European Convention on Human Rights Is Signed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The European Convention on Human Rights established a comprehensive and effective system for the international protection of human rights that went beyond the human rights protections of the United Nations.

Summary of Event

The content of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights for the protection of individual rights is virtually identical to that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations. The European Convention, however, goes beyond any other instrument of human rights protection in terms of the effectiveness of its procedures. For this reason, the European Convention is generally regarded as the best system for the protection of human rights established by any international organization. Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations European Convention on Human Rights (1950) [kw]European Convention on Human Rights Is Signed (Nov. 4, 1950) [kw]Convention on Human Rights Is Signed, European (Nov. 4, 1950) [kw]Human Rights Is Signed, European Convention on (Nov. 4, 1950) [kw]Rights Is Signed, European Convention on Human (Nov. 4, 1950) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations European Convention on Human Rights (1950) [g]Europe;Nov. 4, 1950: European Convention on Human Rights Is Signed[03320] [g]Italy;Nov. 4, 1950: European Convention on Human Rights Is Signed[03320] [c]Human rights;Nov. 4, 1950: European Convention on Human Rights Is Signed[03320] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 4, 1950: European Convention on Human Rights Is Signed[03320] Fyfe, David Maxwell Teitgen, Pierre-Henri Petren, Broc Arvid Sture Dehousse, Fernand

Europeans in the post-World War II era had an immediate interest in human rights. Western European diplomats believed that the rise of fascism was the principal cause of World War II and the misery and devastation experienced by millions of people in that conflict. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany made the suppression of human rights a deliberate and integral part of their policies and programs. Postwar leaders thought that the creation of an effective system to guarantee human rights and freedoms would help inhibit the reemergence of such dictatorships. At the same time, the continued postwar existence of Joseph Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union concerned Western Europeans. Thus, the protection of human rights became linked to European efforts to defend against all forms of dictatorship and totalitarianism.

Well before the end of World War II, a concern for human rights was being expressed. The Atlantic Charter of 1941 proclaimed a right of all peoples to self-determination. The U.N. Declaration of 1942, the U.N. Charter of 1945, and the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 reaffirmed and expanded this earlier interest in human rights.

Western European leaders believed that such general international proclamations needed more specific application to postwar European conditions. For that reason, the Congress of Europe met at The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1948 and declared the need for a united Europe, a European charter of human rights guaranteeing freedom of expression and assembly, a court of justice to implement the charter, and the formation of a European representative assembly. In short, the construction and maintenance of an effective system to protect human rights was to become the collective responsibility of a united Western Europe. This was to be the regional counterpart of the worldwide system established by the United Nations.

The newly created Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe Council of Europe directed its attention to designing such a system. The assembly’s Committee on Legal and Administrative Questions met, under the chairmanship of David Maxwell Fyfe, to draft proposals for the system. Assisted by the contributions of such members as Fernand Dehousse and Pierre-Henri Teitgen, the committee presented its conclusions to the Council of Europe on September 8, 1949, in the Teitgen Report Teitgen Report (1949) . The report proposed that the member states of the Council of Europe should be obligated to guarantee collectively a list of ten human rights from the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The report proposed also that a European commission for human rights and a European court of justice be created to examine and adjudicate cases of alleged human rights violations.

The Council of Europe appointed separate committees to study the Teitgen Report and draft a final declaration based upon the report’s proposals. The committee chaired by Broc Arvid Sture Petren drew up this declaration, the European Convention on Human Rights. The convention was signed on November 4, 1950, in Rome by the foreign ministers of the member states of the Council of Europe. The principles and rights to be guaranteed were essentially the same as those proposed in the Teitgen Report, and the provisions were to be implemented by a commission and court of human rights. The convention was ratified and entered into force on September 3, 1953.

The European convention stressed the protection of the principal civil and political rights deemed necessary in a democratic society. It was structured to allow for additional rights to be included later through protocol agreement. The convention of 1950 and the first protocol of 1952 guaranteed fourteen rights and freedoms to all individuals within the jurisdiction of the signatory states.

The collective guarantee of civil and political rights embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights led to interest in economic and social rights. In 1954, the Council of Europe proposed the drafting of a social charter that would enunciate and guarantee these rights. The European Social Charter European Social Charter (1961) was signed on October 18, 1961, in Turin, Italy. The charter’s list of nineteen economic and social rights was designed to guide the policy of the Council of Europe in the social field and complement the European Convention on Human Rights.

To implement the provisions of the convention, the European Commission of Human Rights European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights European Court of Human Rights were established and headquartered in Strasbourg, France. An existing governmental organ of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers, was also to play a part in the operation of the convention. The European commission consists of as many members as have ratified the convention and functions along the lines summarized in the Teitgen Report. Its role was to examine cases of human rights violations brought by one state against another.

In 1955, the commission instituted a more important and valuable procedure by granting the right to individuals to file direct complaints against governments, including their own. Allowing individuals the right to appeal to an international organ against governments was a remarkable innovation in international law, because it upheld the rights of individuals against those traditionally held by states.

Significance

There are limits to the impact made by the European Convention on Human Rights. As with any agreement, the convention’s effectiveness depends on the extent to which the contracting parties agree to abide by its provisions. The right of individuals to bring complaints before the European Commission was made conditional on the expressed acceptance of this procedure by the state concerned. Similarly, the ability to cite a state before the European Court was made conditional on that state’s agreement to accept the jurisdiction of the court. Not all the nations that ratified the convention accepted these specific procedures.

Moreover, the European Convention protects only a limited number of rights and freedoms, to the exclusion of other rights not guaranteed expressly. The convention can come into effect only after it has been judged that all domestic remedies have been exhausted. For all these reasons, 85 to 90 percent of all complaints submitted are ruled inadmissible. Those that are admissible face a slow-moving bureaucratic process in the commission and court that can take up to five years to reach a conclusion.

Despite these shortcomings, the European Convention has had an important impact on human rights in Europe. The most striking and innovative feature of the convention is the new status it accorded to the individual in international law. Classic international law regulated relations between states and bestowed no rights on the private citizen. The convention’s granting of the right of individual petition first to the European commission and, since the 1997 elimination of the commission, directly to the European court itself, set an important precedent in international law upholding the rights of private citizens against those of the state.

The European convention implies also a measure of international control over the actions of national governments. The European Commission and Court of Human Rights had, and the court still has, the competence to examine and judge the activities of states that adhere to the convention. This European arrangement contrasts with the United Nations charter, which prohibits the United Nations from intervening in the domestic affairs of any state, although many U.N. human rights instruments contain provisions or protocols for individual complaints.

The European convention has had an important impact on the national courts of certain states that have ratified the convention. Nations such as Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands apply the provisions of a treaty directly to their domestic law. Thus, the rights guaranteed by the European convention may be invoked by litigants in these states, and they may be held to prevail over any national laws and administrative decisions that contradict the convention.

Finally, the European convention has had an impact on other parts of the world. Nations that have ratified the convention may extend its application to any overseas territories they may possess. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands extended the convention to their imperial possessions in the 1950’s. When former colonies gained independence, many of them adopted the convention’s provisions for the protection of human rights and incorporated them into their new constitutions.

The European convention also served as the model for the convention on human rights established by the Organization of American States in 1965. Similar human rights conventions in Africa and Southeast Asia were influenced by the European model. Thus, the impact of the European convention includes not only its direct effects in Europe but also its value as a precedent for other parts of the world. Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations European Convention on Human Rights (1950)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beddard, Ralph. Human Rights and Europe: A Study of the Machinery of Human Rights Protection of the Council of Europe. 2d ed. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1980. General account of the background and procedures of the European Convention. A brief, lucid introduction to the topic. Index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Castberg, Frede. The European Convention on Human Rights. Translated by Gytte Borch, edited by Torkel Opsahl and Thomas Ouchterlony. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1974. Clearly written study of the background ideas and principles of the convention. Examines also the procedures of the convention and the development of its jurisprudence through the 1960’s. Index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dijk, P. van, and G. J. H. van Hoof. Theory and Practice of the European Convention on Human Rights. 3d ed. Boston: Kluwer, 1998. Comprehensive source on the subject. A valuable and detailed examination of the procedures of the convention. The ponderous prose of the English translation is more suited to academic readers. Index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Drzemczewski, Andrew Z. European Human Rights Convention in Domestic Law: A Comparative Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Excellent interpretive analysis of the ways in which member nations of the Council of Europe incorporate the provisions of the European Convention into their domestic law. Index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Merrills, J. G., and A. H. Robertson. Human Rights in Europe: A Study of the European Convention on Human Rights. 4th ed. Yonkers, N.Y.: Juris, 2001. A substantial and detailed survey of the subject. Includes a thorough analysis of the procedures of the commission and court. An excellent work for general readers and students. Index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morrison, Clovis C. The Dynamics of Development in the European Human Rights Convention System. Boston: M. Nijhoff, 1981. Interpretive and critical examination of the work of the European Court of Human Rights. Analyzes in detail the ways in which the court has interpreted, modified, and even extended the principles and provisions of the European Convention. Index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ovey, Clare, and Robin White. Jacobs and White—The European Convention on Human Rights. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Classic general survey of the background and history of the European Convention. Covers all aspects of the principles of the convention and the policies and procedures of the commission and the Court of Human Rights. Index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robertson, A. H. “The European Convention on Human Rights.” In The International Protection of Human Rights, edited by Evan Luard. New York: Praeger, 1967. Excellent brief account of the convention. Outlines its origins, principles, and impact. Provides detailed examples of how the provisions of the convention have been applied and implemented. Article references and brief bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weil, Gordon L. The European Convention on Human Rights: Background, Development, and Prospects. Leiden, the Netherlands: Sijthoff, 1963. Dated but useful account of the convention. Includes an analysis of the background and impact of the convention and a detailed description of its articles and protocols. No index, but a good bibliography.

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