Human Rights


EU Visa for Human Rights Defenders: Conference in Madrid

How can we help protect Human Rights Defenders by giving them easier access to EU Visa? I have been following this question for a long time. I initiated a conference in Madrid on the matter, which took place last week. I took part in a panel discussion on the EU framework on HRD protection and relocation and the European Parliament’s role. Moreover, I delivered the wrap-up remarks at the end of the first day of the conference.

For me it is clear: It is still way too difficult for Human Rights Defenders to obtain visa to enter the EU. Even if they make it to an EU country, they often do not receive the support they need. A study the European Parliament requested the EU Fundamental Rights Agency to draw up – based on my proposal – provides a number of recommendations to address loopholes and gaps which currently make the process so difficult.

The European Parliament has been very vocal on the issue of visa for Human Rights Defenders. Already in April 2007, Parliament made it clear how important it is to issue EU visas to Human Rights Defenders facing severe threats. And this year, I was rapporteur for an Implementation Report on the EU Guidelines for the protection of Human Rights Defenders, the first of its kind which is very clear in its call for an easier access to visas.

Commission considers update of the Visa Code Handbook

And there are more projects in the pipeline – for example a study of the Human Rights Subcommittee on options for facilitating access to visas for HRDs from third countries. The study, which is being drawn up upon my request, will focus specifically on HRDs who would like to come to the EU for advocacy purposes and to receive protection.

Right after the conference, the European Commission now appears to be considering an update of the Visa Code Handbook. This is a great success! An update of the Visa Code Handbook, which lays down the practical application of the EU Visa Code, will give more clarity, streamline procedures and allow for specific provisions that address the unique challenges HRDs face – a demand that was already included in my above-mentioned report on the issue.

I very much enjoyed taking part in this highly relevant conference, which was organised jointly by and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation in the context of the Spanish EU Council Presidency. Human Rights Defenders around the world are fighting for the very values that are so important to us in the EU – and we must do our utmost to protect them!

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