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International Human Rights Day

Written by Joanna Apap,

Man holding cardboard paper with HUMAN RIGHTS title, conceptual image

© igor / Fotolia

The promotion and protection of human rights is a core and founding value of the EU and is at the heart of multilateralism – a central pillar of both the European Union and the United Nations system.

The international community observes 10 December annually, since 1948, as Human Rights Day – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, the celebrations will be even more significant, as 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and the 20th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration. It is also the 30th anniversary of the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize. Awarded since 1988, the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is one of the ways that the European Parliament (EP) supports human rights.

The Sakharov prize is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause. Oleg Sentsov (1976-), this year’s Sakharov prize laureate is a Ukrainian film director, who was detained on 10 May 2014 at Simferopol, Crimea, and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting terrorist acts against Russian ‘de facto’ rule in Crimea. Amnesty International described the court process as ‘an unfair trial before a military court’. Sentsov was sentenced because he opposed the illegal and forced annexation of part of his country by its belligerent neighbour, in a blatant violation of international law, and Russian international and bilateral commitments. His conviction has become a powerful symbol of the fate of the approximately 70 Ukrainian citizens illegally arrested and convicted to long prison sentences by the Russian occupying forces in the Crimean peninsula following its annexation

As part of its actions in support of human rights, the European Parliament debates and adopts an annual report on human rights and democracy in the world. Human rights and the promotion of democracy worldwide are top priorities for the EP, and fall under the remit of its Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), together with its sub-committee on Human Rights (DROI). AFET’s own-initiative report on the 2017 annual report on human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter (rapporteur: Petras Auštrevičius, ALDE, Lithuania) was adopted by the Committee on 12 November 2018, and is due to be debated and voted in plenary session on 11 and 12 December respectively. The report includes the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). In 2017, human rights were very much at the heart of the European Union’s external action. However, 2017 also saw a continued backlash, worldwide, against civil society, particularly journalists, a rise in misinformation and growing populism. The AFET reports calls for the continuous mainstreaming of human rights throughout the EU’s work both internally and externally. To improve the EU’s response to human rights challenges in third countries and in its neighbourhood, the report emphasises such areas as development, migration, security, counter-terrorism, women’s rights, combatting all forms of discrimination, enlargement and trade, as these require further political commitment and additional efforts to empower local actors, including the reinforcement of civil society and the protection of human rights defenders.

Further to its previous resolutions on annual reports on human rights and also its recent resolutions (amongst others): Addressing refugee and migrant movements: the role of EU external action (5 April 2017); Addressing shrinking civil society space in developing countries (3 October 2017); Progress on UN Global compacts for safe, orderly and regular migration and on refugees (18 April 2018); Media pluralism and media freedom in the European Union (3 May 2018); Parliament remains committed to improving its own procedures, processes and structures on human rights, to ensure that human rights and democracy are at the core of its actions and policies.

See below for the European Parliamentary Research Services most recent publications on human rights, which provide background information and analysis on the core principles in this area:

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