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EU guidelines on human rights dialogues with non-EU countries

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EU guidelines on human rights dialogues with non-EU countries

These guidelines govern the European Union’s (EU) approach for launching and conducting human rights dialogues with non-EU countries. The aim of such dialogues is to mainstream human rights issues into all aspects of the EU’s external policies.


EU guidelines on human rights dialogues with third countries – Update. Agriculture and Fisheries Council of 19 January 2009 [Not published in the Official Journal].


The European Union (EU) undertakes to mainstream human rights into all aspects of its external policies. To this end, it raises the issue of human rights in all its dialogues and discussions with non-EU countries. It may also decide (on its own initiative or at a non-EU country’s request) to initiate a human rights-specific dialogue with a particular country.

Different types of dialogues employed by the EU with non-EU countries already deal with human rights issues. These include:

  • dialogues of a general nature based on treaties, agreements or conventions, or strategic partnerships;
  • structured dialogues focusing exclusively on human rights;
  • ad hoc dialogues extending to topics related to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP);
  • dialogues in the context of special relations based on broadly converging views.

Dialogues on human rights pursue varying objectives, depending on a country’s particular situation, that may include:

  • discussing issues of common interest and cooperating better within international bodies, such as the United Nations (UN);
  • analysing problems in relation to human rights in the country concerned, gathering information and attempting to improve the situation.

The issues to be discussed during human rights dialogues are determined on a case-by-case basis. However, certain priority issues should always be included on the agenda, such as:

  • the signing, ratification and implementation of international human rights instruments;
  • cooperation with international human rights procedures and mechanisms;
  • the combating of the death penalty, torture and all forms of discrimination;
  • children’s rights, especially of those in armed conflict;
  • women's rights;
  • freedom of expression;
  • the role of civil society;
  • the protection of human rights defenders;
  • cooperation in the field of international justice, especially with the International Criminal Court;
  • conflict prevention and the rule of law;
  • the promotion of the processes of democratisation and good governance.

Initiating dialogues and dialogue arrangements

The decision to initiate a human rights dialogue with a non-EU country is made by the EU Council, where the Working Group on Human Rights (COHOM) plays a central role. This decision will first require an assessment of the human rights situation in the country concerned that takes into account:

  • the government’s attitude to human rights;
  • the government’s commitment to relevant international conventions;
  • the government’s readiness to cooperate with UN procedures;
  • the government's attitude towards civil society;
  • developments in the country’s human rights situation in general.

The assessment is based on reports on the subject by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the UN and other international organisations, the European Parliament and the Commission. The objectives to be pursued by setting up the dialogue, possible avenues for progress and the added value to be gained from this approach must be assessed before any decision is taken on initiating dialogue.

Where and how often the dialogue is to be held and the level of representation required will be determined on a case-by-case basis. However, the non-EU country concerned should, as far as possible, be represented by government members responsible for human rights. The EU will be represented by the Troika. Civil society may also be involved in all the different phases of the dialogue. The meetings should normally take place in the country concerned and last for at least one full day. Dialogues whose primary purpose is to discuss issues of mutual interest and/or to strengthen human rights cooperation will preferably be held in Brussels. During the dialogue, the EU may refer individual cases to the non-EU country together with requests for a response and for the release of persons concerned. At the end of the dialogue, the EU may publish a press release or organise a joint press conference with the country concerned.

The Union must ensure consistency between EU countries' bilateral dialogues with non-EU countries and the dialogues it conducts itself. Information exchanges are essential to this end, ideally by way of informal ad hoc meetings. Exchanges of views should also be held to evaluate the consistency of EU assistance, such as the use of funds from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) In addition, the Union must ensure consistency between the resolutions it submits in international forums (e.g. the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council) and its dialogues on human rights.

Assessing and following-up dialogues

All human rights dialogues with non-EU countries must preferably be assessed every other year. The assessment will be made by the EU Presidency, assisted by the Council Secretariat and in particular the COHOM. Civil society is also involved in this exercise. In individual cases, the Presidency may also employ the services of an external consultant. The assessment will take account of the objectives the Union set itself before starting the dialogue and the expected added value. The progress made on the priority areas of the dialogue and how far the EU's activities have contributed to that progress must also be examined. Depending on the result of the assessment, the EU may make adjustments, decide to continue the dialogue as is or terminate it (if the requirements given in these guidelines are no longer met or if the results are unsatisfactory). A dialogue that has proved successful and has therefore become redundant may also be suspended.

Implementing dialogues

Continuity and strong structures supporting the Council Presidency in its preparatory and follow-up work are essential for managing human rights dialogues. The EU could consider the possibility of associating a private foundation or organisation specialised in the field of human rights with one or more dialogues. It undertakes to include human rights experts in each of its delegations taking part in dialogues.

Last updated: 05.10.2010