News Item

How to better support human rights defenders in need of protection

Hurca! ©, 2023
Across the world, human rights defenders take action to protect and promote human rights. But many of them face persecution in their home countries due to their human rights work. As there is no common, consistent EU approach, it is often difficult for them to find safety in the EU. Lack of information and obstacles in obtaining visa are some of the main challenges they face, finds an EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report. More flexible relocation programmes and practical support would help.

The work of human rights defenders is essential for promoting human rights and democracy. Yet across the globe, many defenders face serious threats to their life, dignity and liberty.

Current EU law does not explicitly protect human rights defenders. There is no common, consistent EU approach.

FRA’s report on protecting human rights defenders at risk explores the difficulties defenders face.

It suggests what the EU and its Member States can practically do to help:

  • Use EU law better – the EU’s Visa Code allows Member States to grant visas to human rights defenders in need of protection. But countries use different approaches. To make it easier for defenders to apply, the European Commission could provide more guidance, translate it and publish it online.
  • Introduce or broaden relocation programmes – to offer effective protection, EU countries could develop and expand their relocation programmes. These should also extend to defenders’ family members.
  • Raise awareness – visa officers and border guards need more information about human rights defenders and how to support them.
  • Consider the impact of digitalisation – EU information systems to process visa applications should provide dedicated options for defenders.
  • Provide better support – to enable human rights defenders to continue their work while in the EU, EU countries should provide more support. This could include housing, access to health care, psychological support or a work permit.
  • Review current tools - the EU should assess if its current legal tools, such as the Visa Code or the ETIAS Regulation, effectively support defenders and amend them if necessary.

The European Parliament requested the report. It is based on research and expert interviews.

Quote of FRA director Michael O’Flaherty

"Civil society is essential to respectful societies that uphold human dignity. Yet we see worrying and growing levels of threat, intimidation and harassment. In 2022 alone, over 400 human rights defenders were killed because of their human rights work – and this is just the number of confirmed killings. We must do better to protect those who are fighting for respect of human rights."

For more, please contact: / Tel.: +43 1 580 30 653