Last week marked the 65th anniversary of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, better known as the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Convention was signed in Rome on 4th November 1950 by 12 member states of the Council of Europe. It entered into force on 3rd September 1953, becoming the first instrument to give effect and binding force to certain rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Convention marked a milestone in the development of international law because it was the first treaty to establish a supranational organ to ensure the States that had signed the Convention fulfilled their undertakings. For the first time, an international court was established, which transcended national boundaries and which could challenge decisions taken by courts in individual Member States. This meant that human rights de facto gained precedence over national legislation and practice.
Now, any individual, group of individuals, company or non-governmental organisation can apply to the European Court of Human Rights, provided they have exhausted all domestic remedies.
Furthermore, in order to join the Council of Europe, a State must first sign and ratify the European Convention on Human Rights.
Over the past 65 years, the Convention has brought about significant change. It has rid Europe of the death penalty, prohibited torture, and enshrined fundamental human rights in the legal systems of 47 countries.
Commenting on its anniversary last week, Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said: “It [the Convention] has become the glue which binds the European continent together and it continues to protect essential freedoms through periods of change, conflict and crisis – including freedom of expression, assembly, thought and religion, as well as the right to privacy, fair trial and equality before the law.
“When governments fail to uphold these obligations, the European Court of Human Rights guarantees the right of individual petition to Europe’s 820 million citizens. It is no wonder, then, that the Convention system remains a beacon of hope to people around the world.”