Human rights lie at the heart of EU policy and its external relations. The EU has learned from its own history that peace and prosperity can only be built through respect for human rights. The EU's position is rooted in the conviction of inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person. Human rights should be accessible and applicable to everyone, everywhere and should be based on the simple universal concept of respecting each other.
The EU seeks to promote respect for individuals and respect for human rights through a variety of means.
The EU is opposed to the death penalty and consistently advocates its universal abolition. In line with the majority of international views, the EU considers that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. The abolition of the death penalty worldwide is one of the main objectives of the EU's human rights policy. In countries that maintain the death penalty, the EU uses all of its available tools to work towards the progressive restriction of the scope under which capital punishment is used and towards respect for the strict conditions set forth in several international human rights instruments, under which the capital punishment may be used.
The EU was instrumental in lobbying for the 2007 UN resolution calling, for the first time, for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The EU also lobbied for a second resolution in 2008. In addition, the EU has established a European day against the death penalty – the first of which took place on 10th October 2008. The date coincides with the World Day Against the Death Penalty.
The EU plays a key role in the fight against torture. The EU defines torture in accordance with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The EU also labels any pain or suffering arising from, lawful or other inherent sanctions, as ill treatment which equals torture.
In this context, the EU urges States worldwide to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the UN convention against Torture – the most important development in this area in recent years.
The EU attaches great importance towards children and the rights of children. To this end, the European Commission is currently developing, together with UNICEF, a toolkit that will provide practical tools to integrate children's rights into a range of political, legal and budgetary programmatic actions. Already in the developing world, the EU has initiated a wide range of measures to promote children's rights and needs.
The EU funds its human rights activities primarily through the European Instrument on Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). This instrument provides funding for civil society actors worldwide working to promote human rights. The EU through EIDHR is, among other things, the leading global donor supporting both the international campaign against the death penalty and rehabilitations centres for the victims of torture both in EU Member States and in countries outside of the EU.