Born equal, yet striving for equality


In many places around the world, human rights and democracy are under threat. While we combat the global pandemic, multiple challenges are mounting in particular for the most vulnerable communities. As we celebrate Human Rights Day, the EU re-commits to stand and speak out for the oppressed and those under threat, wherever they may live.


This year we mark Human Rights Day under the theme ‘Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights’. The outbreak and response to COVID-19 pandemic added pressure on political and social systems and increased the vulnerability of already exposed communities. In these groups, we can find women and girls, indigenous peoples, LGBTIQ+ people, migrants and people with disabilities, human rights defenders, and journalists, among others.

‘Human Rights Day reminds us that human rights are universal, indivisible, inalienable, interdependent and interrelated. It also reminds us, however, that these rights cannot be taken for granted and that they must be continuously defended. The EU will continue to uphold the universality of human rigths and execise vigilance against any attempt to undermine international commitments. On Human Rights Day, we commit to re-double our efforts to stand with and speak out for the oppressed and those under threat, wherever they may live,’ High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell said in a statement to mark the day.

Last year, the EU approved the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, for the period of 2020-2024. No one should be left behind, no human right ignored is the motto of the plan; it enables the EU and its member states to use the full range of their instruments, in all areas of external action, towards the promotion and protection of human rights. One of these instruments is the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. In 2021, the EU imposed sanctions to persons and entities from China, DPRK, Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea and Russia, involved in serious human rights violations.

The EU also further expanded concrete support to civil society organisations and human rights defenders to advance human rights and democracy worldwide through a specific thematic programme, amounting to over €1.5 billion for the period 2021-2027, reaffirming its role as world leader in this field.

Working together, achieving sustainable results

‘The world needs a strong voice on human rights as we strive to rebuild the post-COVID-19 world. (…) The EU stands ready to do its part and we count on others to join us in this effort’

High Representative / Vice President Josep Borrell, when addressing the 46th UN Human Rights Council

A strong multilateral system with human rights values at its core is fundamental for peace, democracy and prosperity. The European Union defends a multilateral approach, particularly to address issues and concerns at a global scale. This year, the EU held its first strategic dialogue with the OHCHR to share updates on global human rights issues and explore ways to strengthen our cooperation in human rights towards a more effective multilateralism and rules-based international cooperation. In 2021, the EU also took the lead in United Nations human rights fora on initiatives aimed at addressing human rights violations in Afghanistan, Belarus, Burundi, DPRK, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Myanmar.

The EU continues to work with multiple partners to listen and to address concerns on the respect for human rights. The EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, chaired a number of human rights dialogues with third countries, to deepen political cooperation drawing attention to urgent human rights violations and promoting compliance with international humanitarian law and support for international criminal justice.

Meeting with human rights defenders is of the utmost importance in order to have a clearer understanding of the different contexts and reflect on what actions can be taken. Earlier this month, the EU co-hosted in the 23rd EU-NGO Human Rights Forum, where human rights defenders from all over the world discussed recommendations on a human rights based recovery from the pandemic, including how the EU can further protect civic space worldwide. Furthermore, EUSR Gilmore during his official visits to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Colombia and Brazil met with civil society, activists and victims of conflict giving them a platform to raise their concerns. He also paid special attention to human rights defenders from Belarus and Afghanistan, giving the very concerning situation in these countries.

EU actions to promote equality

The promotion of gender equality has been an important topic throughout the year. In 2021, the #GenderFriday campaign has continued sharing inspirational stories of empowerment of women around the world, many benefiting from the support of EU projects. In November, we also celebrated the first anniversary of the Gender Action Plan III. The plan promotes a transformative and intersectional approach, and mainstreams gender in all policies and actions.

As said by the EU Ambassador for Gender & Diversity Stella Ronner ‘Gender-based violence is a human rights violation and we aim to trigger action to end this global problem’. On the 25th November, the EU launched a campaign of 16 days of activism to call for the elimination of violence against women. Moreover, EU buildings were lit up orange to raise awareness and show solidarity for victims of violence.

‘Societies should be free from the fear of being who they are, in respect of the dignity of every human being’ shared EEAS Secretary General Stefano Sannino in a 60-second video challenge, explaining the importance of defending the human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons. Through the Fund for Human Rights defenders, the EU has supported 1500 activists in 95 organisations since 2015. In May this year, EU buildings shined in rainbow colours, to call out for the protection of human rights of LGBTIQ people.

This year also, as well, the adoption of the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child which was developed with contributions from over 10,000 children and proposes new actions to address challenges related to the support of children, and the protection and promotion of their rights both inside the EU and globally.

The effects of the pandemic have also increased the vulnerability of indigenous peoples. In 2020, indigenous human rights defenders made up nearly a third of the more than 330 human rights defenders killed worldwide. This is why they are a focus of attention for EU action as well.

‘The pandemic has made clear that the time for a new social contract has come. The respect of the principle of free, prior and informed consent, culturally appropriate social protection and sustainable natural habitat preservation must be part of the COVID-19 recovery plans’ stated EU HR/VP Josep Borrell.

The EU has been sensitive to the promotion of inclusive policies, resulting in accessible measures. Earlier this year, the EU took concrete steps to make its external actions even more inclusive towards people with disabilities. The updated Human Rights Toolbox addresses all inequalities, and more importantly, discrimination against persons with disabilities, specifically looking into the importance of collecting data disaggregated by disability in programming, and inclusive and accessible consultations mechanisms.


Respect for human rights is at the very core of EU principles. Their promotion and defence is a constant task and a significant part of the EU external action. The EU shows its support to all victims of human rights violations and remains committed to continuing to fight for a truly universal realisation of human rights for all, inviting all to join us in doing so.

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