Whilst the United Nations was adopting the Universal Declaration, Europe had established a Congress in 1947, under the chairmanship of Winston Churchill to consider a European Charter of Human Rights. Serious discussions began when the Council of Europe was established in May 1949.
The debates over the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom (as it became), were long and heated but the final document was signed in Rome in November 1950.
The full text of the Convention can be seen here.
A Convention is nothing but words unless there are mechanisms in place to enforce the rights given under it. Europe has established a separate monitoring and legal enforcement facility.
Enforcement of the Convention
The European Court of Human Rights is an international court set up in 1959. It rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly.
In almost fifty years the Court has delivered more than 10,000 judgments. These are binding on the countries concerned and have led governments to alter their legislation and administrative practice in a wide range of areas. The Court's case-law makes the Convention a powerful living instrument for meeting new challenges and consolidating the rule of law and democracy in Europe.
The Court is based in Strasbourg, in the Human Rights Building designed by the British architect Richard Rogers in 1994 – a building whose image is known worldwide. From here, the Court monitors respect for the human rights of 800 million Europeans in the 47 Council of Europe member States that have ratified the Convention.
As an individual, you can take a case to the European Court and the Court has issued a leaflet explaining how you can do it.
If the Court finds that there has been a violation, it may award you "just satisfaction", a sum of money in compensation for certain forms of damage. The Court may also require the State concerned to refund the expenses you have incurred in presenting your case.
If the Court finds that there has been no violation, you will not have to pay any additional costs (such as those incurred by the State).
Monitoring the actions of Member States
The Courts are the last resort and Europe has set up monitoring structures to encourage Member States to take Human Rights issues seriously, both at an international level and European level.
The Fundamental Rights Agency is the body designated to do that across Member states. To see how your particular Member State is doing in comparison with others it is instructive to examine the FRA annual reports. The latest report was issued in 2018.
The Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) is the key piece of EU legislation for combating discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin and for giving effect to the principle of equal treatment.
Once again the Fundamental Rights Agency monitors how Member States apply the Directive and in 2015 they produced both a Report on the performance of Member States and a Factsheet on Combating Racial Discrimination.
In October 2015 the Fundamental Rights Agency produced a Working Paper on Antisemitism in Europe which demonstrated how different is the recording and collation of data across the EU States on antisemitic acts. These are just a few of the highly informative publications produced by the Fundamental Rights Agency. Any organisations or individuals wanting to get to grips with any aspect of human rights in Europe should pay their website a visit.
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
This Charter can cause confusion as it has a similar title and provisions to the Conventions and Declarations. However it is addressing a different audience. It is aimed at the law-makers; the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice and any other body of the European Union that makes laws, decides cases or acts in an official capacity.
Member states need to observe these provisions when they incorporate European law into their domestic law.
Holocaust specific agreements
In addition to the general Conventions/Directives there has been separate consideration given to remembrance of the Holocaust which was derived from an international forum held in Stockholm in 2000.
Declaration of The Stockholm International Forum of 2000 on the Holocaust
In May 1998, the Swedish, British and US Governments established the ”Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research”. They were joined subsequently by Germany, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, France and Italy. At the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in December of that year, Task Force members issued a joint declaration stating, inter alia, that ”Holocaust education, remembrance and research strengthen humanity’s ability to absorb and learn from the dark lessons of the past, so that we can ensure that similar horrors are never again repeated.”
The document also declares that ”we are committing our countries to encourage parents, teachers, and civic, political and religious leaders to undertake with renewed vigour and attention Holocaust education, remembrance and research, with a special focus on our own countries’ histories”. Other nations are called upon to strengthen their efforts in these fields, and to undertake new ones where necessary.
In line with this commitment, Prime Minister Göran Persson of Sweden invited Task Force and other interested governments to participate in The Stockholm International Forum on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. The Forum took place on 26-28 January 2000.
The Forum’s primary goal was to facilitate international dialogue which would promote initiatives related to Holocaust education. the Forum created a unique opportunity for high-ranking political leaders and officials, civic and religious leaders, survivors, educators, historians and other interested professionals to meet and exchange knowledge and practical experience.
The Forum ended with a Declaration.
We, High Representatives of Governments at the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, declare that:
1. The Holocaust (Shoah) fundamentally challenged the foundations of civilization. The unprecedented character of the Holocaust will always hold universal meaning. After half a century, it remains an event close enough in time that survivors can still bear witness to the horrors that engulfed the Jewish people. The terrible suffering of the many millions of other victims of the Nazis has left an indelible scar across Europe as well.
2.The magnitude of the Holocaust, planned and carried out by the Nazis, must be forever seared in our collective memory. The selfless sacrifices of those who defied the Nazis, and sometimes gave their own lives to protect or rescue the Holocaust’s victims, must also be inscribed in our hearts. The depths of that horror, and the heights of their heroism, can be touchstones in our understanding of the human capacity for evil and for good.
3.With humanity still scarred by genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia, the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils. Together we must uphold the terrible truth of the Holocaust against those who deny it. We must strengthen the moral commitment of our peoples, and the political commitment of our governments, to ensure that future generations can understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences.
4.We pledge to strengthen our efforts to promote education, remembrance and research about the Holocaust, both in those of our countries that have already done much and those that choose to join this effort.
5.We share a commitment to encourage the study of the Holocaust in all its dimensions. We will promote education about the Holocaust in our schools and universities, in our communities and encourage it in other institutions.
6.We share a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to honour those who stood against it. We will encourage appropriate forms of Holocaust remembrance, including an annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance, in our countries.
7.We share a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust. We will take all necessary steps to facilitate the opening of archives in order to ensure that all documents bearing on the Holocaust are available to researchers.
8.It is appropriate that this, the first major international conference of the new millennium, declares its commitment to plant the seeds of a better future amidst the soil of a bitter past. We empathize with the victims’ suffering and draw inspiration from their struggle. Our commitment must be to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.
This Declaration was followed up by further forums and in 2004, 55 governments signed up to the following text:
Declaration by the Stockholm International Forum, 2004
The Holocaust, as reaffirmed by the Stockholm Forum Declaration of January 2000, challenged the foundations of human civilization. Recalling our responsibility to fight the evils of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-Semitism, islamophobia and xenophobia, we, the participants of the Stockholm International Forum 2004: "Preventing Genocide: Threats and Responsibilities", conscious of our obligations and responsibilities under international law including human rights and international humanitarian law, deeply concerned with the repeated occurrence of genocide, mass murder and ethnic cleansing in recent history as well as with the widespread occurrence of impunity for such crimes, are committed to doing our utmost for the prevention of these scourges in order to build a more secure future for us all.
To this end we declare that:
1. We are committed to using and developing practical tools and mechanisms to identify as early as possible and to monitor and report genocidal threats to human life and society in order to prevent the recurrence of genocide, mass murder and ethnic cleansing.
2. We are committed to shouldering our responsibility to protect groups identified as potential victims of genocide, mass murder or ethnic cleansing, drawing upon the range of tools at our disposal to prevent such atrocities in accordance with international law and fully upholding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
3. We are committed to ensuring that perpetrators of genocidal acts are brought to justice. We are also committed to supporting survivors of genocide to rebuild their communities and to return to normal life.
4. We are committed to supporting research into the possibilities of preventing genocide, mass murder and ethnic cleansing.
5. We are committed to educating the youth and the wider public against genocidal dangers of all kinds through formal and informal educational structures. We are also committed to disseminating knowledge of these dangers to those involved in government, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, humanitarian and peace support operations and the media.
6. We are committed to exploring, seriously and actively, the options presented at this Forum for action against genocidal threats, mass murders, deadly conflicts, ethnic cleansing as well as genocidal ideologies and incitement to genocide, including the concrete proposals presented by the United Nations Secretary-General.
7. We are committed to cooperating in our search for effective measures against genocidal dangers with all members of the family of nations, in the United Nations and other relevant global and regional organizations as well as with non-governmental organizations, labour organizations, the media and with business and academic communities.
The Terezin Declaration
In June 2009 representatives of 46 states met and together pledged that their governments would do the following things:
1. Address better Holocaust survivors' needs.
2. Work harder to identify the restitution of seized properties.
3. Identify mass graves and ensure that Jewish cemeteries are demarcated, preserved and kept free from desecration.
4. Identify Nazi confiscated and looted Jewish art and artefacts.
5. Restore Judaica and Jewish cultural property to their rightful owners.
6. Promote and display archives of relevance to the Holocaust.
7. Establish the European Shoah Legacy Institute in Terezin (Terezin Institute).