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EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders
Monday, 16 August 2010 10:23


The European Union (EU) adopted the Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in June 2004 and in 2006 undertook a review of their implementation.


The purpose of the Guidelines is to guide EU action regarding human rights defenders. The Guidelines identify practical ways for the EU to support and assist human rights defenders working in third (non-EU) countries. EU missions abroad (embassies and consulates of EU member States and European Commission delegations) implement the Guidelines. These can be used with third countries at bilateral and multilateral level. They are useful to support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the regional mechanisms for human rights defenders protection.


The Guidelines adopt the definition of defender provided by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders ("individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms") and identify practical ways to work towards the promotion and protection of human rights defenders in third countries in five different areas:

Monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights defenders

Missions report to the Council Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM), which may adopt action recommended by the mission, including condemnation of attacks against defenders, protests through diplomatic channels, or public statements.

Support and protection of human rights defenders

EU missions act as the main link between EU institutions and defenders and can maintain contact with defenders (i.a. by appointing a liaison officer), provide visible recognition to human rights defenders through appropriate publicity, visits or invitations, and attend and observe trials of defenders.

Human rights defenders promotion with third countries and in multilateral fora

The EU objective is to influence third countries in order to create a favourable environment for human rights defenders activities. For example, EU delegations, during visits to third countries, can meet with defenders and raise individual cases. The human rights component of political dialogue should include human rights defenders.

Support for the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council

Action in support of special procedures includes encouraging States to accept requests for country visits by special procedures; promoting the use of special procedures by defenders, facilitating access and exchange of information; supporting allocation of sufficient funds to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Support through other EU programmes, including development policy

Action includes supporting human rights defenders through capacity building and public awareness campaigns; supporting the establishment of national human rights institutions; assisting in the establishment of a human rights defenders network at the international level; seeking to ensure that human rights defenders in third countries can access resources from abroad; and ensuring that human rights education includes the promotion of the Human Rights Defenders Declaration


The Guidelines highlight that the work of human rights defenders often involve criticism of government's actions and policies. This is important, considering the existing trend of criminalisation of human rights defenders. Important is also the recognition of the need to ensure the safety of defenders, who have become the target of attacks because of their work, and to adopt a gender perspective when approaching the issue of human rights defenders.


Unfortunately, the Guidelines are often not known by human rights defenders in third countries and by the EU missions themselves. There are gaps both in the protection they offer and in their implementation. To give an example, there is no reference to the granting of humanitarian visas to defenders at serious risk and there are no follow up mechanisms. To remedy in part to this situation, the EU has undertaken a review of the implementation of the Guidelines.


Here you can access the EU Guidelines in English, French and Spanish.

Here you can access the implementation review outcome document in English, French and Spanish.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 23 June 2011 09:07
© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2019