5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

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Mid-Term Review of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy

Mid-Term Review of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy

Progress so far and next steps until 2019

debate
D4
Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 18:00 to 19:15

Key points

  • The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2015-2019) protects human rights and supports democracy worldwide.
     
  • The Plan’s main components are the National Human Rights Institutions or NHRIs, and the EU’s trade policy.
     
  • Despite being extremely successful in some countries, there is still a need in some regions for more cooperation, better exchange of information and more awareness raising activities.
     
  • The GSP+ instrument, which is also part of the EU Action Plan, has been effective in protecting human rights, as countries benefiting from it are wary of breaking the rules. 

Synopsis

The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2015-2019) reaffirms the EU’s commitment to promote and protect human rights and to support democracy worldwide. This session looked at two of the Plan’s main components:

  • The National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs); and
  • The EU’s trade policy.

NHRIs are bodies independent of government and broadly protect, monitor and promote human rights in a country. Their functions include complaint handling, human rights education and recommendations on law reform. They are an important link between government and civil society as they bridge the gap between the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of the state.

Despite being extremely successful in some countries, there is still a need in some regions for more cooperation, better exchange of information and more awareness-raising activities.

NHRIs are regularly reviewed to assess their standards, with grades from A to C. Currently, just 3 7% of all countries have been awarded the A grade. It was argued that this figure needs to rise.

Various Directorate-Generals of the European Commission have provided both financial and political support to numerous EHRIs. Many capacity building projects have helped staff working at these institutions in their daily work. The Commission also wants to support NGOs working on the ground and make governments accountable for human rights violations.

When it comes to trade policy, GSP+ (the Generalised Scheme of Preferences) is the EU instrument that encourages developing countries to comply with such issues as human rights, labour rights and good governance in return for preferential trade access to the EU market.

The instrument, part of the EU Action Plan, has been effective in protecting human rights, as countries benefiting from it are wary of breaking the rules. It has received positive feedback from civil society as it gives them a platform to communicate to their government.

Human rights have now become an essential component of any Free Trade Agreement (FTA). However, if GSP+ is violated, action will be taken, and in the worst-case scenario, countries at fault can be suspended from their FTA.

There was some criticism of the EU’s trade policy. It was argued that the EU does not always apply its GSP+ commitments in all of its target countries. Results also appear to be lacking at times, with implementation being below expectations. It was recommended that more thought should go into enforcing the EU’s trade policy in some developing countries.

The Commission stressed that it is still seeking feedback for its mid-term review of the EU Action Plan and that it will soon publish its report, which will prove crucial for the Plan’s future success.

Insight

Human rights are being violated across the world. It is no longer enough to simply advocate for them. There needs to be fresh arguments made and new audiences targeted, as there is a decreasing appetite among some governments to defend basic human rights.

Organised by

    Mercedes Garcia Perez
    Head of Unit – Human Rights
    European External Action Service
    Birgitte Feiring
    Chief Adviser, Human Rights and Development
    The Danish Institute for Human Rights
    Nicolas Hachez
    Senior researcher
    Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies KU Leuven
    Nikolaos Zaimis
    Deputy Director General in charge of Directorates B, C and D
    European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
    Jean-Louis Ville
    Acting Director of Human Development and Migration
    European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
Photo gallery

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