Established on May 5, 1949, headquartered in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe consists of 46 states, 27 of which are members of the European Union. In order to become a member of the Council of Europe, it is required that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) be signed by the relevant states.
According to Article 1 of the Convention of the Council of Europe, “The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a stronger unity among its members in order to preserve and realize the ideals and principles that are their common heritage and to facilitate their economic and social progress.”
The Council conducts its activities under the leadership of the Secretary General elected for a five-year term. Currently, Croatian Foreign Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric is the Secretary General of the Council.
The Council adopted the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950. The Convention protects citizens of European countries against human rights violations.
Among the other important human rights documents signed within the Council are the European Social Charter, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combat of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
In this process, the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was the source of inspiration. Just like in the UN system, it is possible to state that the Council of Europe Conventions have been strengthened and updated with protocols and various monitoring mechanisms have been established. In this framework, there are protection and strengthening mechanisms in the field of human rights within the Council of Europe on the one hand at the level of the Council organs and on the other hand with the Conventions.
Examples of these protection and control mechanisms are: European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Committee of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CPT), Gender Equality Commissions, European Committee of Social Rights, European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which is the main mechanism within the Council in terms of the protection of human rights, was established in 1959. Citizens of member states can apply to the Court on the grounds that the state concerned has violated the ECHR. The court consists of 47 judges, one from each member state.
The ECtHR is a full judicial review mechanism based on state and individual applications stipulated by the ECHR. The Court, which has the feature of being the most applied individual complaint mechanism in the world, operates in a judicial nature and on a full-time basis. Although court decisions are binding, states have discretion in how they are carried out.
Another important mechanism within the Council of Europe is the Human Rights Commissioner. This unit, which has a similar structure to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was established in 1999 by the Committee of Ministers. In the decision, the Commissioner is defined as an impartial, independent and non-judicial institution that aims to raise awareness and sensitivity on human rights. In this sense, unlike in-contract control mechanisms, the unit does not examine individual applications and work on issues regulated by contracts.
The main function of the Commissioner is to monitor national human rights practices in the member states, to raise awareness about human rights, to support the states in terms of protection and strengthening of rights at the national level, and to carry out cooperation activities. The Commissioner can also carry out work to resolve the legal-practical problems it has identified in the member states within its mandate, and can submit a report on this matter to the Committee of Ministers or the Parliamentary Assembly at its own request.