CEELI Institute's New Report on Human Rights Defenders


25 May 2021

Current European Union policies on multiple entry and long stay visas raise substantial barriers for human rights defenders (HRDs) seeking to come to Europe for limited periods of time for fellowships, workshops, study, respite, and in some cases, security. These are not asylum seekers; these are individuals who are engaged in work in their home countries, and who fully intend to return home after their stays in the EU. Most problematically, EU visa policy is inconsistent with long-articulated EU policies on respect for human rights, which are foundational values of the European Union.

The CEELI Institute first encountered these problems in the course of our ongoing work to support these HRDs. As a result, we undertook research, analyzed relevant EU materials, interviewed hundreds of affected HRDs, and ultimately developed and published recommendations for reform of current EU visa policies in ways that would improve the treatment of HRDs. That report, Human Rights Defenders in EU Visa Policy: Recommendations for Reform, highlights the conflict and inconsistencies between EU visa policies and EU human rights policies.

Our report, written with support from the Oak Foundation, reflects a year of research, surveys of more than 100 human rights defenders from eight non-EU countries, and examination of individual case studies. The recommendations of the report also reflect CEELI’s ongoing engagement with representatives from a number of prominent European human rights organizations. Most significantly, we also undertook a thorough legal analysis of both the challenges faced by human rights defenders in entering the EU, and of the various existing EU policies and instruments related to human rights defenders, the support of whom is a stated priority of the EU’s external human rights policy (which denominates HRDs as “natural and indispensable allies in the promotion of human rights and democratization in their respective countries”).

We found that despite the EU’s rhetorical support for human rights defenders, this support did not extend in practical ways for HRDs seeking to obtain EU (and Schengen) visas for work-related or emergency travel to the EU. Our goal in authoring the report was to provide clear steps that can be taken by EU institutions, individual member states, and NGOs to promote access to the EU for this very special group of people.

Read the full report here.

Watch our advocacy video featuring the real case of a human rights lawyer here.

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