European Union External Action

EU Action plan on Human Rights and democracy – one year in

22/07/2016 - 09:50
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A year ago, the EU and its Member States adopted the second Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, a key guiding document for the work towards the advancement of human rights and democracy worldwide.

Human rights are central to the EU's external relations. Democracy remains the only system of governance in which -through appropriate mechanisms – people can claim and realise their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. The Action Plan is the EU's key tool in addressing the protection of human rights and supporting democracy in EU's external action. It outlines the EU's approach to strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law and to promoting democratic freedoms through working in partnership with all EU institutions, Member States, all partner governments that take shared responsibility for the global prosperity of all societies, with the United Nations, international and local civil society and other regional and local actors.

HR/VP Federica Mogherini and the EU Special Representative on Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis spearhead the EU's external human rights engagement, raising the issues of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all of their visits and meetings with all interlocutors. The EU Delegations act as its eyes and ears on the ground, monitoring, reporting and responding to human rights issues as they emerge.

Each year, the EU undertakes human rights dialogues with numerous countries throughout the world and engages at multilateral level with the United Nations and other international organisations. Through our political instruments and financial assistance, the EU complements national efforts for democratic reforms aiming at the improvement of the governments' capacities to respond to citizens' needs.

In March 2016, the HR/VP launched the #EU4HumanRights campaign in order to raise awareness about human rights issues in the world as well as encourage public discussion on human rights priorities in EU foreign policy.

Some of our key achievements over last year

Now entering the second year of our ambitious Action Plan, implementation is well underway and momentum remains high:

Protecting and promoting Civil Society:

  • As a result of the 2015 global call for proposals, in 2016 a number of projects  aiming at strengthening the capacities of human rights defenders working at grassroots level, in particular in most difficult situations and remote areas have been selected under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) for a total amount of over €5 million.
  • Financed under the EIDHR for an unprecedented amount of €15 million, is the first EU worldwide, stable, comprehensive and gender-sensitive mechanism established to protect defenders at high risk and facing the most difficult situations. Since its establishment in October 2015, is committed to reaching out to the most at risk and isolated Defenders, working in remote areas and countries where it is particularly dangerous to work in human rights defence, including women human rights defenders, defenders of LGBTI rights, land rights, environmental rights, economic and social rights defenders, defenders of minorities, lawyers, and those fighting for freedom of expression and association.
  • EU funded events such as the 17th annual EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights in December 2015, and the EU Civil Society Organisation Forum in March 2016, brought together hundreds of representatives from civil society groups across the world to discuss and explore how best to create and support an enabling environment for civil society.

Strengthening the integrity of electoral processes:

  • 8 Election Observation Missions (EOMs) and 7 Election Expert Missions (EEMs) were deployed in 2015 to strengthen confidence on election processes and recommend future improvements to electoral processes.We have enhanced our work on follow up to EOM/ODIHR recommendations and raise them in political dialogues and other relevant fora.
  • The EU has contracted electoral assistance projects worth a total of €84 million euros in 30 countries and nine parliamentary strengthening projects worth €13 million euro have been launched since the inception of the Action Plan.
  • In 2015 alone, 15 new contracts for the support of anti-corruption activities were concluded in countries including Comoros, Tanzania, Nigeria, Senegal, Mexico and Mozambique.

Transitional Justice:

  • In November 2015 the Foreign Affairs Council adopted Council Conclusions and the EU's policy framework on support to transitional justice. The EU became the first regional organisation to have such a policy. Attention has now turned towards implementation.

Gender Equality:

  • In a high-level summit co-organized by the UN Secretary-General and China in September 2015, the EU re-committed to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on Gender Equality on its 20th anniversary.
  • In October, during the UN Security Council high-level session marking the 15th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, the EU committed to allocate more than €100 million over the next 7 years to gender equality and women's and girls' empowerment projects. 
  • An ambitious new EU framework for "Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External relations 2016-2010" was endorsed by the Foreign Affairs Council in October 2015.


  • In line with the European Agenda on Migration, human rights safeguards were enhanced through reinforced dialogues and cooperation with partner countries.  €5 million were made available through the EIDHR to fund projects which supported the protection of the rights of migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, internally displaced persons and stateless persons in partner countries.
  • An EU Emergency Trust Fund for Stability and Addressing Root Causes of irregular Migration and Displaced Persons in Africa was launched at the Valetta summit on migration in November 2015 with an initial EU contribution of €1.8 billion.

Trade and Human Rights:

  • Actions were stepped up to support and strengthen the effective implementation, enforcement and monitoring of GSP+ Beneficiaries commitments. A number of capacity building projects which focussed on strengthening labour rights were launched in countries as diverse as El Salvador, Guatemala, Mongolia and Pakistan.

Business and Human Rights

Going forward the EU will continue to promote and defend the universality and indivisibility of human rights in partnership with countries from all regions, in close cooperation with international and regional organisations and with civil society. A systematic review of the implementation of the Action Plan will take place in 2017.

More information

Action plan

Annual report on Human Rights and Democracy

#EU4HumanRights Campaign

Key documents