Support for human rights defenders (individuals, but also NGOs) is a long-established element of the European Union's human rights policy, and is built on the 1999 UN declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Human rights defenders are those individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect universally-recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. They seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and attainment of economic, social and cultural rights. They advocate and mobilise by peaceful means – sometimes putting their own lives at risk – to defend the rights of others.
EU support is aimed at providing assistance and protection. A set of EU guidelines on human rights defenders provides an overview of the EU’s role and aspirations, and has been translated into local strategies for EU missions in third countries. The guidelines can have a concrete impact on human rights protection ’on the ground’. They also provide for intervention by the European Union when human rights defenders are at risk, and propose practical means of supporting and assisting these individuals and NGOs.
Support for the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council is another important component of EU policy on human rights defenders. These include the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and regional mechanisms to protect them.
Financially, the EU supports human rights defenders through the EIDHR. Recipients of funding in the past have included a foundation for human rights defenders, a legal NGO focusing on human rights cases, an organisation of reporters raising awareness of human rights and regional organisations defending human rights.