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Fostering Human Rights in Democracy

10 December 2017

As Human Rights Day is commemorated around the world, we look at EED’s contribution to defending and promoting human rights in the European Neighbourhood and beyond, and present some success stories of our partners, working every day to put an end to discrimination and exclusion.

On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, Human Rights Day recognises the work of human rights defenders, people acting worldwide, individually or collectively, through peaceful means, to put an end to discrimination, poverty and inequality, violence and exclusion.

Respect for international human rights, adherence of democratic values and observance of principles of non-violence are core to EED support to pro-democracy actors in the European Neighbourhood.

Since its establishment, EED has allocated over 3 million euros to initiatives specifically targeting human rights activism and monitoring.

In repressive environments like Azerbaijan and Egypt, EED funding has played a critical role in preserving human rights movements and civil society. EED has funded initiatives enabling human rights actors to systemically and professionally document human rights abuses, and provides support for networks of lawyers working collectively to provide legal support to human rights defenders.

Two of these are Leyla and Arif Yunus, two of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights activists. After having spent several months in prison on trumped-up charges of fraud, tax evasion, and illegal business activities, they have resumed their advocacy work. Financed through an EED grant, their new top project is now a book that will look back at their 30-year crusade to document human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.

“We were beaten and tortured, they stole our health,” says Leyla Yunus. “They freed us only because we were dying and they got afraid. What we saw, what we went through, must be told.”

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In an equally challenging albeit very different context, EED funds Camp Cast, a project aimed at combating exclusion of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon by broadcasting live television shows made by refugees for refugees.

“We encourage young people to be more active,” says Ammar Youzbachi, who acts as the initiative’s spokesman. “Our goal is to help them build their future and play a more active role in society.”

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According to the latest Amnesty International Report, providing overview and a summary of over 159 countries and territories, 2016 saw “a global pushback against human rights”.

  • In the MENA region, millions of people saw their lives thrown into turmoil by state repression and continuing armed conflicts marked on all sides by appalling crimes and abuses. In Syria, more than five years of fighting had resulted in the biggest human-made humanitarian crisis of our time, and the armed conflicts in Libya took a heavy toll on civilians. Lebanon hosted more than 1 million refugees from Syria, and Jordan hosted more than 650,000, according to UNHCR.
  • In the Eastern Partnership region and further East, the repression of dissent and political opposition remained surgical and constant. Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan introduced constitutional amendments extending presidential terms. In Russia, President Putin continued to surf the wave of popularity generated by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and its resurgent influence internationally, while undermining civil society at home.

However, in the last year “the very best of human conduct shone through. Countless individuals stood up in defence of human rights and victims of oppression, often putting their own lives or freedom in jeopardy to do so”.

EED has also devoted almost 2 million euros to support initiatives fostering gender equality and advocating for LGBT rights.

Read more about EED’s engagement in empowering women for democratic change.

In Armenia, one of the least LGBT-friendly countries in Europe according to advocacy group ILGA-Europe, EED has supported Right Side NGO, the only organisation in the region focusing on transgender issues. The group combats discrimination and campaigns for equal rights for people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Other initiatives funded by EED specifically target vulnerable social groups and aim at providing an avenue for them to voice their grievances and advocate for their rights.

In Moldova, support to ‘Oameni și Kilometri’ (‘People and Kilometres’) has enabled the outlet to get off the ground and expand its team of journalists who go to great lengths to tell the real life stories of prejudices faced by some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

Read the #FirstPersonStory.

Universal human rights begins ''in small places, close to home'' – as Eleanor Roosevelt said. These initiatives show how every voice can make a difference if people take the pledge to #StandUp4HumanRights.

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