The EU and human rights

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The EU and human rights © EUThe EU and human rights © EU

The European Union sees human rights as universal and indivisible. It actively promotes and defends them both within its borders and when engaging in relations with non-EU countries.

The European Union is founded on a strong engagement to promote and protect human rights, democracy and rule of law worldwide. Sustainable peace, development and prosperity cannot exist without respect for human rights. This commitment underpins all internal and external policies of the European Union.

Within EU borders, those principles are embedded in the EU founding treaties, reinforced by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights adopted in 2000, and strengthened still further when the Charter became legally binding with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

Outside EU borders, the Lisbon Treaty stipulates that the Union's action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

Countries seeking to join the EU must respect human rights. And all cooperation (and trade) agreements with third countries contain a clause stipulating that human rights are an essential element in relations between the parties. These are only two examples illustrating how human rights represent a guiding principle for the Union's external action.

The EU’s human rights policy encompasses civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The EU is adamant about protecting the universal nature of human rights when questioned on ground of cultural or political differences.

Conscious that the respect for human rights cannot be taken for granted, the EU is throwing its full weight behind individuals and organisations promoting liberty, democracy and human rights throughout the world. It also actively engages in multilateral fora and supports efforts by regional organisations to further the human rights agenda.

In June 2012, the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy were adopted. The Framework sets out principles, objectives and priorities, all designed to improve the effectiveness and consistency of EU Policy as a whole. Together with the Action Plan, it provides an agreed basis for a truly collective effort, involving EU Member States as well as the EU Institutions. The Action Plan, which expires at the end of 2014, calls for targeted actions, which are at the same time measurable and accountable.

Every year the Council adopts its Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy. This report encompasses two parts: the first one is thematic, reflects the structure of the Action Plan and provides an assessment of the actions taken to address the Action Plan's priorities. The second part is geographical and covers EU actions in third countries, thus mapping in detail human rights situation across the globe.

With a financial support of €1.3 billion between 2014 and 2020 (Multiannual Indicative Programme pdf - 331 KB [331 KB] ), the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) supports, inter alia, non-governmental organizations promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law; abolishing the death penalty; combating torture; and fighting racism and other forms of discrimination.