EU adopts Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy

EU adopts Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy

The Foreign Affairs Council adopted today a Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy with an Action Plan for putting it into practice. This is the first time that the European Union has had a unified Strategic Framework for this vital policy area, with such a wide-ranging plan of action for its implementation.

“Human rights are one of my top priorities and a silver thread that runs through everything that we do in external relations. With this comprehensive package we want to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of EU human rights policy. In order to help put the Framework and the Action Plan into practice, I have also proposed the appointment of an EU Special Representative on Human Rights and I look forward to a swift appointment,” said Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, upon adoption of the package.

The Framework sets out principles, objectives and priorities, all designed to improve the effectiveness and consistency of EU policy as a whole in the next ten years. They provide an agreed basis for a truly collective effort, involving EU Member States as well as the EU Institutions. The Strategic Framework also anchors a commitment to genuine partnership with civil society. The Framework is also designed to be as readable as possible, so as to be accessible to all citizens.

The key messages of the Strategic Framework are:
– Human rights throughout EU policy
– Promoting universality of human rights
– Pursuing coherent objectives
– Human rights in all EU external policies
– Implementing EU priorities on human rights
– Working with bilateral partners
– Working through multilateral institutions
– The EU working together

The Strategic Framework builds on the joint Communication entitled ‘Human rights and democracy at the heart of EU external action – towards a more effective approach’. This was adopted by the European Commission on 12 December 2011 following a proposal by Catherine Ashton. It was in turn the result of a lengthy process of consultations, dating back to the informal meeting of the EU foreign ministers (Gymnich) at Cordoba in March 2010.

The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy brings together 97 actions under 36 headings, prepared on the basis of consultations by the European External Action Service, involving the European Commission and EU Member States, which are jointly responsible for implementation. Informal consultations have also been held with MEPs and NGOs.  The Action Plan and covers the period until 31 December 2014.

One of the commitments of the Action Plan is that the EU should present its performance in meeting its objectives in its annual report on human rights and democracy in the world. This should give an opportunity to all stakeholders in EU policy, including civil society, to assess the impact of EU action and contribute to defining future priorities.

Adoption of the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy represents a watershed in EU policymaking. The EU has a long catalogue of statements on human rights and democracy, but these have tended to focus on particular issues or countries.  Over time, the EU has also developed a range of ‘guidelines’ and other policy guidance, but it is the first time that a unified strategic document has been adopted. It shows the EU delivering on the promise of the Lisbon Treaty, which introduced the following commitment:

“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.”

In order to contribute to implementation of the Strategic Framework and the Action Plan, the High Representative has proposed the appointment of an EU Special Representative on Human Rights. The aim of this is to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of EU human rights policy. For reasons of continuity, an initial appointment of 2 years has been proposed. The EUSR should have a broad, flexible mandate, giving the ability to adapt to circumstances, and should also work closely with the EEAS, which will provide full support.

More information is available at
– Council conclusions on Human Rights and Democracy:
– EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and democracy:



EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy

 As the world’s biggest aid donor, the EU actively supports human rights and democracy:

• EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights)
This has a budget of € 1.104 billion for 2007-2013.  Its key objectives are to enhance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in countries and regions where they are most at risk, and to strengthen the role of civil society in promoting human rights and democracy. 

• Instrument for Stability (IfS)
This has a budget of € 2.062 billion for 2007-2013.  It is designed to address a number of global security and development challenges by financing actions that re-establish stability in emergency situations, where human rights are particularly at risk.

• European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI)
The ENP aims to strengthen the prosperity, stability and security of Europe’s neighbourhood.  It has an overall budget of almost € 12 billion for the period 2007-2013.  One of its three strategic objectives is supporting democratic transition and promoting human rights.

• Development Cooperation Instrument
This has a budget of €16.9 billion for the period 2007-2013.  It includes a thematic programme “Non-state actors and local authorities in development”, which aims at encouraging inclusion of all actors, especially vulnerable and marginalised groups.

• European Development Fund (EDF)
This has a total budget of € 22.682 billion for the period 2008-2013, for providing development aid in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.  It covers several priorities, including policies for support to human rights and democracy and gender issues.

• CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy) Budget
This has a total budget of € 1.740 billion for 2007-2013, covering a range of activities, notably in crisis management, including strengthening the rule of law.  The EU currently has ten civilian missions around the world, from Bosnia & Herzegovina to Afghanistan.

The EU has a range of practical ways for supporting human rights and democracy:

• Policy guidelines
These have been agreed unanimously by the Council of the EU on the following subjects:
– Death penalty
– Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
– Human Rights dialogues
– Children and armed conflict (CAAC)
– Human Rights Defenders
– Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child
– Violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them
– Promoting compliance with International Humanitarian Law
Under the EU Action Plan, work is due to start on: Freedom of Religion and Belief; rights of persons who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual (LGBT); Freedom of Expression.

• Human rights focal points in EU Delegations
The network of human rights focal points is nearly complete: 116 EU Delegations already have one, and many have two, in both their political and cooperation sections.

• Human rights clause in EU agreements
The EU seeks to have such a clause in all its political framework agreements, such as Association Agreements and Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, with third countries.  The clause provides that human rights constitute an essential element of the agreement.

• Human rights dialogues and consultations
The EU conducts dedicated human rights talks with nearly 40 countries around the globe (the longest standing, begun in 1995, being with China).  Their main aim is to improve the situation on the ground, but also to better understand local conditions.  Human rights issues are also, of course, raised in other forms of political dialogue up to Summit level.

• Declarations and demarches
The EU makes extensive use of public declarations to put across its concerns or to welcome positive developments.  In other cases, when it judges that this will be more effective, the EU may prefer to “demarche”, or make private representations to non-EU countries.

• CSDP missions and operations
The EU mainstreams human rights and a gender approach into its crisis management missions and operations, with a view to ensuring effective and sustainable results.

• Election observation missions
Since 1993 the EU has conducted more than 110 observation missions.  Their purpose is to assist partner countries in their objective to hold elections of a high standard, by analysing the electoral process and providing an impartial and informed assessment of the elections.

• Election expert missions
Given the number of elections across the world each year, the EU cannot meet every request for an election observation mission.  An election expert mission is an alternative menas of providing input for confidence-enhancing steps both during and after an electoral process.

• Electoral assistance
This follows the entire electoral cycle, rather than a specific election.  It provides support to the institutional capacity of Electoral Management Bodies, technical and material support to electoral processes, as well as the long-term needs of civil society.

• European Endowment for Democracy
This is set to be established in the near future as a private law Foundation under Belgian law, with its headquarters in Brussels. It will not be a European instrument and will act independently, though with backing from the EU and its Member States. Its purpose is to make it easier and faster for pro-democracy activists to obtain financial support from Europe.

• EU annual report on human rights and democracy in the world
First published in 1999, this catalogues EU work across the whole range of thematic issues, in bilateral and multilateral relations.  The report on 2011 is to be adopted on 25 June 2012, at the same time as the human rights package.  It contains more information on subjects above.