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EU guidelines on human rights defenders

These guidelines aim to improve the support and protection given by the European Union (EU) to human rights defenders in non-EU countries, with a view to allowing them to operate freely.

ACT

Ensuring protection – European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders . General Affairs Council of 8 December 2008 [Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

Human rights defenders * play a key role in defending fundamental rights and in protecting victims of violations of these rights by:

  • documenting violations;
  • providing victims of these violations with legal, psychological, medical or other support;
  • combating the impunity of those responsible for these violations;
  • raising awareness of human rights and their defenders at national, regional and international levels.

However, it often happens that the defenders of human rights are themselves targets of attacks and threats and that their rights are violated. It is therefore important to ensure their safety and protection. This has always been a key component of the external policy of the European Union (EU) in the field of human rights. Through the present guidelines, the EU aims to further improve its action in this field within the context of its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

The Council Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) and the other competent groups identify the situations in which the EU is called upon to intervene on the basis of specialist reports:

  • periodic reports of EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) * on the human rights situation in their countries of accreditation, which must also include information on the situation of human rights defenders;
  • recommendations from HoMs based on their meetings with local human rights working groups or on their urgent local level action;
  • reports and recommendations from the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, other UN Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and non-governmental organisations.

In particular, EU missions are called upon to:

  • prepare local strategies for the application of the EU guidelines in the host country;
  • organise at least annually a meeting between human right defenders and diplomats to discuss their situation and the EU policy to support their work;
  • appoint an EU Liaison Officer on human rights defenders in order to provide an easily identifiable interlocutor for the human rights defenders community in the host country;
  • coordinate closely and share information on human rights defenders;
  • maintain suitable contacts with human rights defenders;
  • provide visible recognition to human rights defenders and their work through the media, publicity, visits or invitations;
  • visit human rights defenders in custody and attend their trials.

The guidelines also provide for actions to be taken in the context of relations with non-EU countries and in multilateral fora:

  • the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative for the CFSP and the EU Special Representatives and Envoys or representatives of the Commission or EU countries will include meetings with human rights defenders as part of their visits to non-EU countries;
  • the situation of human rights defenders will be included in the political dialogue with non-EU countries and regional organisations on the basis of a close collaboration with human rights defenders;
  • the HoMs will remind authorities of non-EU countries of their responsibility to protect human rights defenders in danger;
  • the EU will work closely with other countries committed to the protection of human rights defenders, in particular within the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly;
  • the EU will advocate countries under Universal Periodic Review to align their legislation with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;
  • the EU will promote the strengthening of existing, and creation of new, regional mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.

In addition, the EU and its countries will support special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, in particular by:

  • encouraging countries to accept, as a matter of principle, requests for country visits under these special procedures;
  • promoting the application of UN thematic mechanisms among local human rights communities and defenders;
  • supporting the allocation of sufficient funds to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Finally, the guidelines provide practical support measures for human rights defenders through development policy, including the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, such as:

  • support for human rights defenders and related non-governmental organisations in non-EU countries through capacity building and awareness-raising campaigns;
  • support for national bodies for the protection of human rights and the establishment of international networks of human rights defenders;
  • access by human rights defenders in non-EU countries to resources from abroad;
  • human rights education programmes that promote the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;
  • rapid assistance and protection to human rights defenders in danger in non-EU countries.

The review on the application of and follow-up to these guidelines is undertaken by the COHOM in cooperation with other relevant Council Working Parties, in particular by:

  • promoting the integration of the issue of human rights defenders into relevant EU policies and actions;
  • carrying out regular reviews on the application of these guidelines, accompanied by progress reports to the Council;
  • examining further means for cooperation with the UN and other international and regional mechanisms in support of human rights defenders.
Key terms used in the act
  • Human rights defenders: individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect in a peaceful manner universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including rights of members of indigenous communities.
  • EU missions: embassies and consulates of EU countries and EU delegations.
Last updated: 28.09.2010
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