Human Rights Defenders in EU Visa Policy: Recommendations for Reform


This paper examines the legal and practical barriers that human rights defenders (HRDs) face when applying for visas to enter the European Union. The paper draws on legal research, survey responses from self-identified HRDs, and in-depth interviews with HRDs on their travel and visa application experiences. We provide an overview of the EU visa regime and the challenges faced by HRDs, as well as recommendations for changes that could improve this process in a way that would better meet the needs of these individuals as they fight for human rights in their respective countries.


The periphery of Europe is home to several countries where civil society has been marginalised, attacked, and, in some cases, outlawed. Citizens engaged in human rights defense in these countries have come under increasing pressure and are often victims of direct and indirect government-sponsored violence, threats, imprisonment, surveillance, and even death. In response to these deteriorating conditions, the European Union has designed official policies to support HRDs, including policies intended to facilitate their mobility to, and within, the EU. A number of EU based organisations have also developed fellowship, respite, and emergency assistance programs as a way to allow these HRDs to meet and engage with each other and with their EU counterparts in safe environments and/or to seek safety or recover from the many stresses that are inherent in their work. For HRDs to be able to take advantage of these various opportunities and support within the EU, however, they must have reliable access to valid EU visas.


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