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Democracy and human rights 

The European Parliament has earned a reputation as a dedicated sponsor of people’s basic rights and of democracy.

Within the EU’s only directly-elected institution, MEPs fight against new and old attacks on essential liberties.

Protecting fundamental rights in the EU 

Fundamental rights apply to all people in the EU, no matter their status or origin.

Some of these freedoms are as old as Europe: life and liberty, thought and expression.

But others have had to be redefined to keep pace with the times. Protecting personal data or prohibiting human cloning were far from the minds of the first elected MEPs, some four decades ago.

Defending human rights beyond the EU 

The European Parliament does not believe that people’s basic rights end at the EU’s borders.

MEPs regularly speak out – individually and in unison – about human rights issues in non-EU countries. Because these rights are considered universal, the response is the same whether the violation takes place in Myanmar/Burma, some 8 000 kilometres away, or in Belarus, which borders on the Union.

The battle for human rights has also brought many prominent defenders to the European Parliament.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani campaigner for children’s education, Yazidi women who had been prisoners of the Islamic State in Iraq, a doctor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political prisoners from Latin America: all have found a voice on the European Parliament’s stage.

Supporting democracy around the globe 

Sustaining democracy is a key element of this effort, spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”

MEPs defend democratic systems around the globe. Some have travelled far to observe elections, mediate in conflicts and support fledgling parliaments.

The EU’s own founding texts require that the Union as a whole defends democratic principles in its foreign affairs. But in the European Parliament, this effort strikes closer to home: for MEPs, who have experienced elections and campaigns, democracy is a personal matter.

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Sakharov Prize

Read about the winners of the Parliament's Sakharov Prize, which has recongnised outstanding human rights defenders since 1988