60th Anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the entry into force of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was signed in Rome on November 1, 1950, by 12 member states of the Council of Europe, and came into force on September 3, 1953. The Convention was one of the first instruments to give effect and binding force to certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Council of Europe is a body set up after the Second World War to promote human rights and democracy across Europe.

The Convention protects human rights and fundamental freedoms such as life, security and respect for private and family life, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to vote in and stand for election, a fair trial in civil and criminal matters, property and peaceful enjoyment of possessions.

In addition, the Convention prohibits, in particular, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, slavery and forced labour, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms secured by the Convention.

In order to join the Council of Europe, a European state must first sign and ratify the European Convention on Human Rights, thus confirming its commitments to the aims of the Organization, namely the achievement of greater unity between its members based on human rights and fundamental freedoms, peace and respect for democracy and the rule of law. There are now 47 participating member states.

States that have ratified the Convention, also known as “States Parties,” have undertaken to secure and guarantee to everyone within their jurisdiction, not only their nationals, the fundamental civil and political rights defined in the Convention.

The Convention is the first treaty to establish a system in Europe to ensure that the States Parties fulfil their undertakings, and is a milestone in the development of international law. As a result of the Convention, the European Court of Human Rights— a unique legal instrument—was set up in Strasbourg in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Once member states accepted that a supranational court could challenge decisions taken by their own courts, human rights gained precedence de facto over national legislation and practice.

Since 1953, this system has dealt with over 500,000 applications, and the Court has delivered approximately 16,500 judgments.

States condemned by the European Court of Human Rights have the obligation to erase the consequences of the violation for the victim and to take general measures such as amending their legislation or their juridical practices. Several landmark judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have helped to significantly strengthen the rule of law and democracy across the European continent. For example:

  • Austria ended the monopoly applying to television
  • Belgium amended its laws on homeless people and adopted measures to prohibit discrimination against children born outside marriage
  • Bulgaria created an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors
  • Croatia introduced an effective remedy against the excessive length of court proceedings
  • The Czech Republic passed a new bankruptcy law
  • Denmark extended the right not to belong to a trade union
  • Finland amended its law on child custody and visiting rights
  • France, Spain and the United Kingdom passed laws on telephone tapping
  • Germany gave celebrities a greater right not to have their private photographs published
  • Greece improved detention conditions for foreigners awaiting deportation
  • Hungary introduced fairer decision-making with regard to prolongation of remand in custody
  • Ireland decriminalized homosexual acts
  • Italy made it compulsory for defence lawyers to appear before the Court of Cassation
  • Latvia abolished discriminatory language tests for election candidates
  • Moldova recognized freedom of religion
  • The Netherlands amended its legislation on the detention of patients with mental illnesses
  • Poland introduced an effective compensation system for certain persons whose property had been expropriated following the Second World War
  • Romania cancelled provisions making it possible to annul final court decisions
  • The Russian Federation improved the provision of social welfare for the victims of Chernobyl
  • The Slovak Republic amended its legislation on child placement
  • Slovenia took measures to prevent ill-treatment by the police
  • Sweden amended its provisions on public trials
  • Switzerland reviewed its criminal court system and criminal procedures
  • Turkey abolished military judges from state security courts
  • Ukraine amended its libel legislation
  • The United Kingdom banned corporal punishment in schools

It is a fascinating experiment, this international human rights regime, and it has clearly led to numerous positive developments in the signatory nations. Like the citizens of a country, the independent nations of Europe (those that have signed the agreement) have ceded some individual power to a court to administer and protect their shared values with respect to human rights. Such agreements force the parties involved to discuss openly and honestly with their citizens matters that might otherwise remain untouched and accepted due to tradition, societal convention, politics, religion, out-of-date law, science or belief, or other reasons. But the agreements also tie the hands of nations that don’t completely agree, and may require concessions. That is one of the costs of peace. It is surely worth it, since human rights beget human progress as they unleash the potential of individual citizens and empower their nations.

Source: European Court of Human Rights

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