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Protection of Human Rights Defenders: my report was adopted by a large majority in the committee

Human Rights Defenders are fighting for human rights, the rule of law, climate protection and democracy all over the world. This makes them our natural allies if we want to change the situation worldwide for the better.

However, Human Rights Defenders around the world are often not safe: They and their families are intimidated, subjected to smear campaigns, imprisoned on trumped-up charges and, in the worst cases, murdered. What can the EU do in this context? How can we better support and protect them?

This is the subject of my report, which was voted on today in the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The so-called implementation report examines the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and makes recommendations on how we can adapt these guidelines to changing conditions and apply them more effectively.

The EU has a responsibility

The main points of the report:

  • We need to apply our guidelines more consistently and update them where necessary. The reason: If EU institutions and member states alike act in concert, we can save lives and change structures – this has been shown in the past. One example is the campaign #DefendamosLaVida ("Let's defend life", link in Spanish), which is run by the EU delegations in Colombia and Mexico together with representations of 19 EU member states in these two countries. (Among other things, the campaign supports Human Rights Defenders, e.g. through visits and making their work visible, which also contributes to their protection).

  • So far, much of our human rights work has been reactive. But we must act before it is too late: Human Rights Defenders should not have to wait until they are under a concrete threat to receive assistance from the EU. That is why the report has a whole chapter on preventive protection measures and what governments can do better on the ground.

  • It is time to broaden the concept of "Human Rights Defender": Land and indigenous rights defenders and environmentalists should also receive protection and support.

  • Women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are often particularly vulnerable – we need to take this into account, as well as new challenges in the field of digital rights and surveillance.

  • Human Rights Defenders’ social circles (e.g. their families and relatives) is also often the target of attacks. We therefore extend protection and support measures to these people.

  • Unfortunately, the existing guidelines are not always implemented in a consistent manner – their application depends partly on who is in charge of the EU delegation in the respective country or what priority the local officials give to the issue. We need to remedy this: The implementation should be binding, hopefully soon also for member states’ embassies.

  • Human Rights Defenders need easier access to visas to be able to do their work well, e.g. to attend conferences or trainings within the EU. However, they are often denied hassle-free access to Schengen visas. In cases of acute or permanent threat, long-term multiple entry visas can be an important protection mechanism, enabling those under threat to continue their work. Here we call on the Commission to develop a joint proposal together with the member states.

Overall, the negotiations on the report have so far been very satisfactory for me and for us as the Greens/EFA Group: All groups in Parliament agree that Human Rights Defenders need more support and protection and that it is essential to update the guidelines.

Accordingly, the report was adopted by a large majority in committee today (50 in favour, 3 against and 6 abstentions).

Now it is time for the plenary vote – which will take place in March in Strasbourg. I will of course keep you informed!

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