Human rights regulate our day-to-day life. They structure how we live together within a society and aim to protect human dignity at all times. Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent. Each individual is entitled to human rights. Human rights are always and everywhere applicable, including at times of conflict or crisis. All human rights are equally important to ensure human dignity, whether civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Human rights are at the core of both EU internal and external action and policy. The Lisbon Treaty (article 2 and article 21) stipulates that the Union's action on the international scene shall be guided by the values that have inspired its own foundation.
Human rights and democracy at the core of EU external action
In a shifting geopolitical landscape, the EU has remained a strong defender of human rights. New geopolitical rivalries only serve to underline its role as a reliable and stable partner, and a champion of the rules-based international order. While there have been great leaps forward, the pushback against the universality and indivisibility of human rights and backsliding on democracy must be addressed. New challenges such as digital technologies and climate change are intertwined with human rights and therefore a renewed approach is required.
The EU invests in the empowerment of human rights defenders and civil society that promote and protect human rights. Every year, the EU organises the EU-NGO Human Rights Forum where civil society organisations and human rights defenders share their views on how to strengthen EU external policies on human rights.
The EU Special Representative for Human Rights (EUSR) is mandated to enhance the effectiveness, visibility and coherence of EU’s external human rights policies and to bring forward a positive narrative on human rights. Apart from engaging with the UN, the EUSR chairs human rights dialogues with third countries and deepens political cooperation with relevant partners. The EUSR draws attention to urgent human rights violations and promotes compliance with international humanitarian law and support for international criminal justice. While ensuring the integration of human rights in all EU external action, the EUSR plays a central role in guiding the implementation of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.
USR Gilmore on a field visit in Qatar, engaging on workers’ rights © EU/EUSR
The Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024), the third of its kind, serves to implement the Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy (adopted in 2012), which lays out the key principles, objectives and priorities for EU external policies. The Action Plan is structured around five lines of action:
I Protecting and empowering individuals
II Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies
III Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy
IV New technologies: Harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges
V Delivering by working together
© EU/ECHO/Jonathan Hyams
The 12 EU Guidelines on Human Rights translate the priorities into concrete tools for EU policy makers, EU Delegations and Member States:
The EU features a wide variety of instruments for the implementation of its human rights policy. Such tools include public diplomacy, statements and resolutions in multilateral fora, statements and démarches, sanctions, projects and programmes, trial observations and human rights and political dialogue. The EU has launched several targeted campaigns, including the Good Human Rights Stories initiative that promotes a fresh, positive narrative on human rights in the world. The EU seeks to integrate human rights in all its external action, including trade, migration and environmental policies.
Over the years, human rights dialogues have been established with around 60 partner countries throughout the world. They provide a platform for raising human rights concerns, exchange of best practices and strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
The NDICI programme for human rights and democracy, with a budget of €1.5 billion (2021-2027) is the successor of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). It assists partners, notably civil society organisations and other non-governmental stakeholders, in becoming an effective force for the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law worldwide. The programme supports actions at local, national, regional and global level.
The EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime enables the EU to respond even more forcefully to serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide. It will encompass the imposition of travel ban to the EU and asset freeze in the EU.
Key areas of engagement as reflected in the new Action Plan include: