The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is widely recognized as an important and effective international treaty for human rights protection. It has had an important role in the development and awareness raising of human rights in Europe. And it has had a significant influence on law making in most of the European countries. It is difficult to overstate its importance. Europe has in many aspects become a better place to live in the last half of a century, and the ECHR has played an important part in bringing this about.
Human rights were seen as a fundamental tool by the leading powers after the Second World War to prevent the most serious human rights violations which had occurred during the war from happening again.
The drafting of the first human rights instruments, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and subsequently the international human rights Covenant, had been initiated within the sphere of the United Nations shortly after the end of the Second World War. It however was progressing slowly, in part due to differing viewpoints on what human rights were or could be agreed upon. This may have been a strongly contributing factor that it was decided to push forward on the human rights agenda for Europe with and at the Congress of Europe held in May 1948.
A declaration and pledge to create a European Convention was issued at the Congress. The second and third Articles of the Pledge stated: “We desire a Charter of Human Rights guaranteeing liberty of thought, assembly and expression as well as right to form a political opposition. We desire a Court of Justice with adequate sanctions for the implementation of this Charter.”
In the summer of 1949, more than 100 parliamentarians from the then twelve member states of the Council of Europe met in Strasbourg for the first ever meeting of the Council’s Consultative Assembly (the assembly of parliamentarians, which today is known as the Parliamentary Assembly). They met to draft a “charter of human rights”, and secondly to establish a court to enforce it.
After extensive debates, the Assembly sent its final proposal to the Council’s decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers. The Ministers convened a group of experts to review and finalize the Convention itself.
The European Convention was discussed and its final text formulated by this expert group, which in part consisted of diplomats from the Ministries of the member states. They sought to incorporate a traditional civil liberties approach to securing “effective political democracy”, from the traditions in the United Kingdom, France and other member states of the newly formed Council of Europe.
The European Convention on Human Rights was opened for signature on 4 November 1950 in Rome, and entered into force on 3rd September 1953.