“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Protecting and promoting human rights and democracy is a key priority of EU external action and one of the founding values of the European Union (article 21 of the EU treaty). It is a pre-condition for sustainable development and for building more inclusive, open and resilient societies. Yet democracy is backsliding: 2020 was the first year since 2001 in which the majority of the world’s countries were autocracies. The COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified long-standing human rights and democracy concerns.
To shape a strong and efficient human rights policy, we are acting in many fields:
- political dialogue, policy dialogue, economic diplomacy
- human rights dialogue with partner countries
- statements, campaigns, public events
- human rights and democracy country strategies in coordination with EU member countries
- human rights guidelines: the EU has published 11 human rights guidelines
- human rights based approach to development cooperation
- the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)
Human rights based approach
The EU has a firm political commitment to integrate human rights principles into development activities with partner countries. EU action should promote respect for and be rooted in international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in international humanitarian law. It should be guided by the universality and indivisibility of human rights.
The European Consensus on Development commits the EU and its Member States to implementing a human rights based approach (HRBA) to development cooperation, encompassing all human rights. The Consensus envisages an even stronger commitment from the EU and its Member countries to implement HRBA because it:
- helps us deliver on the principles of EU external action set out in the treaties – indivisibility of human rights, respect for human dignity, equality
- is in line with the principles of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, especially ownership, transparency and accountability, and inclusive partnerships
- provides methodology that can enhance coordination of development cooperation policies of the EU and its Member States
- serves to align development cooperation policies to the human rights commitments of our partners
- is key in ensuring that no one is left behind, helps address the multiple discriminations faced by people in vulnerable situations — by ensuring that we leave no one behind we deliver on the primary objective of EU development policy: reduction and, in the long term, eradication of poverty
The application of a rights-based approach is also called for in the general principles of the EU funding programme, Global Europe: Neighbourhood, Development an International Cooperation Instrument.
Toolbox on the Human Rights Based Approach
In line with this, in 2021 the EU updated its Toolbox on the rights-based approach from 2014. The HRBA is a working methodology that puts human rights and the rights-holders at the centre of EU external action. The Toolbox(PDF, 1.5MB) is a practical explanation of what the HRBA is — its main concepts and principles. It contains tools, examples and links to help apply the HRBA to all interventions in our partner countries and sectors.
The HRBA virtual toolbox and other courses on HRBA can be found on INTPA Academy (sign-up required).
Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan 2020-2024
In a shifting geopolitical landscape, the EU has remained steadfast as a strong defender of human rights and democracy.
The Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 sets out ambitions and priorities for the next 5 years in this field of external relations. By doing so, it will contribute to achieving a stronger Europe in the world.
It is the only instrument of its kind aimed at promoting a values-based agenda on the world stage.
The Action Plan will provide strategic focus around 5 interlinked and mutually reinforcing lines of action:
- Protecting and empowering individuals
- Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies
- Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy
- New technologies: harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges
- Delivering by working together
The operational measures will be implemented at country, regional and multilateral level, taking account of local circumstances and specificities.
Human Rights and Democracy Thematic Programme
The Human Rights and Democracy Thematic Programme is one of the thematic programmes under Global Europe: Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) – the EU programme for external action funds for 2021-2027.
The programme works in the areas of:
- support to human rights and human rights defenders in situations where they are most at risk (e.g. ProtectDefenders.eu or the Emergency Fund for Human Rights Defenders)
- support to other EU priorities in the field of human rights (e.g. death penalty, torture, fight against impunity, freedom of religion and belief discrimination, etc.)
- support to democracy (rule of law, political participation, justice, public finance management, fight against corruption and decentralisation)
- EU Election Observation Missions (EU EOMs)
- support to targeted key actors and processes, including international and regional human rights (e.g. support to OHCHR, the Internatioanl Criminal Court, regional human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions, etc.)
The programme is a unique tool, which complements other EU external assistance instruments. It offers independence of action, as it foresees direct cooperation with human rights defenders and local civil society organisations without the need for approval of national authorities.
It also has the ability to address sensitive political issues (such as the death penalty, torture, freedom of expression in restrictive contexts or discrimination against vulnerable groups) and can respond to emerging and complex challenges, due to its flexibility of implementation.
Finally, it has a global scope and can be used to intervene anywhere outside the European Union, operating worldwide at national, regional and international levels.
Global Europe (NDICI) allocates €1.562 billion for the implementation of the Human Rights and Democracy Thematic Programme.This is an approximate increase of 17% from the predecessor programme, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) under the 2014-2020 budget.