Council of Europe Human Rights Treaties

There are a large number of treaties developed at the Council of Europe (CoE), many of which are relevant to human rights. These are the most important CoE human rights conventions that the UK has ratified.

ECHR European Convention on Human Rights (195) Ratified in 1951

After World War II, the UK along with the other Council of Europe Member States had a major role in the drafting of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Convention protects a range of civil and political rights. It also establishes the European Court of Human Rights. Anyone who alleges their rights have been violated under the Convention can take a case to the Court. If a case on Northern Ireland is admitted by the Court, the Executive and Departments may have to defend legislation, policies or their actions before the Court. The judgments are binding and the NICS must ensure it acts in compliance with the rights and judgments.

Protocols are additional treaties attaching to the Convention, which contain further human rights, amend the powers of the Court or the procedures of the system. The UK has ratified Protocols No. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13 and 14. 

ESC European Social Charter (1961) Ratified in 1962

The European Social Charter sets out the economic, social and cultural rights required for everyday life, such as the rights to health, work, social security and education. The Charter was enriched and the 1996 Revised European Social Charter is gradually replacing the initial 1961 treaty. The UK has signed but not ratified the revised Charter.

The European Committee of Social Rights assesses the laws and practices of the Government and for that purpose, the Government must regularly submit a report indicating how it implements the provisions of the Charter. The Committee publishes an annual report with conclusions from its assessment. Its country factsheet provides useful information on the UK conclusions it has issued.

ECSS European Code of Social Security (1964 Ratified in 1968

The European Code of Social Security defines norms for social security coverage and establishes minimum levels of protection, which the Government must provide for all nine branches of social security (medical care, sickness benefits, unemployment benefit and old-age benefits, employment injury benefit, family benefit, maternity benefit, invalidity benefit and survivors' benefit. The Code provides higher benefit levels than its global model, the ILO Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102).

The Governmental Committee of the European Social Charter and the European Code of Social Security, composed of representatives of the States signed up to the ECSS is tasked with monitoring the Government’s compliance with the Code.

ECPT European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987) Ratified in 1988

The Convention establishes the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), which can visit all places where persons are deprived of their liberty by a public authority. These places include prisons, juvenile detention centres, police stations, holding centres for immigration detainees, psychiatric hospitals, social care homes, etc.

The Committee of independent experts makes recommendations and can suggest improvements in order to strengthen, if necessary, the protection of persons visited from torture and from inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Committee has undertaken a number of visits to the UK, two of which focused solely on Northern Ireland.

ECRML European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992) Ratified in 2001

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages aims to protect and promote regional and minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe’s cultural heritage. It also seeks to enable speakers of a regional or minority language to use their language in private and public life. The Charter covers Cornish, Irish, Manx Gaelic, Scots, Scottish-Gaelic, Ulster Scots and Welsh with respect to the UK. Specific duties apply to the NICS regarding its obligations to respect, protect and facilitate the use of these languages across different areas in ensuring compliance with the Charter.

The Charter also sets up the Committee of Experts (ComEx), which monitors the situation of the regional or minority languages in each State and reports to the Committee of Ministers on its evaluation. The UK must submit periodic reports to the Committee for this purpose. The Committee may also send one or more of its members to a country to carry out an on-the-spot evaluation of any situation relevant to the implementation of the Charter.

FCNM Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995) Ratified in 1998

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is the first legally binding multilateral instrument devoted to the protection of national minorities. By ratifying the FCNM, the UK must promote full and effective equality of persons belonging to minorities in all areas of economic, social, political, public and cultural life together with conditions that will allow them to express, preserve and develop their culture, religion, language and traditions.

The Advisory Committee monitors State compliance with the FCNM through a regular reporting mechanism. It reports to the Committee of Ministers, who then adopts a resolution with conclusions and recommendations to the Government. The Advisory Committee may also send a delegation of its members to a country. 

CoE Anti-Trafficking Convention Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005) Ratified in 2009

The Convention is a comprehensive treaty mainly focused on the protection of victims of trafficking and the safeguard of their rights. It also aims at preventing trafficking as well as prosecuting traffickers. It applies to all forms of trafficking: national and transnational, whether or not related to organised crime and whoever the victim, women, men or children and whatever the form of exploitation, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, etc.

The Convention establishes the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), a technical body, composed of independent experts. GRETA evaluates the measures the Government has taken by using a variety of methods to collect data, which may include country visits. GRETA reports to the Committee of the Parties, a political body composed of the representatives of the Member States of the Convention. The Committee of Parties may adopt recommendations indicating the measures to be taken by the Government concerned to implement GRETA’s conclusions.

Istanbul Convention Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (2011) Signed in 2012

One of the newest Council of Europe Conventions, it entered into force on 1 August 2014. The UK has signed but not yet ratified this Convention, also known as the ‘Istanbul Convention’.

The Istanbul Convention contains provisions to protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence. It focuses on the Government’s duties of prevention, protection, prosecution, monitoring and adopting integrated policies to ensure coordination and a comprehensive approach.

The Convention also establishes a specific monitoring mechanism, the Group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence (GREVIO) in order to ensure effective implementation of its provisions by States.