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EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy Adopted

02 December 2020

The NHC welcomes the adoption of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024, and the stated commitment to “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights [as the continued underpinning of] all aspects of the internal and external policies of the European Union.”

Formally approved through conclusions by the European Council on 18 November 2020, the Action Plan sets out the EU’s ambition and priorities in this field in its relations with third countries and is viewed as a reaffirmation by the Council of the EU’s long-standing commitment to further advancing universal values for all.

“With the new Action Plan, the European Union rightly recognizes the pushback against, and backsliding in, respect for human rights and the rule of law that has seen a measurable upsurge in recent years – both outside and within the Union. It remains to be seen whether all EU member states will fully embrace the objectives outlined in the plan and take concrete action to uphold the fundamental values to which they have committed when joining” – Kirsten Meersschaert, NHC Programme Manager for Human Rights Defense.

To ensure that human rights will not be ignored, the Council’s Conclusions state that the EU and its member states will use the full range of their instruments, in all areas of external action, to strengthen the EU’s global leadership in the field of human rights and democracy and in the implementation of the EU Action Plan. “The priority to establish an EU human rights sanctions regime to address serious violations of human rights wherever they occur is also a welcome addition to the EU’s toolbox of means to ensure accountability,” Meersschaert added.


The new Action Plan builds on previous human rights & democracy action plans and retains the focus on long-standing priorities such as supporting human rights defenders and the fight against the death penalty, while also recognizing the changing context in which the EU works, where both new technologies and the link between global environmental challenges and human rights have become much more prevalent.

The new Action Plan is organized around five overarching priorities:

  • Protecting and empowering individuals, including through:
    • Protecting people, eliminating inequalities, discrimination and exclusion
    • Empowering people
    • Promoting fundamental freedoms and strengthening civic and political space
    • Reinforcing economic, social, cultural and labour rights
    • Supporting the rule of law and the fair administration of justice
    • Closing the accountability gap, fighting impunity and supporting transitional justice
  • Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies, including through:
    • Enhancing democratic, accountable and transparent institutions
    • Promoting responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making
    • Supporting independent and pluralistic media, access to information and the fight
    • Reinforcing a human rights and participative approach to conflict prevention and crisis resolution
  • Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy, including through:
    • Multilateral cooperation
    • Regional partnerships
    • Bilateral cooperation
    • Civil society and National Human Rights Institutions
    • Business sector
    • Compliance with international human rights and international humanitarian law
  • Harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges that come with new technologies, including through:
    • Capacity-building and effective monitoring
    • Promoting human rights and democracy in the use of digital technologies, including Artificial Intelligence
  • Delivering by working together, including through:
    • Public diplomacy and strategic communication


The conclusions of the new Action Plan acknowledge that while progress has been made, the COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic consequences have had an increasingly negative impact on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, leading to a deepening of pre-existing inequalities as well as increased pressure on persons in vulnerable situations.

“As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, sustained efforts to uphold fundamental freedoms, strengthen democracy, and ensure the rule of law, are needed now more than ever. We look forward to seeing these words put into action by the EU and its member states, and by countries the world over.” – Meersschaert concluded.

Click here to read the Council’s Conclusions and the new Action Plan in full.