The European Convention on Human Rights came into being against the dreadful background of the devastation of the Second World War, reflecting a determination on the part of European leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past and to help protect individuals from State abuse. Peace and stability could only be achieved by the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law.
Inspired by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention is a unique, legally-binding treaty, overseen by an independent international court, which safeguards people’s basic rights and fundamental freedoms.
Initially signed by 12 countries on 4 November 1950, the Convention now protects over 830 million people in 47 European States.
Over the years, the Convention has been supplemented by a number of Protocols on issues such as prohibiting discrimination and abolishing the death penalty. The latest Protocol boosts judicial dialogue in Europe by enabling superior national courts from countries that have accepted the Protocol to request advisory opinions from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
More than 20,000 judgments from the Court, implemented by Council of Europe member states, have improved people’s lives in many different ways across the continent.
The Convention has also inspired numerous positive changes when applied domestically by national authorities, as well as helping to raise standards of human rights protection around the world.
The Convention is a living instrument, which has repeatedly proved itself capable of adapting to new human rights challenges in areas including privacy, data protection and biomedicine.
This adaptability will be crucial in helping the continent to face emerging challenges to individuals’ rights linked to advances in technology, for example, and threats to the natural environment.
Ten years of reforms have reinforced the Convention system. Nevertheless, important challenges remain in terms of the backlog of cases at the Court and the need to fully implement its judgments.
A further important step forward would be the European Union’s accession to the Convention which will help to increase harmonisation of human rights protection throughout the European legal space.
The Convention system is precious and unparalleled. In these challenging and fast-moving times its relevance as an instrument for peace and stability has never been greater.
On its 70th anniversary we call upon the Governments and the people of Europe to celebrate its achievements and preserve its crucial potential, not just for our present fellow citizens but also for future generations. We owe it to them.
Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. More...