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Human Rights in EU Foreign Policy

Estonia has actively stood for keeping its human rights priorities on the agenda during the shaping of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and participated as a burden-sharer on the EU side during negotiations about those topics with third countries in the framework of the UN. The EU has defined human rights as an important aspect of its foreign policy and Estonia has supported the EU’s achievement of important human rights objectives.

Respect for human rights, in conjunction with the principles of fundamental freedoms, democracy, and rule of law, is a cornerstone of the European Union. These universal and indivisible values were strengthened most recently by the ratification of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The member states of the EU are convinced that the primary duty of the international community is to promote this legitimate concern. For this reason, the EU pays special attention to respecting human rights both inside and outside the boundaries of the union. Adherence to human rights is expected from every state that wishes to join the EU. Also, all EU trade and cooperation agreements with third countries contain a clause that ensures that human rights is an important aspect of the relations between the two sides. The EU supports the activities of civil society organisations who advance human rights in the world through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). The EIDHR’s budget for the period 2007-2013 was 1.1 billion Euros. The EU participates collectively in UN human rights forums and comes out with important human rights initiatives while advancing human rights themes that are important to every person.

At the end of July 2012, Stavros Lambrinidis was named the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights. The main assignment of the EU human rights special representative is to represent the European Union in human rights questions with third countries as well as in international organisations.

EU Human Rights Guidelines

  1. Death Penalty
  2. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Demeaning Treatment or Punishment
  3. Human Rights Dialogues
  4. Children and Armed Conflict
  5. Human Rights Defenders
  6. Rights of the Child
  7. Violence against Women and Combating All Forms of Discrimination against Them
  8. International Humanitarian Law

Additionally, the EU is finishing a guideline for protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersexual (LGBTI) individuals and another one for protecting freedom of religion and faith; a guideline for freedom of expression, including internet freedom, is being put together.

Human Rights Dialogues

In order to prevent violations of human rights, the European Union prioritises dialogue and cooperation, but also, if need be, immediate intervention. By now, the EU has initiated over 40 human rights dialogues and consultation on five continents and these numbers are growing, thereby demonstrating the increasing importance of human rights in international relations.

EU Human Rights Strategy

In June 2012, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council approved the EU Strategic Framework (PDF) and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. The objective of the strategy is to make human rights and democracy promotion policies more active, systematic, coherent, and effective. The activities of the EU human rights strategy can tentatively be divided into four.

  1. First, implementation mechanisms such as national human rights strategies, targeted campaigns in priority regions, and more systematic cooperation with non-governmental organisations.
  2. Second, consideration of human rights in European Union policies such neighbourhood-, development cooperation-, and trade policies, crisis management operations, information technology, anti-terrorism activities, member state human rights policies.
  3. Third, partnership with non-EU countries and active participation in the work of international organisations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as systematic cooperation with the African Union, Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Additionally, the European Union holds over 40 human rights dialogues or consultations with different countries with the objective of advancing human rights in those countries.
  4. Fourth, speaking together, where coordination and division of labour among member states would help bolster the impact of the joint European Union activity in the protection of human rights.

On the multilateral level, the European Union is active in the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. More info about the EU’s activity in the UN. More information about the activity of the EU in the field of human rights can be found on the European External Action Service (EEAS) website.

Last updated: 6 May 2014

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