“Modest” EU funding earmarked to fight the death penalty and torture across the world is spread too thinly across too many projects, and is being spent in countries with little hope of reform, the European Court of Auditors has warned.
The European Commission and the EU’s foreign affairs service, the EEAS, has offered a robust defence of their policy, which funds NGOs fighting for human rights.
€100.9 million was split between 183 projects in more than 120 countries over 2007-2013, said the auditors, who scrutinise the EU’s financial management, in a report published today (23 September).
58 countries still have the death penalty, and every year more than 5,000 executions take place.
Klaus-Heiner Lehne, member of the European Court of Auditors, said, “The EU is already very active in this field but the funding for its efforts to fight torture and to eliminate the death penalty is spread too thinly. Europe’s voice can be more effective if the money is better targeted.”
NGOs apply for grants from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which is under the supervision of the executive’s DG Development.
As part of the application process the civil society groups outline their goals. But many of the projects did not achieve them, according to the auditors, and the system to evaluate their success, and the applications for grant were lacking.
The resources needed to be targeted better and backed up with other EU action, such as diplomacy and traditional development support, auditors said.
The European Commission stated that it was “fully convinced of the effectiveness of the EIDHR as one of several instruments in the fight against torture and the death penalty”.
It argued that even if there was little chance of reform in some countries, that was not a reason not to support NGOS in those countries.
The death penalty and torture were sensitive and complex areas, where progress was often slow and the impact of civil society organisation’s work difficult to quantify, it added.
The executive and the EEAS pointed to the American Bar Association’s acknowledgement of the role of an EIDHR grant in the abolition of the death penalty in Pennsylvania, USA.
“The EU is one of the very few donors supporting financially the fight against torture and the abolition of the death penalty. In many cases it is the only one,” the Commission said.
It rejected the auditors’ suggestion of targeting resources to certain countries, preferring a non-prescriptive approach that didn’t focus on impact or a specific list of countries.
The EIDHR encouraged human rights organisations in their respective countries to design their own strategies in line with their ability, capacity and the political climate on the ground.
The executive was convinced this was the best approach but it accepted that it could increase coordination with other EU action in certain circumstances.
“The Commission intends to strengthen the role of the EIDHR as a vital instrument of EU policy abroad,” the executive said.
“Human rights actions are inherently difficult to access and are particularly sensitive to political developments in target countries. Actions countering torture and capital punishement are by their nature even more sensitive.
“EIDHR funds have been put to good use with great care taken to reach a delivate balance between a wide reach – EIDHR global calls are a huge success in term of attracting many applicants from across the world – and rigourous management of funds,” it added.