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Democracy Week 2021 – Human Rights Based Approach: Toolbox Launch Conference

30 September 2021

In support and celebration of the renewed global democracy agenda, on 16 September 2021, the Directorate-General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA), together with the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), organized a virtual Infopoint event as part of the 2021 Democracy Week online conference series. A diverse group came together for the launch presentation of the updated EU Toolbox on the Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) in the context of international partnerships.

After a further introduction by Ms Chiara Adamo, Acting Director INTPA Human development, Migration, Governance and Peace, and a presentation of the main features of the newly adopted toolbox by Christine Lundberg, Quality Manager HRBA, we congratulated the teams on this meaningful achievement and shared many ideas and remarks around our shared goals and purpose – the strengthening of democracy through participation, non-discrimination, transparency, and accountability.

The guest speakers discussed the importance of the HRBA, as well as its manifold practical implementations. Overall, the inclusion of human rights as a topic for the 2021 Democracy Week was viewed as an exceptionally positive step in recognizing the HRBA’s ever increasing role in the protection and promotion of democracy.

Marie-Dominique Parent, Deputy Regional Representative of OHCHR Europe, reflected on the growing strength of the human rights-based approach within the UN – ever since the 2005 World Summit emphasized the importance of Human Rights as a main pillar, alongside Peace and Security, and Development. She illustrated the HRBA toolbox’s full integration within the design and implementation stages of the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks and the OHCHR’s work in developing Human Rights Indicators deployed at national and global level to monitor and assess progress (or lack thereof) for all relevant rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social.

“This is not a ‘ticking-the-box’ exercise, it’s not done once and never again. Rather, it’s a principled approach and a methodology to put people and their rights at the center of analysis and action. Applying the HRBA and applying a human rights lens is a commitment that must be continuously upheld.”

– Marie-Dominique Parent

Pepijn Gerrits, Executive Director of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, also welcomed the launch of the updated toolbox with enthusiasm and remarked that “there cannot be democracy without respect for human rights and for the rule of law.” Therefore, alongside the invaluable work of the organizations focused on international cooperation, he emphasized the crucial role a strong and independent civil society plays to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights within the local context.

The challenges we face are considerable, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing negative trends – we saw minorities suffering disproportionately, and the centralization of power and reduction in oversight led to a loss of vital civic space.

“The pandemic has acted as a wake-up call in demonstrating the centrality and the practical value of human rights in terms of safeguarding lives and livelihoods.”

– Marie-Dominique Parent

In order to ensure that the HRBA toolbox can successfully contribute to the building and maintaining of democratic societies, Gerrits noted that “it is critical to strengthen engagement not only on the part of the “duty bearers” (Parliaments, judicial institutions, independent State actors, etc), but also the “rights holders” (the constituencies).”

The UN Secretary General’s Call to Action for human rights and the new Common Agenda also recognized the centrality of ensuring transparency, accountability and meaningful participation of rights holders in decision-making processes without discrimination.

“In my view, the HRBA is a real catalyst for the effective and sustainable realization of human rights. It allows individual actors and organizations to initiate cross-sectoral dialogue on solutions to the most pressing human rights and democracy issues.”

– Pepijn Gerrits

Lastly, we closed our InfoPoint with a lively Q&A session moderated by Thomas Miller (Team Leader, Gender Equality, Human Rights and Democratic Governance Unit, DG INTPA), where attendees asked our experts about the HRBA’s implementation within their specific focus domain.

In sum, while it can certainly be a challenge to bring different stakeholders together in a global context where democracy is regrettably under pressure and civic spaces are shrinking, any step will be a step in the right direction. Therefore, to be able to get started along the journey, Gerrits further recommended a strategy of looking for feasible points of entry. Where the needs and interests of various groups do come together, it will be simpler to provide a space and starting point for dialogue.

Whichever the specific focus of any given initiative (human rights, democracy, sustainable development, rule of law, etc.), all speakers and attendees showed flawless alignment about one crucial point: it is time to act.

The conference can be streamed on the EU Commission’s website here, and the updated HRBA Toolbox can be accessed through the EU International Partnerships Academy here.