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The European Human Rights System

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The European continent suffered much devastation from the effects of World War II. To renew efforts of peacekeeping and cooperation with one another after the war ended, leaders throughout the region founded three organizations: the Council of Europe, the European Union (formerly the European Coal and Steel Community), and later, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (formerly the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe). These organizations have survived the Cold War and the fall of Communism, and continue to this day to serve as forums for dialogue and exchange within the European continent.

Although these organizations were founded to bring peace and stability to Europe, they were each established with different purposes:

  • The Council of Europe promotes the rule of law, human rights, and democracy.
  • The European Union was devised as an institution for promoting trade and economic stability for its members.
  • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was founded to maintain peace and military security within Europe.

    Today, these organizations have evolved to address many overlapping issues?all dealing to some extent with human rights, though the Council of Europe remains the most involved.

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    In 1949, the Treaty of London established the Council of Europe (COE) based on principles of pluralist democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. For a state to join the COE, it must demonstrate both a respect for the rule of law and for human rights. Additionally, the COE is concerned with promoting European culture and diversity, consolidating and maintaining democratic stability, and promoting economic strength.

    States that join the Council of Europe retain their individual sovereignty and political identity. However, they must fulfill treaty obligations signed at the COE headquarters located at the Palais de l'Europe in Strasbourg (France). The institution's official languages are English and French, although the Parliamentary Assembly also uses German, Italian, and Russian as working languages. The Council has 45 member states with over 875 million people and is in dialogue with over 400 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with consultative status.

    Ten members joined the Council of Europe at its inception in 1949: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Greece and Turkey joined in 1949; Iceland and Germany the following year. Austria became a member in 1956, Cyprus did so in 1961, Switzerland in 1963, Malta in 1965, Portugal in 1976, Spain in 1977, Liechtenstein in 1978, San Marino, ten years later in 1988, Finland in 1989, and finally, Andorra in 1994.

    After the fall of the Communist regimes in 1989, several states from Central and Eastern Europe became members of the Council of Europe. Hungary joined in 1990, Poland in 1991, Bulgaria in 1992; and Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania all joined in 1993. Latvia, Albania, Moldova, Ukraine, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia became members in 1995, while Russia and Croatia joined the following year. The newest members of the Council of Europe are Georgia (1999), Armenia and Azerbaijan (2001), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2002), and Serbia and Montenegro (2003).

    The Council of Europe has granted several states Observer Status, including Canada, the Holy See (the Vatican), Japan, Mexico, and the United States.

    Main institutions

    The Council of Europe is made up of several institutions:

    The Committee of Ministers is the main decision-making body of the COE. It is composed of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of all member states.

    The Parliamentary Assembly is a deliberative body, composed of 313 members and 313 substitutes who are appointed by national assemblies.

    The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe is a consultative body with local and regional representatives. It is composed of a Chamber of Local Authorities and a Chamber of Regions.

    The Secretary General of the Council of Europe directs and coordinates the organization's activities. The Secretary serves a five-year term.

    Main human rights treaties and bodies

    The Council of Europe has made and continues to make many efforts to promote human rights:

    Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950)

    The [European] Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, known simply as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), was the COE's first legal treaty to protect human rights, as well as the first international human rights treaty with enforceable mechanisms. It was inspired by the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which was signed in Rome on November 4, 1950, and entered into force on September 3, 1953. Only member states of the COE can become a party to the ECHR.

    The ECHR's preamble provides for "the maintenance and further realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms," which "are the foundation of justice and peace in the world and are best maintained on the one hand by an effective political democracy and on the other by a common understanding and observance of the human rights upon which they depend."

    The treaty deals mainly with civil and political rights, which are found in articles 1-18. Articles 19-51 list the working mechanisms of the European Court and Commission, while Protocol 1, 4, 6, 7, and 12 include additional rights. The right of individual complaint (article 25) obliges the states to accept the Court as having authority to rule over issues from within that state.

    Note that international legal instruments such as this take the form of a treaty (also called agreement, convention, protocol), which may be binding on the contracting states. When negotiations are completed, the text of a treaty is established as authentic and definitive and is "signed" to that effect by the representatives of states. There are various means by which a state expresses its consent to be bound by a treaty, the most common being ratification or accession. A new treaty is "ratified" by those states that have negotiated the instrument. A state that has not participated in the negotiations may at a later stage "accede" to the treaty. The treaty "enters into force" when a pre-determined number of states have ratified or acceded to the treaty.

    European Court of Human Rights

    The European Court of Human Rights was established with the ECHR on 3 September 1953. Located in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction over COE member states that have opted to accept the Court's optional jurisdiction. Once a state has done so, all Court decisions regarding it are binding. Judges are elected to the Court by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

    The original structure of the Court and mechanism for handling cases provided for a two-tier system of rights protection, which included the European Commission of Human Rights (now obsolete) as well as the Court itself. The dichotomy between the two institutions initially worked well since the Court dealt with a relatively small caseload. However, the caseload facing the court grew from 16 cases between 1960 and 1975 to 119 cases in 1997 alone. On 1 November 1998, Protocol 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights came into force, eliminating the Commission of Human Rights as a new European Court of Human Rights and replacing the former system.

    The Court accepts applications of instances of human rights violations from individuals as well as states. However, it is rare for a state to submit allegations against another state, unless the violation is severe. In order for an application to be accepted by the Court, all domestic legal remedies available to the applicant must have been exhausted. Additionally:

  • A non-anonymous petitioner must bring the case to the Court within six months of the final domestic ruling on it.
  • The issue must be a violation of a guarantee set forth in the European Convention.
  • The applicant must be a "victim." (However, terms specify that one does not have to have been directly persecuted to be considered a victim.)
  • Petitioners may not repeat the substance of a previous petition.

    The Court then holds a public hearing to determine if there has been a violation to the Convention. The Court normally sits as a Chamber of nine judges (expanded from seven originally), including one from the country in question, but in rare instances can seat a Grand Chamber consisting of 21 (formerly 17) judges.

    If the application is declared admissible, the Court advocates reaching a friendly settlement, which ranges from a change in the law(s) to compensation.

    Chamber judgments may be appealed to the Grand Chamber until they become final after three months; Grand Chamber judgments are always final. All judgments are binding under international law, and may be delivered in court or in writing. Once the Court considers a case a violation, states are obliged to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future. "Just satisfaction" can be awarded to victims, including compensation paid by the state at fault.

    The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe monitors the Court's judgments to ensure compensation is paid and to assist victims by reopening proceedings, lifting bans, striking a police record, and granting residence. The Committee of Ministers also sees to it that the requisite changes are made following a judgment, such as changes in legislation, case law, rules, and practices, building prisons or the appointment of new domestic judges.

    European Commission on Human Rights

    Although the European Commission on Human Rights became obsolete in 1998 with the restructuring of the Court of Human Rights, it held an important role in assisting the European Court of Human Rights from 1953 to 1998. Commission members were elected by the Committee of Ministers and would hold office for six years (during which time they were to act independently, without allegiance to any state). Their role was to consider if a petition was admissible to the Court. If so, the Commission would examine the petition to determine the facts of the case and look for parties that could help settle the case in a friendly manner. If a friendly settlement could not take place, the Commission would issue a report on the established facts with an opinion on whether or not a violation had occurred. A Committee of three people determined the admissibility of a petition. For difficult decisions, however, a Chamber consisting of seven people handled it.

    European Social Charter

    The European Social Charter, adopted in 1961 and monitored by the European Committee of Social Rights, guarantees economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to housing, health, education, employment, social protection, movement of persons, and non-discrimination. A new version of the Charter (revised in 1996) came into force in 1999.

    European Committee of Social Rights

    The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) is composed of independent experts serving six-year terms that are renewable for one term. States must submit annual reports of how they have followed Charter standards. The Committee reviews these and then publishes decisions known as "Conclusions." If a state ignores a Conclusion of a violation, the Committee of Ministers addresses the state, asking it to rectify the problem, either by changing a law or a practice (or both).

    An Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter entered into force in 1998 providing an opportunity for workers' groups and NGOs to lodge collective complaints. The Committee examines collective complaints considered admissible. These must include:

    1. details of the organization and individual submitting the complaint;
    2. the state against which the complaint has been made;
    3. the aspect of the Charter that has allegedly been violated;
    4. the actual violation.

    Next, there is a written exchange between countries, and in some cases, a public hearing. The Committee then makes a decision on the case and forwards it to the two parties; it is published four months later. Finally, the Committee adopts a resolution regarding the issue and may publish recommendations.

    European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

    The European Convention for the Prevention of Torture was adopted in 1987 and entered into force in 1989 and was amended by Protocol 1 and 2. The Convention created the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, to monitor the treaty. By 2003, 44 members of the COE had ratified the treaty. Protocol No. 1, which entered into force in 2002, allows any non-COE member state to become a party to the Convention.

    Committee for the Prevention of Torture

    The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) monitors the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It is composed of independent, impartial experts who serve four-year terms and may be re-elected twice; there is one member per signatory state.

    According to its mission statement, "The Committee shall, by means of visits, examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty with a view to strengthening, if necessary, the protection of such persons from torture and from inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The CPT visits places of detention, such as prisons, detention centers, police stations and mental health and elderly care institutions, with delegations of two or more members to monitor treatment of those being held.

    The Committee may pay an unscheduled visit to an institution of detention. In this case, the Committee must give prior notice to the country and facility but may inspect immediately following the notice. Within each facility, the Committee is guaranteed free access, freedom to move within the facilities, and the ability to privately interview those detained as well as any other person who can provide relevant information, such as NGOs concerned with human rights.

    The CPT writes a report on countries it visits. In the reports, the CPT makes recommendations to ensure prevention of torture and ill treatment. Governments must then respond to the recommendations. On rare occasions, the CPT may make a public statement should a state fail to incorporate the CPT's recommendations. However, recommendations are generally kept confidential.

    The Committee published "The CPT Standards," which set standards for the treatment of detained persons.

    Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

    The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the first binding international treaty to offer protection specifically for minorities, was adopted in 1995 and entered into force in February 1998. The groundwork for this treaty was laid in an earlier treaty, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which was adopted in 1992.

    The Framework Convention's Preamble discusses the need to protect national minorities, in the context of the disintegration and hostility of the central and eastern European states of the former Eastern bloc. The Preamble states, "A pluralist and genuinely democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create appropriate conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity." (The Framework Convention does not define what a national minority is.)

    The Framework Convention is monitored by the Committee of Ministers, which is assisted by an Advisory Committee of independent experts.

    European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

    The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance was set up in 1993 to fight racism (the belief that certain races are inferior), xenophobia (fear of foreigners), anti-Semitism (prejudice against Jews), and other forms of intolerance. The Commission has one member per COE member state. Members are appointed by governments, although they serve independently.

    The Commission evaluates the efficiency of existing measures against intolerance, from policy to legislation at the local, regional, and national levels. The ECRI, with help from outsiders, experts, and NGOs, proposes further action that could be taken at each of these levels in an annual report submitted to the Committee of Ministers.

    Commissioner for Human Rights

    The position of the Commissioner for Human Rights was approved at the Summit of Heads of State and Government in October 1997, and was established in April 1999 when the Committee of Ministers adopted it.

    The Parliamentary Assembly elects the Commissioner by a majority of votes. Candidates for the post are selected from three candidates submitted by the Committee of Ministers. A candidate must be a national of a COE member state with expertise in the area of human rights. A term lasts six years. The first Commissioner for Human Rights is Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles of Spain from 1999 until 2005. Mr Thomas Hammarberg was elected Commissioner for Human Rights on 5 October 2005 by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. He took up his position on 1 April 2006.

    The Commissioner has three main duties:

    1. to promote human rights education and awareness of human rights;
    2. to identify areas of laws that fail to recognize human rights to a full extent and human rights laws that are not fully implemented;
    3. to promote a respect for and enjoyment of human rights in COE member states.

    The Commissioner does not address individual complaints of rights violations.

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    The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security institution in the world. Headquartered in Vienna (Austria), the OSCE was formerly known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE); it was renamed OSCE in 1994. The CSCE was created by the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.

    The OSCE deals with conflict warning, prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation. Tasks of the OSCE include:

  • arms control;
  • preventive diplomacy;
  • confidence- and security-building measures;
  • human rights promotion;
  • democratization;
  • election monitoring;
  • guaranteeing economic and environmental security.

    OSCE members now include all European nations, as well as Canada and the United States (who were both members from the original inception), and members from Central Asia. All members have equal status and decisions are based on consensus. The 55 member states are: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uzbekistan.

    Main institutions

    Several institutions make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe:

    The Permanent Council is the main decision making body of the OSCE. It convenes weekly in Vienna to discuss issues and formulate decisions.

    The Chairman-in-Office is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of an OSCE member state. The Chairman is selected annually, and is responsible for executive action on behalf of the member states. The Ministerial Troika and the Secretary-General assist the Chairman.

    The Parliamentary Assembly consists of over 300 Members of Parliament from member states. Its purpose is to promote the OSCE agenda and the OSCE in general in national parliaments.

    The Secretariat provides organizational support to the OSCE. The Secretariat is under the supervision of the Secretary-General. The responsibilities of the Secretariat include: supporting field activities, maintaining contacts with NGOs, coordinating economic and environmental activities, administrative, financial, personnel services, and coordinating military events, conference and language services, public information, technology, and press.

    The Court of Conciliation and Arbitration settles disputes between member states that are parties to the Convention on Conciliation and Arbitration within the OSCE.

    The Arms Control and Confidence and Security Building Measures is headed by people personally appointed by the Chairman-in-Office and oversees military threats to member states.

    Structural Meetings

    The meetings of the OSCE take place as follows:

    The Forum for Security Cooperation meets weekly in Vienna to discuss military aspects of security in the OSCE region, focusing on confidence and security building measures.

    The Senior Council/Economic Forum meets once a year in Prague to discuss environmental and economic issues facing the OSCE.

    The meeting of OSCE members' Heads of State or Government occurs periodically at a Summit. Summits are always preceded by a review conference, where OSCE commitments and their implementation are reviewed and summit documents are formulated.

    The Ministerial Council is a meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers, which occurs in years when there are no summits.

    Main human rights treaties and bodies

    Like the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also works to promote human rights:

    Helsinki Final Act

    The Helsinki Final Act, which linked human rights concerns with securities concerns, created what is now the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was signed in 1975 by 33 states, including Canada, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Since the end of the Cold War, over fifty states have joined the Act. Because the Helsinki Final Act is not an actual treaty, it is not binding on states, and failure to comply with it has political, not legal, consequences.

    Two of the ten Guiding Principles of the Helsinki Final Act address human rights. The first one, Principle VII, calls for, "[r]espect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief."

    The last paragraph of Principle VII confirms that member states of the OSCE should act in accordance with the United Nations Charter (1945) as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It states, "In the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the participating States will act in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They will also fulfill their obligations as set forth in the international declarations and agreements in this field, including inter alia the International Covenants on Human Rights, by which they may be bound."

    Principle VIII is emphasizes the "[e]qual rights and self-determination of peoples."

    Vienna Mechanism

    The Vienna Mechanism, which was established in 1989, established a regulatory board known as the Human Dimension Mechanism that promotes human rights through negotiating, mediating, and fact-finding. Bilateral negotiators, OSCE experts, and rapporteurs conduct the Human Dimension Mechanism with assistance from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

    An investigation begins with an accusation from one state about another, followed by a diplomatic exchange within a limited amount of time. Any state may accuse another or bring forth information about a case. If the diplomatic exchange does not resolve the issue at hand, the Human Dimension Mechanism may bring it up to all member states and address it at an OSCE follow-up or human dimension conference.

    Copenhagen Concluding Document

    The Copenhagen Concluding Document, which was adopted in 1990, adds three clauses to the Vienna Mechanism:

    1. It requires that states must respond to a request for information from the Vienna Mechanism in writing within four weeks of the request.
    2. It stipulates that bilateral meetings between the two countries in question will take place as soon as possible and within three weeks of the request.
    3. It states that the bilateral meetings will only address the subject agreed to ahead of time.

    Moscow Mechanism

    The Moscow Mechanism was established in 1991. Along with the Vienna Mechanism, it is an instrument for protection of the "Human Dimension." While the Vienna Mechanism allows for inquiries into states' human rights records, the Moscow Mechanism allows for independent experts to resolve human dimension conflicts in member states. Under the Moscow Mechanism, there may be an investigation of human dimension questions in extreme situations without the consent of the state in question. Its experts are appointed by OSCE member states.

    The Moscow Mechanism has only been used five times to date:

    1. In 1992, by the 12 states in the European Community and the U.S. to investigate alleged attacks on civilians in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
    2. In 1992, by Estonia to study Estonia's legislation and compare it with established human rights norms.
    3. In 1993, by Moldova to investigate Moldova's legislation for dealing with minorities' rights and its dealing with inter-ethnic relations.
    4. Again in 1993, by the CSCE Committee of Senior Officials for Serbia-Montenegro to investigate human rights violations, a mission that was not completed because of lack of cooperation from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia.
    5. And most recently, in 2002-2003 by 10 OSCE participating states vis-Ó-vis Turkmenistan, specifically relating to investigations of a reported attack on the President and concerning the conduct of the investigation.

    Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is the principle body for promoting human rights within the OSCE. It is based in Warsaw (Poland) and was created in 1990 as the Office for Free Elections; it changed to its current name in 1992. Freedom of religion or belief, anti-terrorism, and rights listed in the so-called Moscow Mechanism are some of the priority areas for ODIHR. The ODIHR also promotes:

  • the rule of law;
  • prevention from torture;
  • freedom of movement;
  • freedom of NGOs;
  • gender equality;
  • control of people and drug trafficking;
  • spreading democracy throughout South Eastern Europe.

    The Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues (CPRSI) falls under the jurisdiction of the ODIHR. It was established in 1994 in Warsaw. The Contact Point helps the Roma and Sinti ("Gypsy") populations of Europe, which number approximately 15 million, integrate into the societies in which they live while maintaining their own identities. The main challenges facing the CPRSI today are:

  • increasing political participation;
  • decreasing discrimination and racial violence;
  • furthering education;
  • improving living conditions.

    The CPRSI also:

  • provides policy advice to governments;
  • provides information to those who request it;
  • facilitates dialogue between OSCE institutions, Roma and Sinti groups, and national governments.

    High Commissioner of National Minorities

    The High Commissioner of National Minorities (HCNM) was established in 1992 following the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union (USSR) when there was a great need to protect ethnic minorities. The HCNM primarily addresses minority issues before they evolve into serious problems.

    The Commissioner must serve independently from states and remain impartial. The HCNM writes recommendations to governments and also discusses these recommendations with the Permanent Council - the main decision body of the OSCE - from which the Commissioner receives most political support. The Commissioner maintains confidentiality with member states, but has discretion over what information to share with the Permanent Council.

    The Commissioner cannot:

  • handle individual cases;
  • deal with cases that are involved in any way with terrorism;
  • talk with any person or organization that practices or publicly condones terrorism or violence.

    Mr. Max van der Stoel, a former Dutch Foreign Minister, served as the first High Commissioner of National Minorities (1992-2001). His successor is Mr. Rolf EkÚus, a Swedish diplomat.

    Representative on Freedom of the Media

    The Representative on Freedom of the Media was established in December 1997 to "address serious problems caused by, inter alia, obstruction of media activities and unfavorable working conditions for journalists." Unlike the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media is not a mediator. Instead, the Representative serves as an advocate promoting compliance with OSCE principles on freedom of expression and the media.

    The Representative gives early warnings on violations, while concentrating on issues of serious non-compliance. In the case of non-compliance, the Representative contacts the state involved, tries to discern the facts of the situation, and attempts to resolve the issue. The Representative responds as quickly as possible to the gravest violations of freedom of the media, including hazardous working conditions or an inability to report freely.

    The Representative reports to the Permanent Council on its actions, and recommends further action where necessary. The Representative, like the High Commissioner on National Minorities, cannot talk with any person or organization that practices or publicly endorses terrorism or violence.

    Mr. Freimut Duve of Germany was appointed as the first Representative in 1998. The Representative is based in Vienna.

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    The European Union (EU) is a union (grouping) of democratic European countries. Its member states have set up common institutions to which they delegate some of their sovereignty so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at the European level. Decisions and actions are based on EU treaties, which are signed by all member states. Heads of member states meet at least twice a year at the European Council to determine the agenda for the European Union.

    All EU members have ratified the Council of Europe's European Convention of Human Rights and accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights as a prerequisite for joining the EU. This means, for example, that all member states have abolished the death penalty before joining the European Union.


    Like other regional institutions in Europe, the European Union was founded following WWII with the aim of preventing further destruction. Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister at the time, suggested it be created at a speech given on 9 May 1950 (now celebrated each year as Europe Day).

    When the institution was established on 23 July 1952, there were only six members: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and it was named the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). It was designed to address economic issues. The organization later became the European Economic Community (EEC) in the Treaty of Rome (1957). The institution was finally renamed the European Union with the Treaty on European Union (signed in Maastricht on 7 February 1992 and entering into force on 1 November 1993). This treaty changed the name of the EEC to the European Community (EC).

    The Treaty on European Union (1992) also added areas of politics to the overall structure of the EU. Thus, it has expanded the EU from an organization dealing mainly with economic and trade issues to one that includes citizen's rights as well. Some of the new areas of focus for the EU are:

  • ensuring freedom, security, and justice;
  • job creation;
  • regional development;
  • environmental issues;
  • the effects of globalization.

    The European Union has also expanded from its six original members to include: Denmark, Ireland, and the UK, which joined in 1973; Greece, which joined in 1981; Spain and Portugal, both joining in 1986; and Austria, Finland, and Sweden, which all joined in 1995. In 2004, the EU expanded from 15 to 25 states, with the accession of the Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

    Main institutions

    There are five main institutional bodies of the European Union:

    European Parliament

    The European Parliament is composed of 626 members from the current 25 member states. Members are elected every five years by the EU's 374 million citizens. The Parliament has both the power to legislate and to adopt the final budget. It also approves the nomination of Commissioners for the European Commission and has the power to censure the Commission.

    Council of the European Union

    Sharing legislative power and budgetary authority with the European Parliament is the Council of the European Union, or the main decision-making body of the EU. The Council is composed of representatives from member states (usually ministers) who differ for different issues, such as finance, education, telecommunications, and foreign affairs. Representatives on the Council:

  • coordinate broad economic policies of member states;
  • make international agreements with states and NGOs;
  • adopt foreign and security policy established by the European Council;
  • adopt measures for police and judicial cooperation within the EU.

    European Commission

    The European Commission, which is based in Brussels (Belgium), is the executive branch of the EU. The Commission may initiate draft legislation and present proposals to the Council and the Parliament. It is responsible for implementing resolutions and decisions. The Commission also monitors applications of treaties within the European Union and supervises decisions regarding EU institutions. The Commission makes sure that EU law is represented within all treaties. And, it negotiates international agreements, especially those for trade and cooperation.

    The President of the Commission and Members of the Commission are appointed after being approved by the Parliament.

    European Court of Justice

    The European Court of Justice resides in Luxembourg and has jurisdiction over member states, EU institutions, businesses, and individuals within the geographic boundaries of the European Union. The European Court of Justice ensures that EC and EU treaties are respected and that the laws are being followed. The Court of Justice looks to decisions of the European Court of Human Rights for guidance in its decision-making on human rights issues.

    European Court of Auditors

    The European Court of Auditors independently audits the collection and spending of European Union funds. The Court examines whether financial operations have been properly recorded, executed, and managed, so as to ensure economy, efficiency and effectiveness.

    Main human rights treaties and bodies

    Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

    The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was first drafted in June 1999 with the goal of covering all rights pertaining to the EU's citizens, including those rights based in the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter, two treaties of the Council of Europe. The Charter was drafted by 62 representatives from EU member states. The Charter was not adopted as a treaty due to disagreement among member states. However, the European Parliament and the Commission have recommended that it be incorporated into the EU Treaty.

    According to the Charter's Preamble, its aim is "to strengthen the protection of fundamental rights in the light of changes in society, social progress and scientific and technological developments by making those rights more visible in a Charter." The rights guaranteed are divided into six chapters: dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizens' rights, and justice.

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    Advocacy, Educational and Training Materials

    For advocates

    Human Rights and You: A Guide for the States of the Former Soviet Union and Central Europe (by Frederick Quinn, OSCE/ODIHR)
    This guide is intended for judges, prosecutors, police officers, lawyers, non-governmental organizations, law students and the media who work professionally who want to learn about international human rights standards. It includes guidelines for filing a human rights petition with an international organization.

    Human Rights Reference Handbook (by T.R.G. Van Banning, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
    Comprehensive manual on European mechanisms of human rights protection (EU, OSCE, Council of Europe). Includes directories of human rights organizations.

    Right to Respect for Private and Family Life. A guide on the implementation of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (by Ursula Kilkelly, Council of Europe)
    This is a practical guide on how the European Court of Human Rights has been interpreted and how it has implemented the right for private and family life (article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to his or her private/family life, home, and correspondence).

    The Right to Liberty and Security of Person: A Guide on the Implementation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (by Monica Macovei, Council of Europe)
    Practical guide on how the European Court of Human Rights has interpreted and implemented the right to liberty and security of the person (article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights). Especially useful for judges and legal professionals in their daily practice.

    Right to a Fair Trial: A Guide on the Implementation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (by Nuala Mole and Catharina Harby, Council of Europe)
    Practical guide on how the European Court of Human Rights has interpreted the right to a fair trial (article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights). It will be particularly useful to judges and legal professionals in their daily practice.

    Training Materials for Lawyers and NGOs on the European Convention on Human Rights and the rights of people with mental health problems and/or developmental disabilities (Mental Disability Advocacy Center)
    The goal of this manual is to provide an initial look into the human and civil rights of people with mental health and/or developmental disabilities in this region. Definitions of mental health problems and developmental disabilities are given here along with relevant articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

    For teachers

    Human Rights Album Methodology Handbook (by Jana Kviecinska, Milan Simecka Foundation)
    This is a methodology booklet that supplements the Council of Europe's Human Rights Album, an illustrated guide on the European Convention on Human Rights. The booklet is a result of the "Human Rights at School" project by the Milan Simecka Foundation in Slovakia. It contains lessons plans around the Convention and the UDHR and is a valuable resource for teachers.

    Human Rights Education: Bibliography of the Documents of the Council of Europe (Council of Europe)
    This bibliography includes all publications on human rights and human rights education published by the Council of Europe between 1985 and 1995.

    Intercultural Education: Bibliography of Documents of the Council of Europe (Council of Europe)
    This is an annotated bibliography that includes publications by the Council of Europe on intercultural education (major conventions and declarations on the protection of minorities).

    Teaching Guide to the European Convention on Human Rights (World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace)
    This guide was developed for teachers in Bosnia-Herzegovina to assist them in addressing human rights in school, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights. The guide provides an overview of human rights protection mechanisms and suggests directions for the introduction of human rights education in the classroom and schools. Lesson activities are included.

    The European Convention on Human Rights: Starting Points for Teachers (by Mark Taylor, Council of Europe)
    This publication aims to introduce human rights into the classroom by providing starting points and suggesting some interactive activities. It is designed primarily for those working with 14 to 18 year-old students. Constructed in the form of a folder, this teaching pack contains 5 basic information sheets on the Convention and the human rights work of the Council of Europe, and 10 sheets with suggestions for classroom activities on human rights education, which place emphasis on relating human rights standards to school students' everyday lives.

    For law enforcement officials

    Police Practice and Human Rights - A European Introduction. A Reference Brochure (by Mark Taylor, Council of Europe)
    A 40-page brochure for police officers, this publication was written to address the lack of human rights educational support for police officers. The brochure demonstrates clearly the link between police practice and European human rights standards and serves as a quick reference source.

    Promoting Dignity. An Inventory of Police & Human Rights Materials (Council of Europe)
    This document was developed by the Police & Human Rights Programme, 1997-2000 of the Council of Europe and consists of more than 220 books, manuals, leaflets, and videos. It is organized into five sections: standards on human rights which apply or are relevant to police or law enforcement work; police and human rights in general; policing in a democratic society deals with both the environment and culture of police-public relations as well as that of the police workplace; arrest, detention and the intrusion of surveillance; insights into the position of vulnerable groups.

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    Other Resources

    Courses on the European human rights system

    Human rights organisations in Central and Eastern Europe/Newly Indepedent States

    Human rights organisations in Western Europe



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    Human Rights in Europe

    The European Union and Human Rights

    The European System of Human Rights Protection and Promotion

    Key terms

    Admissibility - the question of whether or not a petition to a certain institution regarding human rights violations meets the standards set forth by that institution so the institution may address and take action on the petition

    Inalienable - something that may not be taken away or removed from someone

    - the territory or area over which a court has the power to enforce laws

    Rule of law - The concept that legal documents, such as constitutions, national legislation, a court system, and international agreements, govern a state's actions towards its citizens. It involves a democratic means of establishing ruling factors.

    Historical dates

    1945 - End of World War II; Europe faces the task of recovering from massive destruction, violence, and turmoil.
    1949 - The Council of Europe is founded
    1952 - The European Coal and Steel Community is founded (this eventually becomes the European Union)
    1953 - The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms enters into force and the European Court of Human Rights is established
    1961 - The Council of Europe's European Social Charter comes into effect, along with its monitoring body, the European Committee of Social Rights
    1975 - The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) is created by the Helsinki Final Act
    1989 - Fall of the Berlin Wall. With the collapse of the Communist regimes and dissolution of the Soviet Union, Council of Europe membership starts expanding to Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia
    1993 - The European Union replaces the European Economic Community with the ratification of the Treaty on European Union 
    1994 - The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) is renamed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
    1997 - The Council of Europe establishes the position of Commissioner for Human Rights 
    1998 - The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the first binding treaty in international law to offer protection specifically for national minorities, enters into force
    1999 - The European Union drafts the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

    This guide was developed by Elizabeth Strenio.

    Copyright ę Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), 2003. All rights reserved.

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