60th Anniversary for the European Convention on Human Rights: Happy Birthday, Happy Growth!

On 3 September 1953 the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) entered into force. Besides the many congratulations this Council of Europe Convention got, gets and will get I just want to make some short remarks on the ECHR.

1. Europeans are often envied for this Convention. I discussed in North America, the Caribbean, in Africa and in Asia the function of the ECHR, and every time there was a spontaneous consensus in favour of such an instrument also in the respective regions. Especially the individual complaint was and is seen as an effective tool for everybody’s access to law.

2. With more than 500,000 applications since its enry into force and around 16.500 judgments, the ECHR has set up real European rule of law standards, and many elements of a European litigation culture. We can be proud of this. In my 16 years of government advice there were at every assignment some possible applicants as well as several lawyers who approached me „just because you are a lawyer from Europe …“ and told me „their“ story; some of them could be convinced that a ECHR case would have probably no success, some others have been encouraged to follow their Intention. But it brings me to the crucial question of a follow-up: what happens e.g. if a state does not comply with the judgment, or only partly? The ECHR still needs a lot of publicity, and it should be included in the education (in constitutional law probably) of every law student. The more popular, the more self-evident and well known this Convention is, the better.

3. The ECHR will have a considerable growth in application when the European Union will join it. Together with the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has strong and very modern tendencies not only towards social and economic fundamental rights, the EU citizens will have an ever more efficient system of human and fundamental rights’protection. At the same time, the Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU should have, in full legitimacy, to work as a secondary outreach also for the ECHR.

4. In the EU, among the signatory states of the ECHR. there are at present negative tendencies: In particular it must be allowed to mention the British Government who is responsible for the fact that the EU Charter of Fundamental RIghts is not explicitly part of the Lisbon Treaties but only mentioned in a footnote. This does not decrease the validitiy, but the visibility. Also, the next General Elections in UK must be observed thoroughly if the governing Tories will try to withdraw from the ECHR – this is what one hears since several months from the relevant ministries. It Comes in a time with not very much respect of personal data privacy, by the British Secret Service, by incredible intimidation practices to journalists (The Guardian), and to intimidation to famiy members of journalists (the Miranda Case). Any withdrawal would be a catastrophic move, as the ECHR has been set up on the explicit proposal of the British Government. Created by Churchill – abolished by Cameron? In UK, one should be proud of the ECHR standards and should try to celebrate this. But it seems to be a new policy attempt by the Conservative Party, caused by its right and populist wing. It should be rather examined if the UK, after many centuries of an unwritten Constitution, would not be better off with a written Constitution, which reminds the administration more than a regulation vacuum of what to do or not. It is regrettable that this has to be said to the government of a country where the habeas corpus act has been created, as well as the Magna Charta, and this in the 13th century. In addition the UK withdrawal from the ECHR would be a step of erosion and a bad example for countries who regret today, too, that they have signed the ECHR. It is evident, which countries! In order not to argue too long, I just mention the UK Human RIghts Blog, with a recent article by Adam Wagner, at http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/09/03/why-we-would-be-mad-to-leave-our-european-convention-on-human-rights/ .

Ad multos annos to the European Convention on Human Rights, and a considerable growth in use – in all European states, but also a good imitation in other parts of the world!

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka

Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal

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