European Instrument for Human Rights and Democracy

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) was a little known but very effective thematic instrument of the European Union which directly supported grass roots civil society organisations in cooperation with the EU Delegation in country. Under the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), which promotes a ‘Global Europe’ for 2021-2027, EIDHR will be replaced by the Human Rights and Democracy thematic programme. Due to the success of EIDHR in addressing multiple human rights and democracy issues, which avoided funds going through governments, civil society organisations and especially human rights defenders have high expectations that this new thematic programme will be as effective as the EIDHR.

As the main instrument of support in the area of democracy and human rights, the EIDHR had 5 specific objectives: support to human rights and human rights defenders in situations where they are most at risk; support to other priorities of the EU in the field of human rights; support to democracy; support for EU Election Observation Missions; and support to targeted key actors and processes, including international and regional human rights.

One of the key values of EIDHR was the protection afforded to “Human Rights Defenders in situations where they are most at risk”. This enabled human rights defenders, and organisations to continue their work despite often being in vulnerable situations and frequently opposing governing regimes. Similarly, the EIDHR Human Rights Crises Facility supported civil society organisations in the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in some of the world’s most difficult, dangerous and unpredictable political situations. The EIDHR also funded the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism ProtectDefenders.eu which has provided support to around 45 000 human rights defenders at risk, and their families, since 2015. In 2020, the ProtectDefenders.eu mechanism consolidated its focus on women’s human rights defenders through a comprehensive gender strategy implemented across all its programmes, which also supports LGBTI Human Rights defenders.

At the heart of the EU’s human rights priorities is the global desire to abolish the death penalty. The EU has continually voiced its strong opposition to the use, in any circumstances, of the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty was a thematic priority under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. Funds channelled through civil society organisations worldwide contributed to training within the judiciary, public awareness raising, the creation of national networks, the monitoring of the use of the death penalty, advocacy for legal reform and dialogue on specific issues such as counter-terrorism and the fight against drugs. However, the European Union has continued to fund many countries through aid programmes or trade preference schemes who still employ the death penalty as a means of prosecution, and persecution. With these powerful incentives in their hands, it is incomprehensible that the European Union did not insist on the abolition of the death penalty prior to negotiations of any benefits. 

Likewise, the EU has continued to support projects worldwide aimed at eradicating torture and other ill-treatment. The EIDHR used a range of approaches to focus on the fight against torture, supporting actions to prevent or counter torture in various forms or settings and projects with a focus on torture risks exacerbated by discriminatory practices. Yet again, the European Union could have utilised its incentives of trade relations and aid programmes to apply pressure directly to governments, something civil society in many of these countries cannot do, without becoming the victims themselves; and something which would have added value to the work of civil society organisations. 

The financial value of the EIDHR programmes was significantly less than the benefits received by the countries who continue to conduct human rights and democracy violations. This not only contravenes European values but effectively endorses the actions of those countries who carry out the violations, thus making the European Union complicit in the crimes. 

The Human Rights and Democracy thematic programme, adopted under the new NDICI for 2021-2027, is the successor to the EIDHR. It is hoped that the programme will inherit the strengths of its predecessor by guaranteeing independence of action without reference to the consent of partner countries’ governments or other public authorities. Having a specific and effective and accessible instrument with a global nature that can operate in any country outside the EU is essential to addressing the declining situation of human rights and democracy in many countries. Ensuring that the tool remains specifically for local, national, regional or international CSOs, including non-registered organisations and individuals, in conjunction with EU Delegations and priorities relevant to the country will ensure the legacy of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights lives on. However, the European Union must also address its duplicity of standards if the world is to see real change. 

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