The creation of the Union for the Mediterranean to replace the Barcelona Process and the revolutions that shook the Middle East and North Africa and their repercussions, along with Israel’s continued illegal occupation, settlement construction and land annexation in Palestine and Golan Heights, have emerged as major features in the Euromed region. The brutality of the regimes in Iraq and Syria as well as that of armed groups such as the so-called ‘Islamic State’, the growing militarisation of the entire region, particularly in Libya, and dictatorship rule being installed in countries like Egypt further reinforce the dire need for democracy.

The Union for the Mediterranean is based on major economic projects and gives little consideration to civil society and peoples’ aspirations for democracy and economic and social justice that the revolutions have brought to the forefront since 2011. With the complicity of the regimes in these countries, the Union for the Mediterranean approach is based on investment, large construction projects and trade liberalisation to the detriment of a holistic approach to the countries of the region and their equitable development. South of the Mediterranean, millions of people, including women and youth, have taken great risks to demand dignity and freedom. Despite the outcome of these movements, their voices have been heard.

In the meantime, repressive policies led by these challenged regimes have proved noxious; silenced civil society, inability to bring about meaningful political alternatives, dismal socio-economic conditions, dashed hopes and, in some instances, a return to past situations, etc.

The European Union (EU) is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis giving rise to austerity measures that have been largely rejected by its citizens. This has taken its toll on the democratic processes in these societies, as it has been accompanied by restrictions on freedoms and a surge in xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Obsessed with security concerns, the EU is closing in on itself, shockingly turning the Mediterranean into a graveyard, as far as asylum seekers are concerned.

In this context:

Priority must be given to protecting human rights activists as they are vital for the future, as well as empowering civil society to take ownership of human rights.

Incorporating in our actions and demands concrete gender equality measures, including combatting all forms of violence against women, is essential to make the change that we aspire to.

Building bridges between civil societies north and the south of the Mediterranean is an absolute necessity if we are to have any impact on policies, both at the national and regional levels.

Enhancing civil society’s efficiency through welcoming the movements brought about by the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa is vital to strengthen the exercise of citizenship.

We must strongly oppose all forms of human rights relativism and reaffirm the universality of rights as the outcome of a process of gradual individual and collective ownership, where national and cultural traditions naturally find their place, not against nor next to each other, but around a base of non-negotiable values. In this regard, protection of the rights of minorities of any kind is a requirement to respect pluralism.

Putting an end to the widespread double standards policies and building relations between the north and the south of the Mediterranean on the basis of development of common values rather than on the interest of only one of the parties is a prerequisite to the credibility of human rights as a universal set of values. Thus, the EU must focus on the peaceful resolution of all regional conflicts, whether in Western Sahara or in Palestine, within the framework of United Nations resolutions, especially on the right of return for refugees.

The Palestinian people continue to live under oppression and the fate of the Syrian people remains a shameful blemish on the conscience of humanity. As many activists have paid for their dedication to human rights with their lives and many continue to pay with their freedom, and as all peoples aspire to the same freedoms, the Network will continue to work for equal rights, accountability and justice in this part of the world.

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