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EU takes global lead in protecting and supporting human rights and democracy


The world is rapidly changing and new challenges are arising, including universal rights. The European Union will never ever give up on its commitment to protecting and supporting human rights and democracy, moreover in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the contrary. The EU takes now the lead globally, with the adoption today of the third Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.


The Action Plan is a five-year roadmap setting the priorities of the EU and a strong signal about the political commitment of the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, the European Commission and the EU Member States to defend EU principles as well as agreed international norms and principles. “EU leadership on human rights and democracy is needed more than ever”, said Borrell.

This Action Plan identifies priorities around five mutually reinforcing lines of action:

  1. Protecting and empowering individuals;
  2. Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies;
  3. Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy;
  4. Harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges posed by new technologies.
  5. Delivering by working together.

Under each strand of action, the Plan sets concrete objectives to:

  • Keep the respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law at the heart of responding to the pandemic and supporting the global recovery;
  • Work towards the worldwide abolition of the death penalty;
  • Support and protect human rights defenders and their legal representatives, and address the impact of their work on their families;
  • Combat discriminatory laws, policies and practices, including the criminalisation of consenting same-sex relations;
  • Develop tools to detect and respond to early signs of closing civic space and democratic backsliding, including the use of digital technologies and counter-terrorism measures;
  • Support the development of child-friendly justice systems for all children;
  • Establish a new horizontal global human rights sanctions regime to tackle serious human rights violations and abuses;
  • Refine electoral observation methodology to monitor and assess the use of social media and other digital technologies during election campaigns;
  • Promote the accessibility of technologies for persons with disabilities.

This Action Plan addresses the new opportunities and challenges of our times, and therefore focuses on some new elements:

  • The link between global environmental challenges and human rights. By leading the international efforts to tackle climate change, the EU also advances a wide range of rights: to health, food, water, education and even life itself;
  • Leveraging the benefits of digital technologies and minimising the risks;
  • Stepping up economic, social and cultural rights;
  • More emphasis on democracy, including on the misuse of online technologies and shrinking civic and political space;
  • A stronger focus on human rights defenders and sharpened means to protect and empower them;
  • Engaging with the business sector on upholding human rights.

To fulfil these goals, the Action Plan can count on many assets, including 1.5 billion euros from the EU budget. The EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr. Eamon Gilmore, will guide the implementation of the Plan. The EU will leverage a broad range of policies and instruments, including human rights dialogues, trade policies, electoral observation missions, direct support to human rights defenders. It will count on its network of more than 140 delegations around the world that will work side by side with the embassies of the Member States. The progresses will be closely monitored, including through a mid-term review.

By adopting this plan, not only the EU institutions but also all the Member States have made a clear commitment to join forces and put the support and the promotion of human rights and democracy at the core of their action, including in the global mobilisation to counter the coronavirus pandemic. The Plan aims to protect and empower civil society actors, to promote the right of everyone to have access to infromation, to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and to curb inequalities by combating poverty and social exclusion, by promoting non-discriminatory access to social services, including quality and affordable health services.

“Defending human rights and democratic principles is a collective exercise, not a unilateral endeavour”, the EU High Representative stressed.

A web streamed launch event of the Action plan will be hosted by Mr Gilmore on Monday 23 November, at 14:30

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