The EU's policy on Human Rights Defenders


Support to human rights defenders is one of the major priorities of the EU's external human rights policy. Human rights defenders are our natural and indispensable allies in the promotion of human rights and democratisation in their respective countries. 

The EU works to protect and support human rights defenders, who play a fundamentally important role in the promotion of human rights and democracy.

Human rights defenders, who can be civil society activists, journalists, bloggers, or anyone who works to promote human rights in a non-violent way, face increasing pressure in many countries, and are regularly subjected to intimidation, harassment and violence.

EU foreign ministers adopted Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in 2004, which were updated in 2008. The guidelines set out the EU’s role and aspirations for cooperation with human rights defenders, and propose practical means of assisting at-risk activists.

Diplomats at EU Delegations and Member State embassies meet regularly with human rights defenders, visit detained activists, monitor their trials, and advocate for their protection.

Dedicated Liaison Officers in EU diplomatic missions act as the first point of contact for local defenders, and their contacts details have been posted on EU Delegation websites.

The EU frequently highlights individual cases of human rights defenders in public statements and in multilateral forums, raises such cases in its political dialogues with partner countries, and urges its counterparts to ensure that human rights defenders are properly protected.

The EU’s political commitment to support human rights defenders is complemented by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) which provides dedicated financial assistance to organisations providing support to the work of human rights activists.

The EU provides direct, urgent financial assistance to human rights defenders at risk, through the EIDHR emergency fund for human rights defenders.

The UN is a key ally of the EU in its work to protect human rights defenders, and the EU is a strong supporter of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders. The EU cooperates closely with partner countries that have their own policies to protect human rights defenders, and works with the human rights mechanisms of other regional organisations, including the African Union, the Organisation of American States, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.