EU increases support to the protection of human rights defenders worldwide

Human rights are increasingly under threat worldwide. Against this global backdrop, reconfirming the European Union's strong support to human rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy, and their defenders worldwide, Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen signed €30 million, a substantial increase, for the new phase of the EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism, in the presence of civil society organisations and human rights defenders, for the period 2022–2027.

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, said: “The EU stands for human rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy worldwide. Human rights defenders are the EU's key partners in making human rights a reality on the ground. Today, their lives are increasingly at risk because of intensifying crackdowns on fundamental rights and freedoms. These courageous individuals defending universal rights, including in the most dangerous and difficult of contexts, can count on the support of the European Union. The EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism will continue to save lives, protect human rights defenders, and support human rights work. I am proud to have signed today a commitment to significantly increase its funding – €30 million for the next four and a half years.”

EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism

The EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism is a critical EU programme for supporting human rights defenders around the world, a key priority of the €1.5 billion Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy programme. The Mechanism is managed by ProtectDefenders.eu, a consortium of 12 human rights NGOs. The additional funds will enable ProtectDefenders.eu to provide more at-risk human rights defenders with efficient, strategic and flexible support in the immediate-, medium- and long-term, including:

  • Physical and digital protection, legal and medical support, trial and prison monitoring;
  • Capacity development, advocacy, outreach, training on risk prevention and security, development of strategies (to counter restrictions, sanctions, defamation, or laws that seek to criminalise their work), situation monitoring and early warning;
  • Temporary relocation schemes in the EU and at regional or local level;
  • More focus on women, young, LGBTIQ and environmental rights defenders.

In 2021, the EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism saw an unprecedented increase in requests for urgent protective support from individuals and organisations confronting security threats. ProtectDefenders.eu delivered life-saving support and multi-faceted assistance to nearly 8,700 most at-risk human rights defenders and grassroots human rights organisations – 23% more than in 2020 – in 103 countries including in Belarus, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Since 2015, the EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism has assisted over 55,000 human rights defenders and their family members at risk in over 120 countries thanks to EU funding of €35 million during its first two phases. While over half of the beneficiaries are women and sexual minority human rights defenders, an increasing number of environmental, land and indigenous peoples' rights defenders receive support.

In its new phase, the EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism will incorporate the EU Emergency Fund for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. This EU Emergency Fund, which is managed by the Commission in close cooperation with the European External Action Service, provides emergency grants of up to €10,000 to human rights defenders and their families. Since 2014, the Emergency Fund has supported approximately 1,600 human rights defenders and their family members from about 100 countries.

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European Commission press service, Brussels.

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