a significant strengthening of human rights as a priority issue for the EU in its internal and external policies.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which was proclaimed by the EU institutions — the Council, the Commission and the Parliament — in December 2000, is aimed at further strengthening the protection of fundamental rights in light of changes in society, social progress and technological developments by making the rights more visible in an EU instrument.
Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union introduces a mechanism designed to punish serious and persistent violations of human rights by member states of the European Union in the form of a suspension of rights enshrined in the treaty. In October last the Commission circulated a communication regarding Article 7 of the treaty. Consideration of the communication is at an early stage in the institutions. However we are examining ways in which the Council can take forward work on the Commission's communication.
In this context, I have received a copy of the Amnesty International report, Human Rights Begins at Home. As the Deputy is aware, the Government values the contribution that Amnesty International makes to furthering the cause of promoting and protecting human rights internationally and will give appropriate weight to the recommendations contained in the report.