ECHR: power to the people



Reforms are desperately needed by the European Court of Human Rights – the supra-national court for citizens in 47 countries, which belong to the Council of Europe.

It is based on the European Convention on Human Rights – the only international human rights agreement that provides the individual with a high degree of protection.

In almost fifty years, the court has delivered more than 10,000 judgements, spanning a range of issues - from armed conflict, extradition and discrimination - to hunting, pensions and putting up posters.

The Council of Europe paid its first official visit to The Hague on Wednesday, to lobby for support and advice from the city of International Peace and Justice. The Council’s Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland spoke to Geraldine Coughlan.

As the host to international courts, what can the Netherlands offer the Council of Europe?

The Netherlands was one of the founding fathers of the Council of Europe and now we are in a very intensive reform process around the whole organisation.

In particular the Court of Human Rights is in desperate need of reform and it is very important that the Netherlands is involved in that debate because of the background of this country and therefore they have a lot to contribute.

What kinds of reforms?

We have to make the procedures of the court more effective so that it can deal with the growing number of applications to the court. This is at the heart of a very sensitive ongoing discussion - on how to make the procedures more effective and at the same time, safeguard the basic principle of this court: namely, that you have a right to petition to the court.

The EU will soon accede to the European Convention on Human Rights – what kind of precedent will this set? 

It will, as I see it, be a historic event because it will be the first time that a big power like the European Union, a global power, will accede to an international court and be under the standards and the rulings of both a body and a court that is above its own institutions.

It very seldom happens that a superpower, a global power wants to be under the supervision of another international body.

So how much power will that give the EU?

Well, it will not give the European Union more power but I think it will it more legitimacy in the world and by this, Europe will be able to continue to set an example for the rest of the world.

How will this accession affect the citizen, directly?

It will mean that the citizen can bring an application to the court in Strasbourg if they believe an EU law is not in compliance with the human rights standards in the Convention. So it gives the citizens more power. And therefore it will enhance the whole human rights protection system we have in Europe.

Article 6 (ECHR) is gaining momentum in jurisprudence. Why is this Article becoming so widely recognised? 

I guess it’s because there are so many cases around Europe which highlight this right to have a fair trial. You have the Timoshenko case in Ukraine, for instance.

And also here in the Netherlands you have cases which are about pre-trial detention and the way this is done. There are many different kinds of issues being raised in member states which highlight the need for safeguarding the rights of people who are being detained or are in a trial process.

Because the basic principle in the human rights protection system in Europe is that you have the right to have a fair trial; to protect the rights of people who don’t.

What are the new issues for the Council of Europe?

There are some old problems that we have in many member states and new ones are arising in member states also.

Think about for instance the rights of LGBT’s (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people) - that is a new issue that is coming up in most of the European countries. Which only ten years ago was a non-issue in Europe because we didn’t have any legitimacy over it.

Today, it is an issue which is highlighted in many countries and so it’s a good example of how human rights are expanding and having importance for new kinds of people.

  • Geographical area: Europe
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