The European Union failed to fully consider the potential for surveillance-related human rights violations as it equipped African nations with technologies and surveillance training through its EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTFA).
That’s the decision of the EU Commission Ombudsman, following a formal complaint filed by a group of international human rights NGOs in October 2021.
Privacy International, along with Access Now, the Border Violence Monitoring Network, Homo Digitalis, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Germany’s Sea-Watch, argued that the EUTFA program extended surveillance capacities to authoritarian governments without ensuring the same policies and protections common to Europeans.
“The EU’s ongoing surveillance transfers to authoritarian regimes in Africa and elsewhere cannot continue business as usual,” said Marwa Fatafta, the MENA policy manager for Access Now. “We hope this decision will help hold the EU accountable to its values overseas, and protect the rights and freedoms of vulnerable communities from intrusive tracking and government surveillance.”
The €5 billion trust fund was set up in 2015 to address migration and displacement concerns, as European nations—particularly southern nations including Greece and Italy—struggled with an influx of migrants arriving from North Africa.
The EU partners with 26 African countries to boost economic development and community resilience in an effort to slow migration patterns, but the fund also supports enforcement efforts and conflict reduction measures.
The ombudsman agreed that the EUFTA program implementation failed to establish mechanisms to assess the potential for human rights violations, for example, in states where opposition leaders, journalists, and civil society actors are frequent targets of repression.
The decision comes as the European Parliament continues its special inquiry into the use of spyware, with a hearing on how spyware is used in third countries set for December 15.
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