About the campaign

HRDN campaign Stand for HRDs

Defending the international interests of the EU and its member states cannot be dissociated from the defense of human rights in the world. Authoritarian governments are investing huge efforts and resources to close down, silence, restrict and discredit human rights defenders and independent civil society critical of government policies. This is a crucial political moment. We need a more consistent and credible political response from governments active in the defence of democracy and human rights, who must give the same priority and resources to enabling space that autocrats give to closing it down. The EU has made the protection of human rights defenders at risk one of its key priorities. It must renew and reinvigorate this commitment with: more high profile political leadership, a consistent strategy that integrates a serious priority for the protection of human rights defenders across a number of policy areas, and sustained practical support to those under attack on the front line.

The timing for a new strategy is now: The VP/HR has stated that HR will be one of her overarching priorities and that she intends to use them as a compass with regard to all relations with third countries; whereas she has also reiterated the EU’s commitment to promoting human rights in all areas of foreign relations ‘without exception’. The EEAS, EC and Member states last year reviewed their implementation of the EU Guidelines on HRDs and concluded on the need for a renewed commitment, including reaching out to new categories of defenders. EU and MS are about to adopt a new Plan of Action to implement the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, and are reviewing third-country human rights local strategies and CSO roadmaps (?). The EU Special Representative for Human Rights' mandate has just been renewed. EU & MS are also looking at how to carry out the commitment to adopt a human rights based approach to development, and how to have explicit references to freedom of association and expression in the post-2015 development agenda.

The EP has just adopted its latest Annual Report on Human Rights, which contains a new impetus for its own approach regarding defenders and its role in monitoring and impulsing the work of the EU. The UN's new Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders has expressed his desire to work more closely with the EU on defenders, and will soon issue a report analysing how the EU is implementing its Guidelines on HRDs, with recommendations, based on a worldwide consultation. NGOs themselves have spent the last year analysing trends, adapting their strategies and reinforcing their support for their partners in difficult countries. Carrying out this campaign in coordination through the HRDN will allow NGOs to highlight HRDs in all their different areas of focus; benefit from the group influence and momentum; tie-in with the EU's competence in trade issues, position as n°1 provider of aid, and potential for a coordinated CFSP approach.

A reinforced strategy at EU level should include:

  • a clear strategy on how the EU can pursue the release of jailed human rights defenders, and the protection of those at risk because of their work.
  • to be regularly reviewed by the VP/HR and EU foreign ministers in the Foreign Affairs Council, including a strengthened approach to public diplomacy; Including permanent monitoring through a list of urgent cases;
  • and the rapid establishment of the EP internal working group on jailed activists worldwide.
  • a clear vision on implementing the commitment to ensuring human rights and democracy strongly features in all aspects of the EU’s relations with all its partners, including strategic ones, beginning with the following fields, and at the highest level including summits and key meetings (including as asked by the EP, ensure that the cases of jailed human rights defenders are raised in all high-level EU-third country meetings, including Cooperation Council / Association Council meetings):
  • trade/energy relations, including:
    • business and human rights and not engaging with and funding perpetrators of human rights abuses
    • implementation of the human rights and democracy clause: including the inclusion of human rights' defenders' consultation, and impact of violations regarding HRDs, freedom of expression and freedom of association on the continuation and form of the agreements;
      • development cooperation: inclusion of specific commitments at the level of country strategies or specific programmes/projects on freedom of expression and association, to be monitored by civil society;

      3. a clear strategy to robustly counter restrictions on freedom of assembly and association and attacks on HRDs, including bans on civil society organisations, aggressive use of criminal defamation laws and other restrictive laws, excessive registration and reporting requirements, overly restrictive rules on foreign funding, prohibitions on NGOs from engaging in political activities or having contact with foreigners, misuse of anti-terrorism laws, and judicial and personal harassment of HRDs. Also in countries where the EU has political or strategic interests, e.g. Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Rwanda, India...;

      We ask that in doing this, the EU place its efforts also in finding ways to build a broader coalition with Governments outside the West in support of human rights defenders/space for independent civil society, and with other actors such as the UN Special Rapporteur for HRDs, as well as ensure a much greater visibility of its action, It should also include increasing the practical support to human rights defenders at risk and ensuring that can be delivered in a flexible manner;

      EU action should clearly, unequivocally receive support from the highest political and administrative levels and ensure it is coordinated and burden-shared with Member States – to be discussed and agreed in a dedicated six-monthly FAC, reviewed yearly and supported by PSC and Cohom/other CWG reviews. The language around the protection of HRDs may need to move out of a "values" focus towards a "strategic interest" one.