ENNHRI calls for stronger protection of rights defenders in EU Charter report submission
Each year, the European Commission publishes a report on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU. In its submission to the 2022 edition, ENNHRI emphasises the need for stronger protection of human rights defenders and outlines NHRIs’ potential role in monitoring if the spending of EU funds is fundamental rights compliant.
The upcoming Charter Report looks at civil society space and human rights defenders, a priority topic for NHRIs and a focus of their annual reporting on the rule of law in the EU. ENNHRI’s submission points out various trends – both positive and negative – reported by NHRIs in this area and how this sheds light on Member States’ compliance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Worrying developments include an overall deterioration in the enabling environment for rights defenders and civil society organisations. Laws and practices are being passed that restrict their work, while they increasingly face threats, smears and legal harassment. The latter includes strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP). Taken together with a decline in media freedom and pluralism, it is clear that rights defenders – including NHRIs – face major hurdles in applying the Charter at national level.
Despite these difficulties, NHRIs are taking clear action at national level to address the reported challenges. For instance, the German NHRI has started an initiative to strengthen democratic engagement with civil society organisations. In Greece, the NHRI supported the adoption of a bill on the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders. ENNHRI’s new online resource “Defending Human Rights Defenders” guides NHRIs on how they can protect and support human rights defenders like in the examples above.
There have also been encouraging steps at regional level to counter shrinking space for civil society. They include the EU’s anti-SLAPP initiative and Media Freedom Act: ENNHRI provided submissions for both. Moreover, the new EU Common Provision Regulation foresees a role for NHRIs and other rights defenders in monitoring if EU funds are being spent in compliance with fundamental rights.
Such developments are promising, but more must be done to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all rights defenders in the EU. ENNHRI calls on the European Commission to:
- Ensure that adequate protection mechanisms are in place for human rights defenders – including those involved in fundamental rights monitoring of EU funds.
- Adopt a Recommendation to EU Member States clarifying how they can ensure independent and strong NHRIs in their country
Through such actions, the Commission would enhance the respect of fundamental rights and application of the Charter across the EU. At the same time, it would safeguard the critical role that human rights defenders – including NHRIs – play in making this happen.
Read ENNHRI’s submission to the EU Charter Report.