Is EU Defending the Defenders? New Amnesty International report shows that the European Union (EU) is short on its promises to protect Human Rights Defenders.

Human rights defenders face mounting deadly threats and attacks for defending the rights of all of us. At this crucial and challenging moment for defenders, new Amnesty International Report asks: is the European Union (EU) defending the defenders?

Human rights defenders (HRDs) are people – journalists, lawyers, health professionals, teachers, and activists – who defend the rights of all of us. They face many impediments and sometimes even serious danger for the work they do. The EU has committed to supporting HRDs and has a responsibility to them. But Amnesty International’s research shows that it is falling short on its promises.

The report has looked into how the EU and its member states delivered on the ‘EU HRD guidelines’ in Burundi, China, Honduras, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, where HRDs face serious challenges.

The report identifies many instances where the EU and member states adopted innovative approaches to support HRDs, enabling them to do their work safely and ensuring that those who threaten and attack HRDs know that they cannot do so with impunity.

However, inconsistent implementation of the EU’s policy means that they are falling short on their commitment to support and protect HRDs.

It’s revealed that although the EU is committed to supporting human rights defenders to work and live a better life, the support appears to lack overall strategy and consistency. In most cases, the European Union support to Human rights defenders is primarily reactive with little follow up and their decision to act on urgent security situation facing human rights defenders depends on so many factors that it becomes unclear when human rights defenders can rely on EU support. According to the report.

The report identified a variety of actions and ways in which the EU can support human rights defenders, but these are often not visible. At the same time, there is a lack of public statements in certain countries or statements which failed to reflect the gravity of the situation facing Human rights defenders.

The EU’s public actions and commitments to Human rights defenders do not always reach their target audience. For example, EU statements on human rights defenders are often not translated into local languages the report says.

The report challenged the EU Foreign Ministers to affirm their commitment to promote and protect Human rights defenders at all levels of their foreign policy. Annual Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions to set out a global strategy for EU action on HRDs and also Embed innovative practices within this global strategy. EU to be ready for new and emerging threats such as surveillance and harassment on social media. Any strategy should include ways to support HRDs with intersectional concerns such as Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), LGBTI defenders, Indigenous HRDs and HRDs working on land/ environmental/ territory or business and human rights. 

Furthermore, the report called upon the EU to prioritize the impact and reach of its actions to support HRDs, including through media and targeted social media. The EU should develop a global public communications strategy on HRDs.This should set out guidance and benchmarks on when, how and whom to communicate with.

Read full report

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