Respect for human rights, human dignity and the principles of liberty, democracy and the rule of law are values shared by all EU Member States. These values are also decisive for the Union's policies, both within and outside its territory. On the one hand, the EU safeguards the fundamental rights of every EU citizen and, on the other hand, it promotes human rights around the world.
Internal EU human rights initiatives
Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union states that fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and as they arise from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, form part of Union law as general principles. Within the EU, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, proclaimed in 2009, guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms. This Charter includes all fundamental rights which are binding for all EU institutions and bodies and also apply to national governments when they apply EU law.
The protection of fundamental rights is a cross-cutting issue, which is important in all areas of EU activity. This means that all Council bodies, whatever their level or the themes they address, must take it into account in their work.
In addition, there is a specialised body dealing with all issues directly related to fundamental rights: the Council Working Party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens' Rights and Free Movement of Persons (FREMP).Belgium is an active member of this Council Working Party.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), based in Vienna, provides independent, evidence-based advice to European and national policy-makers on these fundamental rights. The aim is to give the debate, policy and legislation on fundamental rights a solid basis and precise coordination. It advises the EU institutions and national authorities on fundamental rights, especially in relation to discrimination, access to justice, racism and xenophobia, protection of privacy, victims' rights and the rights of the child. The Agency is also committed to raising awareness and protecting fundamental rights throughout the EU. Belgium is represented at this Agency by the FPS Justicee.
External EU human rights initiatives
Promoting and protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law around the world are among the fundamental principles of the European Union. Respect for human rights is an essential element in all EU relations with third countries and international institutions.
For example, all treaties and agreements signed by the EU must comply with the human rights laid down in the EU Charter. This means that all Council bodies active in the sphere of foreign affairs must incorporate human rights into their work.
Moreover, the promotion of human rights is also a priority in itself. The EU Strategic Framework and second Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy forms the guidelines for the work of the EU. Instruments to support EU external action on human rights are the human rights dialogues with third countries and the thematic guidelines.
A specialised Council working party, the Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) focuses on the human rights aspects of the EU's external relations and supports the Council in its decision-making in this area. Its main task is to help define the EU's strategic priorities on thematic and specific geographical issues. It also coordinates EU Member States' positions on thematic and geographical issues in multilateral human rights forums, such as the Third Committee of the General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The working party also promotes the development of EU policies on human rights and democracy, and monitors their implementation around the world. Belgium is an active member of this Council Working Party.
Since 2012, the EU has a Special Representative for Human Rights to make the EU's human rights policy more effective and visible. They have a broad, flexible mandate, which can be adapted to changing geopolitical circumstances. The Special Representative works in close cooperation with the European External Action Service (EEAS), which fully supports his work.
The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights is the EU's financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world.
All EU activities to promote human rights and democracy through its external action are described in an annual report on human rights and democracy in the world.