European Parliament: new study proposes a robust framework to safeguard HRDs

18 January 2024 |

A new study commissioned by the European Parliament, “Enhancing the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs):  Facilitating access to the EU and supporting HRDs from third countries,” proposes comprehensive measures to increase the mobility of HRDs traveling to the EU.  The study targets three areas of EU law: the Schengen visa and Borders codes; the measures needed to facilitate HRDs’ longer stays when called for by their circumstances; and the measures needed to safeguard HRDs’ personal data.

The study makes recommendations in the following eight areas:

  1. Identification of HRDs: In order to facilitate HRDs’ access to the EU, they must be properly identified as such, in accordance with EU and UN definitions. The study proposes a “trusted third party” system whereby various bodies, including NGOs, could provide documentation that would serve to validate a visa applicant’s HRD status.
  2. Short stays (90 days or less): The study proposes changes to the Visa Code—or alternatively, changes to the Visa Code Handbook—which would entitle HRDs to visa facilitations such as electronic visa applications; applications from outside the country of residence; waiving visa fees; reducing documentation requirements; expediting visa processing; providing multiple-entry visas; and supplying visas with extended validity (90 days). The Visa Code Handbook should contain clear instructions with the intent to harmonise Member States’ approach to visa facilitations for HRDs.
  3. Extended stays: For stays exceeding 90 days, the study proposes further facilitations for HRDs, such as allowing HRDs with proper attestation to switch visa statuses from within EU territory, waiver of visa fees, easing certain requirements, and ensuring that visa applications are not unfairly prejudiced by information obtained from HRDs’ countries of origin.
  4. Temporary protection: The current requirement of “mass influx” as a condition to receive temporary protection should be discarded, with standard criteria for eligibility for temporary protection being developed based on the “trusted third party system” and recommendations from the EU External Action Service.
  5. Proposal for an HRDs Directive: The EU should issue a directive that regulates HRDs’ entry and residence for periods exceeding 90 days, ensuring: expedited application procedures; the granting of temporary status during application for those already in the EU; provision of authorisations based on the intended purpose of stay; protecting HRDs’ rights; and facilitation of access to socio-economic assistance.
  6. Policy recommendations: the study proposes comprehensive socio-economic measures to increase financial support and raise the profile of HRDs in the EU as well as organizations that support them.
  7. Borders: Border guards should always grant 90-day entry even where the reason for entry of an accredited HRD is for a shorter period. HRDs should not be refused entry based on certain database entries, which should have automatic suspensive effects to allow for an appeal against refusal decisions.
  8. Digitalisation and databases: Database recommendations focus on ensuring that accredited HRDs are not automaticall denied entry to the EU based solely on prior information contained in the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), Schengen Information System (SIS) alerts (for example related to a prior failed asylum application or irregular residence status), Interpol or others.

Araminta welcomes the reports’ recommendations, which propose an effective system for HRD access to the EU, thereby enhancing their protection and facilitating their important human rights work.

Access the full text of the study here:

Read more:

EU: Agency for Fundamental Rights recommends improvements to regulations on entry and stay of HRDs in the EU

EU Protect Defenders: Joint civil society statement calls for changes to EU visa framework