Human rights

Human rights

Human rights

The European Union actively promotes and defends the universality and indivisibility of all human rights within its borders, but also when engaging in relations with non-EU countries. Over the years, the EU has adopted important reference documents on the promotion and protection of human rights (i.e. the EU Human Rights Guidelines), enhanced effective actions at bilateral and multilateral level in this sense by developing a range of diplomatic and cooperation tools, and improved human rights' mainstreaming across all its external activities – including in development cooperation.

The 2012 EU Strategic Framework addressed the objectives to accomplish and the priorities to be tackled by internal and external EU policies on human rights. Among those, was the necessity of conceiving a tool-box for working towards a Rights-Based Approach (RBA) to development cooperation, to integrate all human rights principles in EU cooperation activities aiming at strengthening their impact. 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. This reinforces bottom-up and participatory approaches, able to empower also particularly vulnerable groups in order to leave no one behind. With the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019, the EU reiterates this commitment. Beyond the RBA, there is a growing understanding that the denial of human rights limits the scope for a sustainable development, as recalled by the UN 2030 Agenda and its goals.

The EU implements this policy in dialogue and consultation with third countries, by binding human rights to other segments of foreign policy and through its activity in international fora, primarily the UN Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. Conscious that the respect for human rights cannot be taken for granted, the EU strongly believes in empowering individuals and organisations promoting freedom, democracy and human rights. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) is the concrete expression of the EU's commitment.

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 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 €1.332 million for the 2014-20 period. Other sources of EU funding include the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IsCP) and two thematic programmes implemented under the Development Cooperation Instrument: 'Global public good and challenges' and 'Civil society organisations and local authorities'.


EU funded interventions completed between 2013 and 2016 contributed to the following results
in partner countries

Good governance

  • 129 000 human rights defenders were supported in promoting civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights
  • 33 elections were supported where the electoral process was perceived by independent observers as free and fair
  • 401 000 individuals benefited directly from justice, rule of law and security sector reform programmes
  • 1 373 000 people benefited directly from legal aid programmes.

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.

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