Human rights and democratic governance

Human rights and democratic governance

Human rights and democratic governance


The European Union is founded on a strong engagement to promote and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law worldwide. Human rights and democracy are inextricably connected. Only in a democracy can individuals fully claim and realise their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Only when human rights are respected can democracy flourish.

In this regards, Article 21 of the Treaty on the European Union spells out that "The Union's action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law".

The promotion and protection of these values lead the European Union's external action and its engagement in relations with non-EU countries. The EU is convinced that international sustainable peace, development and prosperity cannot exist without respect for human rights and democratic governance, which are also central to conflict resolution and stand as valuable bulwarks against terrorism.

In 2015, the EU adopted the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2015-2019) which is a key tool in addressing the protection of human rights and supporting democracy in EU’s external action. This new Action Plan for the period 2015-2019 aims to reinforce the implementation of the EU's human rights policy with a special emphasis on strengthening ownership by local institutions, mechanisms and civil society actors, and on invigorating support to Human Rights Defenders. 




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'.