Democracy and human rights

Democracy and human rights

Democracy and human rights

Human rights and democracy are guiding principles for the European Union. They are of vital importance for initiatives aiming to alleviate poverty and eradicate social, economic or political exclusion. They are central to conflict prevention and resolution, and they are also valuable bulwarks against terrorism. The EU promotes these core values in its interaction with partner countries worldwide.

Democratisation is a gradual and continuous process that needs to take a country’s socio-economic and cultural context into account. Each country and society is free to choose and develop its own model, in a locally driven process. The EU advocates models that aree consistent with universal human rights principles as expressed in the relevant international and regional conventions.

Support to democratisation processes

The European Commission pursues three main lines of action to advance the democratisation process in partner countries:

  • It engages in political dialogue in order to encourage partner governments to integrate democracy and human rights into their development plans and identify opportunities for EU assistance to contribute to those objectives.
  • It emphasises democratic values in all EU development instruments (a 'mainstreaming' approach): such principles as political participation, representation, accountability, transparency and equality are taken into account in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes. Moreover, any further policies must be formulated with due regard for democratisation.
  • It implements specific financial and technical assistance programmes, focusing on four key areas: promoting fair, free and transparent electoral processes; strengthening the institutional and organisational capacities of parliaments; promoting independent and professional media; and encouraging pluralistic political systems.

Human rights as a driver of development

Human rights and development policies and strategies are mutually reinforcing and complementary. They have the same ultimate objective to improve human well-being and freedom, based on the inherent dignity and equality of all people. Whereas development initiatives focus on social welfare and on economic growth, activities supporting and promoting human rights consolidate the rule of law, ensuring that these advances can be enjoyed by all.

Approaching development from the point of view of human rights strengthens its impact by widening the scope for citizens to demand, enjoy and defend the rights and services to which they are entitled. At the same time, it develops the capacity of states to fulfil the obligations to protect, respect and promote the rights of their citizens. The strategic use of human rights in development policies is, therefore, a powerful tool in the strengthening of bottom-up and participatory approaches helping to empower particularly vulnerable groups.

Beyond the rights-based approach, there is a growing understanding that the denial of human rights limits the scope for poverty reduction. In 2000, the world’s leaders formally acknowledged the link between human rights, development and governance with the adoption of the 2000 Millennium Declaration. Human rights are, indeed, essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. For example, female genital mutilations, as well as other forms of violence against women, have a direct impact on maternal health.

The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which came into force on 1 January 2007, is a concrete expression of the EU's commitment to the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world. In the framework for 2014-2020, the EIDHR continues to focus on human dignity and includes a stronger focus on the rights of vulnerable groups.


Democracy and human rights are core values of the European Union and as such, they shape the EU's approach to development cooperation. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, which came into force on 1 January 2007, is the concrete expression of the EU's intention to integrate the promotion of democracy and human rights into all of its external policies.
The European Union funds activities advancing democracy and human rights through a number of programmes and instruments:
  • The geographical programmes support the implementation of the policy at national and regional level: the European Development Fund (in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries), the Development Cooperation Instrument (in Latin America, Asia and South Africa), the European Neighbourhood & Partnership Instrument (in the neighbouring regions).
  • Several thematic programmes and instruments fund activities in specific sectors of development cooperation. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), a thematic instrument that works with and through civil society organisations, is the European Union's main vector of support in the area of democracy and human rights. It had a budget of €1.104 million for the 2007-13 period. Other sources of EU funding include the Instrument for Stability and three programmes implemented under the Development Cooperation Instrument: Investing in people, Non-state actors and local authorities in development, and Migration and asylum.


Selected results achieved with EU support through projects and programmes completed between mid-2014 and mid-2015


 Human rights, gender and democratic governance

  • 600 environmental and human rights activists from Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa attended workshops for defending human rights and have demonstrated improvement in awareness about methods of protection, legal mechanisms and organizational development in human rights.
  • 3 400 victims of torture have received medical, psychiatric and psychological assistance.
  • 59 ratifications and accessions to international human rights treaties and protocols have been introduced (up from 2,199 in 2013).
  • 3 000 indigenous human rights defenders (1 700 women and 1 300 men) in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand have received direct financial, material and other forms of support.
  • 48 death penalty abolition working groups have been created or supported in various countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, DRC, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Central African Republic, Tunisia, Zambia, Mongolia, Indonesia, Belarus.
  • 340 human rights defenders at immediate risk have been relocated.
  • 820 cases have been taken up by African and UN Special Rapporteurs.

News & Events