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Brussels, 10 December 2010

Human Rights Day – the EU is committed to keep human rights at the centre of its external action

10 December will mark the Human Rights Day with the theme “human rights defenders who act to end discrimination”. The European Union underlines its strong commitment to do more to promote and defend human rights throughout the world. Support to human rights defenders is a key element of the EU’s human rights policy in its external action.

"Human rights are at the centre of the EU's external action and the work of the newly established European External Action Service. We defend and promote human rights in all aspects of our work”, said Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

She added: “Over the past year I have been privileged to meet many human rights defenders who have devoted their lives to furthering the cause of human rights. Today we recognise the work of human rights defenders who fight against discrimination. I am committed to ensuring that the EU will continue to support and assist human rights defenders worldwide."


Support for human rights defenders is a long-established element of the European Union's human rights policy, and is built on the UN declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1999. The EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders adopted in 2004 by the Council of the European Union provide practical suggestions for enhancing EU action in supporting human rights defenders. EU diplomatic missions are tasked with jointly organising annual meetings with human rights defenders and their organisations, adopting local strategies and nominating EU liaison officers as contact points for human rights defenders. The EU regularly raises the cases of human rights defenders during its political dialogues with third countries, or issues declarations to support their work.

Among the more than 1000 projects currently funded by EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) in some 100 countries, support to human rights defenders and their projects is a high priority.

In 2007-2013 the EU has committed more than €40 million under the EIDHR to support human rights defenders in third countries. With this support the EU has ensured direct protection, medical and legal aid to human rights defenders, relocation of individual defenders under threat, security training and public campaigning in many countries.

The European Union strongly opposes all forms of discrimination, both within and outside the European Union There are many grounds on which people are discriminated against: sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation. Discrimination on all these grounds is forbidden under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, now legally binding for the EU institutions and Member States when implementing the EU law, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty.

The EU regularly raises issues of discrimination in dialogues with third countries, and anti-discrimination activities are part and parcel of its cooperation programmes. Under the EIDHR, the EU provides funding to a number of NGOs fighting racism, xenophobia and discrimination worldwide, such as in Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Guatemala, Rwanda or Vietnam. Moreover, the EU supports through the EIDHR the Council of Europe and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in their fight against racism and intolerance.

More information:

“Top story” at the EEAS website: “Defending the defenders of human rights”

EIDHR – European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights:

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