International Day of Human Rights Defenders and International Human Rights Day

Commemoration event

International Day of Human Rights Defenders and International Human Rights Day

 Address by the

EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

Friday, 9 December 2022


Vice Minister Coy, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen; good morning everyone.

It is a great privilege to be with you today, the day we celebrate the incredible work, commitment and courage of human rights defenders around the world.

Most human rights defenders are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I have been involved in the Colombian peace process for seven years and during that time, I have met with many human rights defenders. All were working to build a better future for themselves, for their families, for their communities and for their country.

This week I visited Buenaventura and met with people like Brayan Montaño Payán, a community leader working tirelessly in the San Francisco neighbourhood to support the local population, and particularly young people, in building peace.  I met with people like Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo, who is mediating between illegal groups to eliminate violence in the city. Both are doing extraordinary things that are making Buenaventura a model in building peace, not just for Colombia, but also for the rest of the world.

Whether you are a lawyer, journalist, environmental activist, priest, trade union leader, community worker or teacher, if you are working to defend your rights or the rights of others, you are a human rights defender.  Human rights defenders are critical to every healthy democracy. However, in Colombia, they have been one of my greatest concerns as EU Special Representative for Human Rights.  According to Indepaz, 171 defenders were killed between January and November this year. This is the same as all of 2021. More needs to be done to protect defenders and support their work.

Since 2019, the 16 ambassadors of EU Member States present in Colombia, the EU Delegation, Switzerland and Norway, has been running a campaign to enhance the protection of human rights defenders.  This campaign is called #DefendamosLaVida. Through this campaign, we have worked to end stigmatisation, and violence against defenders.

I warmly welcome the new Government’s commitment to the protection of human rights defenders and let me assure you, the EU will continue to strongly support you in your efforts.

This event today also celebrates the annual campaign to end gender-based violence. Every year, the campaign marks 16 days of activism between 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs to International Human Rights Day. Around the world, 1 in 3 women, have or will suffer violence during their lifetime. This is a reality even in Europe. No society or country can be truly peaceful or prosperous if it does not fully protect the rights of women and girls.

All over Colombia, I have seen the incredible work women do to promote human rights, equality, justice, peace and security. Women are central to peacebuilding and their meaningful inclusion in peace processes is essential. Women like the Mujeres Buscadoras, who are working through the Unit for the Search for Missing Persons to find missing relatives and friends and to find the truth.  Women like Vice President Francia Márquez, whom I met two days ago in Buenaventura. And women like the women we will hear from today.

Tomorrow we also celebrate international human rights day. Next year, it is 75 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights defenders are guardians of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And as we look forward to celebrating that 75th anniversary, we will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This will be an important moment to reflect on where we are, what we need to do and how we can do it better together.

There is no easy road to freedom, peace and justice. We know that in Colombia, that work has to be done by Colombians. But the European Union will work with you and continue to support you in building peace and promoting human rights, for as long as needed.

Thank you.