Is Council of Europe meeting the goals for which it was created?


One of the main functions of the Council of Europe is now the European Court of Human Rights. But that court has a backlog of nearly 80,000 cases. We asked Aaron Rhodes - the head of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights whether the Council is still meeting the goals for which it was created:

"Yes and no. I think the Council of Europe renders a service to its members, especially through the workings of the European Court of Human Rights and this is unique in the world as a system of providing remedies to citizens."

That court has a backlog of nearly 80,000 cases. That would suggest that something is wrong there...

"Well, something is wrong and that's why I said 'no' also. You know, the court actually violates the same rights that it is trying to uphold. One of the rights to which European citizens are entitled is the right to a fair and speedy trial. Proceedings in the European court are so slow that that isn't provided."

There does appear to be a bit of a contradiction here. The member states sign up to the European Convention of Human Rights and then you have so many cases of obviously human rights abuses coming back to the court. This must mean that the member states are not observing that convention that they signed up to.

"Of course they are not. But the court is there to provide remedies. So, in a sense it can be good. But there are other cases, where this is a terrible scandal. The worst is Chechnya. This is the worst human rights situation in the entire region and the ministers of the Council of Europe have hardly taken up the case at all..."

...and Russia is a member of the Council!

"Of course it is but the committee of ministers hasn't even taken up this case in any meaningful way. In fact, they have backslidden on the issue; they have discontinued the special monitoring procedure that was established for Chechnya last summer."

So do they not have an effective means to criticise their members? I know this has been an issue between the OSCE and Russia. Russia objects to being criticised by this organisation. The same applies then to the Council of Europe.

"Well, of course Russia objects to it but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. These are objective violations of the Council of Europe standards but the members of the Council don't want to go head-to-head with Russia over these questions. So, the Council of Europe, like most international organisations, is as good as its members and it reflects the political will of its members and you can see the lack of political will in the issue of Chechnya."

Well, there was an impressive line-up of leaders in Warsaw. What could they do to make the organisation more effective and overcome some of those problems?

"We, as the Helsinki Federation, would urge that the members of the Council of Europe would start getting more serious about making sure that their fellow members play by the rules."