Defending human rights beyond the EU 

The European Parliament is a vocal and constant defender of human rights, including beyond the EU’s borders.

Sakharov Prize Winner Nelson Mandela meets with EP President Simone Veil at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. 

The European Parliament, like the EU as a whole, has called for all countries to implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties.

The Parliament also tries to ensure that all the EU's international activities – including trade as well as aid – are aligned with its human rights principles.

For many years, the death penalty and torture were focal issues. More recently, trafficking, digital rights and other topics have joined the list of Parliament’s concerns.

Many voices

The President of the European Parliament speaks out about abuses in public statements and meetings.

The Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights highlight violations and help focus the debate for other MEPs.

And all MEPs join the effort on Thursday afternoons during Parliament's Strasbourg sessions. That time slot is devoted to debates and "urgency resolutions" about human rights issues.

These efforts have yielded results.

Some governments have reconsidered their actions, including the imposition of the death penalty. And certain national parliaments have changed or abandoned the laws criticised in Parliament's resolutions.

Sakharov Prize

Each year the European Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to individuals or organisations who fight for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Over three decades, the prize has called attention to struggles on five continents.

In some cases, the award has recognised those who suffered because they chose to push for freedom at home.

This was the case for the 2015 laureate, Raif Badawi, a blogger imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for defending freedom of expression.

It was also the case for the 2017 award, which went to Venezuela’s democratic opposition, including the country’s hundreds of political prisoners.

In other years, the prize has acknowledged people whose human rights work grew out of personal – and sometimes painful – experience.

The 2014 laureate, Denis Mukwege, a doctor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has said he “happened to stumble” onto the problems of women who had been raped and brutalised in war. He has since dedicated his life to treating more than 40 000 victims at his hometown hospital, while also focusing international attention on this issue.

Mukwege and all the laureates remain connected through the Sakharov Prize Network, which also keeps them in contact with MEPs and civil society in order to increase cooperation on human rights issues.