Sumario: 9 December 2011, Brussels - Human rights, democracy and freedom of expression are core values of the European Union. Embedded in its founding treaty, they were reinforced when the EU adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000, and strengthened still further when the Charter became legally binding with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.
The EU sees human rights as universal and indivisible. And it actively promotes and defends them, both within its borders and in relations with non-EU countries.
Countries seeking to join the EU must respect human rights, and all trade and cooperation agreements with third countries contain a clause stipulating that human rights are an essential element in relations between the parties.
The Union's human rights policy encompasses civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It also seeks to promote the rights of women, of children, of those persons belonging to minorities, and of displaced persons.
Freedom of expression, a fundamental pillar of democracies
"Freedom of opinion and expression is a fundamental right of every human being and an inherent part of human dignity. It is also a cornerstone of democracy and crucial for the free flow of information to which everyone is entitled," declared EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in May 2011. The EU calls on all States to proactively promote freedom of opinion and expression as well as media pluralism and independence. As the recent events in countries neighbouring the EU illustrate, it is thanks not only to the professional commitment of journalists and other media professionals, but also to the many private bloggers, that the world learns about the situation on the ground and people's aspirations for freedom and social justice.
EU support for human rights defenders
Support for human rights defenders (individuals and NGOs) is a long-established element of the European Union's human rights policy, and is built on the 1999 UN declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
EU support is aimed at providing assistance and protection. A set of EU guidelines on human rights defenders provides an overview of the EU's role and aspirations, and has been translated into local strategies for EU missions in third countries. The guidelines can have a concrete impact on human rights protection on the ground. They also provide for intervention by the European Union when human rights defenders are at risk, and propose practical means of supporting and assisting these individuals and NGOs.
Support for the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council is another important component of EU policy on human rights defenders. These include the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and regional mechanisms to protect them.
Financially, the EU supports human rights defenders through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) with a budget of €1.1 ($1.47) billion between 2007 and 2013. The EIDHR supports non-governmental organisations, in particular those promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law; abolishing the death penalty; combating torture; and fighting racism and other forms of discrimination.
EU Parliament awards 2011 Sakharov Prize to Arab Spring representatives
Human rights issues are also at the top of the European Parliament's agenda. Each year, the EU Parliament recognizes outstanding human rights defenders with its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In 2011, the prize was awarded to five representatives of the Arab people, in recognition and support of their drive for freedom and human rights. It will be presented to the winners by President Jerzy Buzek at Parliament's formal session inStrasbourg, on 14 December.
This year's Sakharov Prize event provides a timely occasion to discuss the powerful role of new technologies in the battle for human rights. It also serves as an ideal opportunity to look at human rights issues in countries in transition, especially in light of current international developments such as the Arab Spring.
To learn more about Human Rights Day, visit the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
For the Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, please go to: