Human rights defenders (HRDs) are crucial actors in the struggle for political, social and economic rights. Amnesty International believes that supporting and giving legitimacy to the work of HRDs is one of the most important ways to protect and promote the human rights of everyone. Since its creation in 1961, Amnesty International has worked with or on behalf of thousands of HRDs and much of the organization’s work has benefited from information and insights contributed by HRDs.

“Human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations in different parts of the world expect a lot from the EU. Rightly so: the EU as a value-based community can be expected to further the cause of human rights and democracy with great ambition.
Council of Ministers/European Commission, EU Annual Report on Human Rights 2006

Their position at the forefront of defending and promoting human rights often puts HRDs at particular risk of attack and intimidation. Amnesty International continues to work in solidarity with HRDs and calls on governments to take all legislative, administrative and other steps as may be necessary to ensure the rights and freedoms for the defence of human rights as set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

In this context, Amnesty International strongly welcomed the adoption by the European Union (EU) of Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (hereafter referred to as “the Guidelines”) in June 2004.(3) The Guidelines represent a unique commitment by the EU – both EU institutions and individual member states – to promote the principles in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in its relations with countries outside the EU. The purpose of the Guidelines “is to provide practical suggestions for enhancing EU action” in relation to HRDs. If properly and fully implemented, the potential of the Guidelines for bringing about change is very significant. The fact that all member states have agreed with them provides a strong basis for the EU to develop an effectively coordinated human rights policy.

The level of ambition has been high. Since their adoption under the Irish Presidency, consecutive EU Presidencies – The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Austria and Finland – have put the implementation of the Guidelines high on their agenda. In particular, as an outcome of its review of the implementation of the Guidelines in June 2006, the Austrian Presidency provided a valuable set of recommendations to improve the knowledge and application of these Guidelines.(4) However, the Austrian review also confirmed Amnesty International’s initial findings that there is a significant gap between ambition and actual implementation, especially at country level. Amnesty International therefore continued its monitoring of the Guidelines in order to contribute to their being used more fully and effectively. While this report briefly highlights the progress that has been made at central level, the focus is mainly on how the recommendations are taken forward at country level. In assessing whether the Guidelines are achieving their purpose, it aims to support the EU and member states in enhancing action for HRDs in third countries.

This report presents Amnesty International’s assessment of the implementation of the Guidelines mainly during 2006 based on research carried out in relation to eight countries: Angola, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Mozambique, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey. These countries were chosen on the basis of Amnesty International’s concern for the difficult situation of local HRDs as well as its estimate of the potential for EU action to make a positive difference. Although the situation in some of these countries is more serious than in others, in all of these countries the rights of HRDs have been violated in ways that warrant an EU response. Angola and Mozambique were included on the basis of research findings by the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa. The findings are based on interviews, conducted mostly in person, with both HRDs and representatives of EU missions (embassies of EU member states and delegations of the European Commission), especially representatives of the Austrian and Finnish Presidencies and the European Commission Delegation. In total, 43 HRDs and representatives of 41 EU missions were interviewed. The findings are also based on the concrete experience of Amnesty International and the other organizations in advocating for EU action in relation to individual cases in these countries.

Amnesty International’s main conclusion is that, while there have been numerous positive initiatives by successive EU Presidencies to promote the Guidelines, the Guidelines have yet to be sufficiently employed on the ground for the purpose of enhancing EU efforts to support and protect HRDs. There are examples of good practice in all of the countries examined in this research, but the overall picture is patchy and the implementation of the Guidelines has yet to be prioritized and systematized. After the first phase of the implementation process of the Guidelines, during which the focus was on generating political support and concrete suggestions for making the Guidelines operational, there is now a dire need for a focus on implementation at country level, for which the efforts of not only EU institutions (Presidency and Commission), but also of EU member states, are needed. Amnesty International believes that the Guidelines will only be effective if their implementation is consistent across the full diversity of situations in third countries, and if all individual EU member states play an active role.

After a brief description of the Guidelines, the report examines the implementation of the Guidelines both in terms of concrete actions to support and protect HRDs as well as policy processes and procedures. In each section, Amnesty International presents its findings and makes recommendations towards EU institutions and member states. Where possible, the report provides examples which could be emulated elsewhere. The report ends with a summary and conclusion.