Mapping legal and policy instruments of the EU for human rights and democracy support

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Churruca Muguruza, Cristina
Gómez Isa, Felipe
García San José, Daniel
Fernández Sánchez, Pablo Antonio
Márquez Carrasco, Carmen
Muñoz Nogal, Ester
Nagore Casas, María
Timmer, Alexandra
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This report is devoted to the mapping of legal and policy instruments of the EU for human rights and democracy support. In particular, it highlights the EU´s human rights priorities in terms of themes and vulnerable groups in its external action based on a review of EU policy documents and literature. In order to do so the report first identifies the instruments that set up the frame of the human rights and democracy policy. The framework of the EU’s human rights and democracy policy is presided by the Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, which establishes the principles, objectives and priorities that must guide the EU’s action. Two general objectives, each with a different scope, can be identified in the Strategic Framework: the EU’s and its Member States’ commitment to promote the universality of human rights and the EU’s determination to promote human rights and democracy in its external action. In addition, the Strategic Framework highlights some areas of action which identify specific objectives and priority themes and groups. Although the Strategic Framework is on human rights and democracy, the emphasis throughout the document is on human rights, not on democracy. Democracy is ‘an aspiration’ that it is not defined. There are other relevant documents that set out the EU´s human rights and democracy policy. As well as general policy papers on mainstreaming human rights and promoting human rights and democracy in the EU external action, there are specific human rights guidelines on priority themes and vulnerable groups and human rights strategies towards particular third countries. In order to implement its human rights and democracy policy, the EU has developed a broad range of instruments. Some of them have been especially created in order to contribute to the specific objective of the promotion of human right and democracy worldwide; in particular, the EIDHR, the human rights clauses, the human rights focal points in EU Delegations, the EUSR for Human Rights, and the human rights dialogues and consultations. Moreover, the EU uses other traditional instruments of its CFSP to promote human rights and democracy in its relations with third countries. These instruments respond to the EU’s objective of mainstreaming human rights and democracy in all its policies and actions toward third countries. Among them, those that should be highlighted are the EU’s action in multilateral fora, bilateral political dialogues, démarches and declarations, election support, CFSP decisions, restrictive measures and, finally, thematic and geographic financial programmes. Regular assessment of the implementation of the EU’s human rights and democracy policy is one of the outcomes stated in the Action Plan. This evaluation of policy is mainly carried out through one specific instrument: the EU’s Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the world. In addition, as a consequence of the EU’s approach to put human rights at the core of its external action, human rights and democracy promotion constitute also an important part of other EU’s Annual Reports relating to other external policies, such as CFSP and Development. In addition to the general policy on human rights and democracy, the EU has developed specific policies in some priority themes and towards particular vulnerable groups. This report examines them individually starting with a historical perspective and considers the internal and external dimensions and the financial instruments, and the priority themes that have been translated into actions in the Action Plan. It analyses the promotion of freedom of expression online and offline, the promotion of freedom of religion or belief, the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and human rights, the support for the abolition of the death penalty, the eradication of torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the promotion of administration of justice and compliance with IHL, responding to violations and ensuring accountability, and the effective support to human rights defenders. The majority of them are long-established objectives of the EU’s human rights policy, but this does not imply that, since its formation, the EU has always devoted attention to the same particular issues. In fact, the contrary is often the case and in most of the cases the EU follows the development of events at the international level as it identifies key issues. Generally, the identification of the themes as a priority has been accompanied by the adoption of human rights guidelines providing legal and operational guidance to the EU’s work in its relations with third countries. However, there are some themes that have not been covered yet by guidelines. This shows the differences in the EU policy developments between the different thematic priorities. In particular, a thematic area in which coherence of the EU’s policies is called into question is the promotion of ESCRs. The EU continually emphasises the need to promote the indivisibility of human rights and the need to protect and promote both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. However, a trend towards the marginalisation of EU policies in this field, both at domestic and international level, can be identified. Further research will be needed in this regard. This report analyses as well the most recent and the most important instruments regarding vulnerable groups. In this regard, it focuses on LGBT’s, children, Roma, asylum seekers and refugees, persons with disabilities, and women, looking at the applicable legal framework and a historical overview of policy developments and the internal and external EU policies towards these groups. The analysis of EU documents shows that the EU does not conceive vulnerability as an enduring and universal aspect of the human condition, but as something that some particular groups suffer from. In connection with the priority groups identified in the policy formulation documents, the term ‘vulnerable groups’ is routinely used in the EU policy documents but there is no real reflection on the content of this term. The EU tends to focus on protecting groups in extremely vulnerable situations, but the focus seems to lie less on empowerment of these vulnerable groups, although increased participation is an EU-goal for several of these groups. On the other hand, vulnerability results from the interaction between marginalised groups and dominant groups: vulnerable groups are ‘created’ by dominant groups. However, the EU human rights and democracy policy documents show little awareness of this dynamic.
democracy, human rights, European Union, legal instruments, political instruments