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EU Guidelines on HRD

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1. Support for human rights defenders is already a long established element of the European Union’s human rights external relations policy. The purpose of these Guidelines is to provide practical suggestions for enhancing EU action in relation to this issue. The Guidelines can be used in contacts with third countries at all levels as well as in multilateral human rights fora, in order to support and strengthen ongoing efforts by the Union to promote and encourage respect for the right to defend human rights. The Guidelines also provide for interventions by the Union for human rights defenders at risk and suggest practical means to support and assist human rights defenders. An important element of the Guidelines is support for the Special Procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights, including the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders and appropriate regional mechanisms to protect human rights defenders. The Guidelines will assist EU Missions (Embassies and Consulates of EU Member States and European Commission Delegations) in their approach to human rights defenders. While addressing specific concerns regarding human rights defenders is their primary purpose, the Guidelines also contribute to reinforcing the EU’s human rights policy in general.


2. For the purpose of defining human rights defenders for these Guidelines operative paragraph 1 of the “UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” (see Annexe I), which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” is drawn upon.

3. Human rights defenders are those individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. Human rights defenders seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights defenders also promote and protect the rights of members of groups such as indigenous communities. The definition does not include those individuals or groups who commit or propagate violence.


4. The EU supports the principles contained in the Declaration on the Right and responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Although the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights lies with states, the EU recognises that individuals, groups and organs of society all play important parts in furthering the cause of human rights. The activities of human rights defenders include:

- documenting violations;

- seeking remedies for victims of such violations through the provision of legal, psychological, medical or other support; and

- combating cultures of impunity which serve to cloak systematic and repeated breaches of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

5. The work of human rights defenders often involves criticism of government’s policies and actions. However, governments should not see this as a negative. The principle of allowing room for independence of mind and free debate on a government’s policies and actions is fundamental, and is a tried and tested way of establishing a better level of protection of human rights. Human rights defenders can assist governments in promoting and protecting human rights. As part of consultation processes they can play a key role in helping to draft appropriate legislation, and in helping to draw up national plans and strategies on human rights. This role too should be recognised and supported.

6. The EU acknowledges that the activities of Human Rights Defenders have over the years become more recognised. They have increasingly come to ensure greater protection for the victims of violations. However, this progress has been achieved at a high price: the defenders themselves have increasingly become targets of attacks and their rights are violated in many countries. The EU believes it is important to ensure the safety and protect the rights of human rights defenders. In this regard it is important to apply a gender perspective when approaching the issue of human rights defenders.


7. The operational part of the Guideline is meant to identify ways and means to effectively work towards the promotion and protection of human rights defenders in third countries, within the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Monitoring, reporting and assessment

8. EU Heads of Mission are already requested to provide periodic reports on the human rights situation in their countries of accreditation. The Council Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) has recently approved the outline of fact sheets to facilitate this task. In line with these fact sheets Missions should address the situation of human rights defenders in their reporting, noting in particular the occurrence of any threats or attacks against human rights defenders. In this contexts HoMs should be aware that the institutional framework can have a major impact on the ability of human rights defenders to undertake their work in safety. Issues such as legislative, judicial, administrative or other appropriate measures, undertaken by States to protect persons against any violence, threats retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of any of the rights referred to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are all relevant in this regard. Where it is called for, HoMs should make recommendations to COHOM for possible EU actions, including condemnation of threats and attacks against human rights defenders, as well as for demarches and public statements where human rights defenders are at immediate or serious risk. HoMs should also report on the effectiveness of EU actions in their reports.

9. The HoMs reports and other relevant information, such as reports and recommendations from the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights Defenders, UN Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies as well as non-governmental organisations, will enable COHOM and other relevant working parties, to identify situations where EU actions are called upon and decide actions to be taken or, where appropriate, make recommendations for such action to PSC / Council.

Role of EU Missions in supporting and protecting human rights defenders

10. In many third countries EU Missions (Embassies of EU Member States and European Commission Delegations) are the primary interface between the Union and its Member States and human rights defenders on the ground. They therefore have an important role to play in putting into practice the EU’s policy towards human rights defenders. EU Missions should therefore seek to adopt a proactive policy towards human rights defenders. They should at the same time be aware that in certain cases EU action could lead to threats or attacks against human rights defenders. They should therefore where appropriate consult with human rights defenders in relation to actions which might be contemplated. Measures that EU Missions could take include:

- co-ordinating closely and sharing information on human rights defenders, including those at risk;

- maintaining, suitable contacts with human rights defenders, including by receiving them in Missions and visiting their areas of work, consideration could be given to appointing specific liaison officers, where necessary on a burden sharing basis, for this purpose;

- providing, as and where appropriate, visible recognition to human rights defenders, through the use of appropriate publicity, visits or invitations;

- attending and observing, where appropriate, trials of human rights defenders.

Promotion of respect for human rights defenders in relations with third countries and in multilateral fora

11. The EU’s objective is to influence third countries to carry out their obligations to respect the rights of human rights defenders and to protect them from attacks and threats from non-state actors. In its contacts with third countries, the EU will, when deemed necessary, express the need for all countries to adhere to and comply with the relevant international norms and standards, in particular the UN Declaration. The overall objective should be to bring about an environment where human rights defenders can operate freely. The EU will make its objectives known as an integral part of its human rights policy and will stress the importance it attaches to the protection of human rights defenders. Actions in support of these objectives will include:

- where the Presidency, or the High Representative for the CFSP or EU Special Representatives and Envoys, or European Commission are making country visits they will, where appropriate, include meetings with, and raising individual cases of, human rights defenders as an integral and part of their visits to third countries;

- the human rights component of political dialogues between the EU and third countries and regional organisations, will, where relevant, include the situation of human rights defenders. The EU will underline its support for human rights defenders and their work, and raise individual cases of concern whenever necessary;

- working closely with other like minded countries with similar views notably in the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly;

- promoting the strengthening of existing regional mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders, such as the focal point on human rights defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the special Human Rights Defenders Unit within the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the creation of appropriate mechanisms in regions where they do not exist.

Support for Special Procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights, including the

Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders

12. The EU recognises that the Special Procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights (Special Rapporteurs, Special Representatives, Independent Experts and Working Groups) are vital to international efforts to protect human rights defenders because of their independence and impartiality; their ability to act and speak out on violations against human rights defenders worldwide and undertake country visits. While the Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders has a particular role in this regard the mandates of other Special Procedures are also of relevance to human rights defenders. The EU’s actions in support of the Special Procedures will include:

- encouraging states to accept as a matter of principle requests for country visits by UN Special Procedures;

- promoting via EU Missions, the use of UN thematic mechanisms by local human rights communities and human rights defenders including, but not limited to facilitating the establishment of contacts with, and exchange information between, thematic mechanisms and human rights defenders;

- since the Special Procedures are unable to carry out their mandate in the absence of adequate resources, EU Member States will support the allocation of sufficient funds from the general budget to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Practical supports for Human Rights Defenders including through Development Policy

13. Programmes of the European Community and Member States aimed at assisting in the development of democratic processes and institutions, and the promotion and protection of human rights in developing countries are among a wide range of practical supports for assisting human rights defenders. These can include but are not necessarily limited to the development co-operation programmes of Member States. Practical supports can include the following:

- bi-lateral human rights and democratisation programmes of the European Community and Member States should take further account of the need to assist the development of democratic processes and institutions, and the promotion and protection of human rights in developing countries by, inter alia, supporting human rights defenders through such activities as capacity building and public awareness campaigns;

- by encouraging and supporting the establishment, and work, of national bodies for the promotion and protection of human rights, established in accordance with the Paris Principles, including, National Human Rights Institutions, Ombudsman’s Offices and Human Rights Commissions.

- assisting in the establishment of networks of human rights defenders at an international level, including by facilitating meetings of human rights defenders;

- seeking to ensure that human rights defenders in third countries can access resources, including financial, from abroad;

- by ensuring that human rights educations programmes promote, inter alia, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Role of Council Working Parties

14. In accordance with its mandate COHOM will keep under review the implementation and follow-up to the Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in close co-ordination and co-operation with other relevant Council Working Parties. This will include:

- promoting the integration of the issue of human rights defenders into relevant EU policies and actions;

- undertaking reviews of the implementation of the Guidelines at appropriate intervals;

- continuing to examine, as appropriate, further ways of co-operating with UN and other international and regional mechanisms in support of human rights defenders.

- Reporting to Council, via PSC and COREPER, as appropriate on an annual basis on progress made towards implementing the Guidelines.