Africa regional launch event for the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 – Keynote Address

EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024

Regional launch event – Africa


1 June 2021


EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

Keynote Address



Thank you Luisa.  Good morning everyone.  I am delighted to be with you today to talk about the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.  This Plan was launched at the end of last year, following its approval by all 27 Member States of the European Union.  It is the EU’s roadmap for our work outside of Europe on human rights and democracy until the end of 2024.


After its approval, we decided to bring the Action Plan to each region to build awareness, strengthen collaboration and enhance regional ownership.  This is because many of the actions in the Plan are joint actions that require cooperation and partnership at national, regional and multilateral levels.  So today, I would like to talk to you about what the Action Plan means for our joint efforts in Africa.


The European Union’s relationship with Africa is one of strategic partnership with shared interests as well as proximity.  It covers a multitude of layers, including human rights, peace, security, good governance, trade, investment, development, climate change, digitalisation, migration and human mobility.  We want to deepen and enrich this relationship.  The importance the EU places on our relationship with Africa was evident in the first visit undertaken by President von der Leyen to Ethiopia during her first week in office.


Human rights and democracy are a strong component of our relationship with Africa.  In addition to the Action Plan, in March last year, the EU adopted a comprehensive Strategy with Africa and just a few weeks ago, we adopted the Integrated Strategy in the Sahel.  In addition, the new EU-Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States Partnership Agreement, which will enter into force later this year, has strong provisions on human rights, the rule of law and good governance.  It is our experience in Europe that security and development are only sustainable in the long term when democracy, gender equality, the rule of law and human rights without discrimination of any kind are fully respected and protected.


The Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy is the third such Plan adopted by the EU.  To give you an example of what we seek to achieve, the following are just some of the actions we undertook under the lifetime of the last Action Plan:


  • We helped protect over 46,000 human rights defenders at risk.
  • We used our trade agreements and trade preferences to improve human rights and implement labour Conventions.
  • We advocated strongly for the abolition of the death penalty and executions have decreased by 58% since 2015.
  • We strengthen our efforts with financial muscle through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.  That Instrument has increased funding to over €1.5 billion for the next 7 years.
  • We deployed 98 Election Observation Missions around the world.


Each multiannual Plan is an opportunity to proactively plan for the challenges and opportunities we face and to re-energise our work.   This particular Plan comes at a challenging time for human rights and democracy as we are increasingly seeing both questioned and constrained in many parts of the world.


The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated this situation.  This is despite the fact that we are not talking about optional benefits.  Human rights belong to belong to everyone.  They are not European values or principles; they are universal, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Treaties.  As the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights makes clear, freedom, equality, justice and dignity are essential for all.


This a challenging time, but it is also an opportunity.  This is because the pandemic has shown us all, in a very real way, the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.   It has shown us that to protect life and health, we need to ensure many other rights. Placing human rights at the centre of our response to the pandemic will help make the crisis more manageable as well as help us to prepare for and address other major global challenges, such as climate change.


This new Action Plan is built on 5 pillars:

  • Protecting and empowering individuals
  • Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies
  • Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy
  • New technologies
  • Delivering by working together


Many actions have been priorities in our daily work for many years, such as the protection of human rights defenders, the abolition of the death penalty, the elimination of torture and many more.


But there are also new elements.  These include:

  • increased action on economic, social and cultural rights,
  • more emphasis on democracy,
  • greater focus on business and human rights,
  • more emphasis on the link between human rights and the environment,
  • maximising the benefits of digital technologies and minimising the risks,
  • further action on the protection and empowerment of human rights defenders and
  • greater emphasis on communicating what we do.


The 140 EU Delegations around the world, along with Member States Embassies, will carry out much of the work envisaged under the Action Plan.  All of these Delegations and Embassies are currently finalising country strategies, which will contain specific actions for implementation at national, regional and multilateral level.


What we do outside the European Union must be consistent and coherent with what we do within the European Union.  This is why the new internal European Democracy Action Plan complements the efforts and objectives of this external Action Plan.  In addition, the new internal and external framework on gender equality, the Gender Equality Strategy and the third Gender Action Plan, and of course the Rule of Law mechanism all strengthen and complement our external and internal efforts.


The new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime was the first action carried out under this Action Plan.  The first sanctions under this Regime have been announced in the past few weeks and included citizens and entities from South Sudan and Eritrea for torture, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings.


As the European Special Representative for Human Rights, I have a central role in guiding the implementation of the Action Plan.  In that, I believe dialogue, communication and cooperation is critical.  The Action Plan is not about imposing a model on anyone; however, we will raise concerns when needed and we expect our partners to do the same.


We are always ready to listen and work closely with others to improve and address our common problems.  This is certainly the case with Africa, where there are many positive examples of our cooperation on human rights and democracy.  Despite the circumstances of the pandemic, we managed to hold the EU-African Union human rights dialogue in December.  In follow up to that Dialogue, just last week I met with Commissioner Bankole, the newly elected African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security.


We continue to work closely with the African Union on a number of areas, including transitional justice, business and human rights and the protection of civil society space.  I commend the work of the African institutions on human rights and am very pleased we could be joined here today by Commissioner Sahil-Fadel of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.


Election observation missions are a highly visible demonstration of the EU’s commitment to supporting democracy and promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law in partner countries.  Despite the pandemic, in 2020, the EU deployed an election observation mission in October to Ghana.  Five election expert missions were deployed to follow electoral processes in Africa: in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger.  Capacity building and support were provided to election management bodies in a wide variety of countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Niger and Burkina Faso.   We also provided financial support to African civil society organisations to design and carry out domestic election observation or peace monitoring, jointly with local civil society; for example. in Burkina Faso or the Central African Republic.


The EU promotes international humanitarian law capacity building.  In addition, child protection aspects are integrated into training and other activities.  For example, at the EU training mission in Mali, the issues of child soldiers and the protection of children are covered as part of a training on international humanitarian law provided to Malian armed forces.  The EU has also contributed to the strengthening of child protection in the Central African Republic through supporting UNICEF’s actions in this area, in particular the reintegration of children released from armed groups.


On gender based violence, we are working closely with African partners on a number of initiatives.  For example, the EU has supported a project run by the Foundation for Human Rights to build the capacity of local stakeholders to deliver on their mandate around gender based violence and femicide in South Africa. The programme is currently implemented in 20 sites located in rural and peripheral urban areas of South Africa.


Racism is a global challenge that affects all regions.  I welcome the leadership shown by Africa in highlighting systemic racism.  In that context, Commissioner Helena Dalli participated in the 18th session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, to present the EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025.


As with every region, there are challenges and over the last few months, I have worked closely with the EU Special Representative for the Sahel on the promotion of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Sahel.   In addition, I have collaborated closely with the EUSR for the Horn of Africa to address human rights and international humanitarian law concerns in Tigray.


Civil society and human rights defenders continue to play a hugely important role in Africa, as in other regions.  Indeed, civil society and human rights defenders are critical to the successful implementation of the Action Plan. Your contribution and active participation are fundamental to making the Plan work.  I welcome your ideas, your suggestions and your input.


This past year has been a startling warning for all us on human rights and democracy, but we have clearly seen the vital importance of unity and solidarity.  An assault on human rights and democracy anywhere is our shared concern.  It is time to step up action.  I look forward to working with all of you in this endeavour and especially to the discussion today.


Thank you.