Americas 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 – The Americas

 23 March 2021

 EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

Keynote Address


Thank you Aude. Good afternoon; good morning everyone. It is a great pleasure to be with you today to talk about the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy and what it means for the Americas.

Following its approval by all 27 Member States of the European Union in November last year, we decided to bring the Action Plan to each region. It is an external Plan for our work outside the EU, so building awareness about it is essential to our engagement and its success.

It was fitting that we start with the Americas, as there are no regions in the world as reciprocally integrated as the Americas and Europe. Our rich cooperation covers political dialogue, trade and development and it has brought our countries closer together. We share many of the same values, with some of the oldest democracies in the world found in the Americas.

Our new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy is an opportunity not only to reinvigorate the EU’s external work, but to enrich and deepen our cooperation with other regions on human rights and democracy, including the Americas.

This is a region I know very well, as in addition to my role as EU Special Representative for Human Rights, I have been the EU Special Envoy for the peace process in Colombia since 2015.

The new Action Plan is the third such multiannual Plan adopted by the EU. Each Plan is an opportunity to revitalise our work, to build on what we have done, to think hard about how to address current challenges and to proactively plan for the next 5 years.

The following are some examples of what we achieved worldwide during the last 5 years:

  • We pushed strongly for the abolition of the death penalty and executions have decreased by 58% since 2015.
  • We helped protect over 45,000 human rights defenders.
  • We deployed 98 Election Observation Missions.
  • We used our trade agreements and trade preferences to improve human rights and implement labour Conventions.
  • And we reinforced our efforts through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. That Instrument has increased funding to €1.5 billion for the next 7 years.

This work has made a real difference to many people. However, the EU is expected to do more, particularly now when human rights and democracy are under increasing pressure. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were witnessing a persistent deterioration in democracy and human rights.

While the pandemic itself has made clear the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, it has also worsened existing problems and generated its own human rights challenges. A recent report has found that a clear majority of the world’s countries are now living under autocratic regimes and democracy is under pressure.

The need for strong, coherent and collective action on human rights and democracy is more essential than ever. Respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law must remain central to the response to the COVID crisis and the support for global recovery. This new Action Plan sets out concrete objectives in this respect, as other crises will come and we need to be more resilient.

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
  • Deliver by working together

There are new actions, but many have been priorities in our daily work for many years, such as the death penalty, human rights defenders, torture and many more.

New elements 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,
  • how to mine the benefits of digital technologies and minimise the risks,
  • further action on the protection and empowerment of human rights defenders and
  • more investment in communication to create better awareness about what we do.

The Action Plan is not a one size fits all. The 140 EU Delegations along with Member States Embassies around the world will translate the Plan from paper to practice through concrete actions designed for local circumstances. These country strategies will be implemented at local, national, regional and multilateral level.

As the European Special Representative for Human Rights, I will have a key role in guiding the implementation at central level. And, I can assure you, we will work together with all stakeholders, including civil society and we will broaden engagement with other actors, such as sport, the arts, culture and the private sector.

While this Action Plan is external in focus, it must be consistent with what we do at home. No country or region has a perfect record on human rights and democracy, including the European Union. The Action Plan will be complemented by the new internal European Democracy Action Plan, as well as our 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.

Action will also be reinforced by the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. The new Sanctions Regime was the first action carried out under this Action Plan. And the first sanctions under this Regime have been announced over the past month, including further sanctions yesterday.

Dialogue with third countries is central to our action – the Action Plan is not about imposing a model on anyone. It is about finding ways to fully implement human rights and democracy obligations and commitments that all States have assumed, including those in the European Union.

We must look to others outside our borders, to ensure our own peace, freedom and security. Protecting the rights of our own citizens is not enough. Advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to the external action of the European Union because it is profoundly in our interest. 

We are always ready to listen and work closely with others to improve and address our common problems. But we will raise concern when needed. And we expect our partners to do no less. I believe we have constructive dialogue with all partners across the Americas. Even during the pandemic, we have managed to hold Human Rights Dialogues with a number of countries in the region. I myself co-chaired Human Rights Dialogues with Brazil, Colombia, Cuba and Mexico and held a number of discussions with the U.S.

I am pleased to see a re-centring of human rights and democracy in U.S. foreign policy under the new Administration and its return to the Human Rights Council. I hope in particular that the positive trends we are seeing in the U.S. on the death penalty continue towards full abolition. I also urge the U.S. to reconsider the current sanctions against members of the International Criminal Court.

We also have good cooperation with many countries in the region in multilateral action, for example on gender-based violence, rights of the child and the rights of LGBTI persons. Of course, we also work closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights throughout the region, as well as with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I am delighted Vice President Flavia Piovesan was able to join us today and I look forward to deepening my engagement with the Commission.

This Action Plan is not only about focusing on challenges. It is also about sharing what works. And there are many examples of good human rights stories across the Americas. At the end of last year, I addressed the second meeting of the signatories of the Escazú Agreement. This is not just an environmental treaty; it is the first treaty in the world to contain specific pledges on the protection of environmental human rights defenders.

And there are other positive examples – the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Costa Rica, the peace agreement in Colombia and the decision by the Colombian Government to grant temporary protected status to 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants. However, we are concerned about the situation in some countries, notably Nicaragua and Venezuela, where EU restrictive measures apply.

Although we see a vibrant civil society all across the Americas, last year Frontline Defenders documented 331 killings of human rights defenders with 75% of these murders in Latin America. We are more determined than ever to protect human rights defenders and civil society in the Americas.

We strongly believe that better protection and respect for human rights and democracy in the Americas, as in all other regions, will reduce inequality, poverty and social exclusion.

It is important to have a roadmap that fits our ambition and priorities for the challenging times we live in. We believe that this Action Plan fits that purpose.

We are at our strongest and most resilient when we work together. And I look forward to working with you all in this endeavour and especially to the discussion we will have today.

Thank you.