Navigation path

Human rights

Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights – these values have been embedded in the EU treaties right from the start. Now they have been reinforced by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.


Countries in the EU and those seeking to join must respect human rights. So must countries that conclude trade and cooperation agreements with the EU.

Drawing of balanced scales with half-globes containing people on either side

Human rights are universal.

Through its human rights policy, the EU:

  • defends civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights
  • seeks to promote the rights of women, children, minorities, and displaced persons
  • opposes the death penalty, torture, human trafficking and discrimination
  • is committed to defending the universal and indivisible nature of human rights, by working in full and active partnership with partner countries, international organisations, regional organisations and civil society.
Keywords associated with human rights, such as ‘universality’ and ‘justice’

Human rights mean many things to many people.

Human rights don't discriminate

The 2012 strategic framework & action plan on human rights and democracy is designed to improve the effectiveness and consistency of EU human rights policy as a whole. Also in 2012, Stavros Lambrinidis was appointed as the first EU Special Representative for Human Rights. His role is to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of the EU external human rights policy.

Annual reports

The EU publishes an Annual Report on application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and human rights and democracy in the world. This is an appraisal of the EU's work in the field of human rights.

Three children holding hands

Children need special protection.

Protecting fundamental rights at home

In the EU, fundamental rights are guaranteed at national level by each country's constitutional system and at EU level by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (adopted in 2000 and binding on EU countries since 2009). After they have been through the national courts, individuals may, as a last resort, bring a case before the European Court of Human Rights.

All EU institutions – the Commission, Parliament and Council – play a role in human rights protection. They are assisted by the Fundamental Rights Agency, which identifies and analyses major trends in the field of fundamental rights.

The Charter embodies in a single, instrument the fundamental rights that are binding upon the EU institutions and bodies. The Charter also applies to national governments, but only when they are implementing EU law.

Promoting human rights worldwide

Children sitting on in the ground in front of an NGO vehicle

The EU’s human rights work supports poverty alleviation and conflict prevention.

Human rights work is integral to alleviating poverty, as well as conflict prevention and resolution. The EU has therefore put the human rights issue at the forefront of its relations with other countries and regions.

All agreements on trade or cooperation with non EU countries contain a human rights clause stipulating that human rights are an essential element in relations. There are now more than 120 such agreements. The EU has imposed sanctions for human rights breaches on a number of countries including Belarus and Iran.

The EU also undertakes human rights dialogues with over 40 countries and organisations, including Russia, China and the African Union.

Through the European instrument for democracy and human rights, the EU supports civil society groups or individuals defending democracy, combating torture and fighting racism. The EIDHR has a budget of €1.1 billion for 2007 2013.





General information enquiries

00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 See details of service

E-mail your questions

Contact and visit details for institutions, press contacts

Help us improve

Find what you wanted?


What were you looking for?

Any suggestions?