EU Human Rights Guidelines

The EU Foreign Ministers have developed Guidelines regarding a number of human rights themes which are of particular concern to the EU. These Guidelines offer direction and concrete tools for coherent action to EU and Member States actors when promoting the particular human rights theme.

Abolition of the Death Penalty: The worldwide abolition of the death penalty is a priority for Austria and the EU. On the basis of Guidelines first adopted in 1998, the EU intervenes vis-à-vis third countries and in multilateral fora such as the UN for a moratorium or a general abolition of the death penalty, as well as against the carrying out of executions in individual cases. In any event, the EU demands fair trials and the prohibition of secret executions. The EU Guidelines were revised in consultation with all EU Member States and adopted in their new version by the EU Council on Foreign Affairs in April 2013.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment: Pursuant to the EU Guidelines on torture, drafted in 2001, the EU advocates measures for combatting torture worldwide in multilateral fora such as the UN, and intervenes on behalf of individuals who have become the victim of torture, or are at risk of being tortured. The EU supports international and regional instruments such as the UN Committee Against Torture and the Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture. Austria provides financial support to the Voluntary UN Fund for Victims of Torture. The former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Prof. Manfred Nowak from Austria, now runs the project “Atlas on Torture”.

Human Rights Defenders: Based on the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders adopted in 2004 and revised in 2008, the EU supports the work of activists around the globe, who are promoting and protecting human rights in their countries of origin. The EU Guidelines encourage EU actors to entertain close contacts with human rights defenders in the particular countries and regions, the same as giving public visibility to their work. Openly displayed solidarity of the EU with human rights defenders in many cases contributes to the safety of human rights defenders at risk, as do EU interventions and declarations on behalf of individuals.

Children and Armed Conflict: In December 2003, the EU adopted Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict, in order to foster the protection of children affected by war and violence. Pursuant to the Guidelines, the EU promotes respect for international human rights standards and measures for the protection of children in armed conflict vis-à-vis third countries and other parties to a conflict. An implementation strategy and checklist for the integration of the Guidelines into ESDP operations were adopted under the Austrian EU Chairmanship 2006 and considerably strengthened EU efforts in this regard. Particular attention is also paid to combatting the recruitment of and fostering the reintegration of child soldiers. The EU finances, through the Office for Humanitarian Aid as well as the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, numerous programmes in third countries which aim at protecting children during and after armed conflict, including for example projects for the reintegration of child soldiers or regarding small arms and light weapons and anti-personnel mines. On 19 June 2008, the EU adopted a revised version of the Guidelines, which now also take account of the Paris Principles and Obligations.

Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child: The EU adopted EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child in December 2007. EU activities pursuant to the Guidelines aim at better respect and implementation of child right standards around the world, with particular attention paid to combatting all forms of violence against children.

LGTBI Rights: The goal of the EU Guidelines on the Rights of LGBTI Persons (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersexual), adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council in June 2013, is to combat the criminalisation and discrimination of LGBTI persons worldwide.

In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution on this issue, thereby recognising the rights of LGBTI persons. The resolution mandated the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to draft a report on violations of the rights of LGBTI persons, which was published in November 2011.

Freedom of Religion or Belief: In response to the increase in discrimination and violence on the grounds of religion, as well as of religious conflicts, the EU, upon an Austrian initiative, adopted Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief in July 2013.

The Guidelines include comprehensive and concrete instructions that enable EU and EUMS actors to determine problems related to freedom of religion at an early stage, and to react to them in a coherent and visible manner. EU activities relate, for example, to acts of violence against persons on the grounds of their religion or in the name of religion; restrictions to freedom of opinion and discrimination on the grounds of religion; the right to change one’s religion; as well as the support of human rights defenders.

Violence Against Women and Girls and Combating All Forms of Discrimination Against Them: Violence against women is among the worst and most widespread human rights violations worldwide. In order to address this issue more effectively, the EU adopted Guidelines on Violence Against Women and Girls and Combating All Forms of Discrimination Against Them in December 2008. The Guidelines aim at promoting gender equality and combating discrimination against women, at improving collection of relevant data, devising coordinated strategies and combating impunity of perpetrators. Austria is part of an EU Task Force entrusted with promoting the implementation of the Guidelines. 

Freedom of Expression Online and Offline: In May 2014 the Council adopted the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression online and offline, thus bringing a new addition to the family of EU Human Rights Guidelines. The Guidelines include concrete goals and measures, which help the EU and its member states to advocate for a better protection of freedom of expression towards third states. Austria contributed actively to the drafting process and made sure that Austrian priorities such as “security of journalists” and the “right to privacy in the digital age” are also prominently reproduced in the Guidelines.

International Humanitarian Law: In 2009, the EU adopted revised Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law. International Humanitarian Law are a set of norms and principles regarding the conduct of war which must be observed during armed conflict.

The Guidelines are addressed to EU actors and include measures such as the collection and analysis of data on compliance with international humanitarian law during armed conflicts; dialogues with third countries; visible reactions by the EU on violations of international humanitarian law; as well as activities supporting the prosecution of war criminals.