The Council of Europe defends human rights in Europe through more than 200 international conventions that it has adopted, including the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It monitors member states’ progress in tackling human rights challenges and adopts recommendations on these topics.
The Council of Europe does most of its work through four main bodies, known as the "quadrilogue", each of which performs different duties:
The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) is the Council of Europe’s deliberative body. It consists of 318 members of parliament from the 47 member states, meeting in plenary session four times a year. The Assembly plays a key role in keeping the Council running smoothly and in representing it on the international stage. It elects the Secretary General, the Human Rights Commissioner and the judges to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It provides a democratic forum for debate on current issues. It has nine committees, each with its own area of responsibility for specific legal and human rights issues. FIACAT and the ACATs are most active on the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.
The Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) was set up in 2005. The 320 INGOs that make it up enjoy participatory status at the Council of Europe. The Conference is the main body representing European civil society that offers expertise and grassroots contact with citizens. It plays a key role as the link between politicians and citizens. It fixes guidelines, sketches out programmes of action and draws up recommendations. It meets in plenary twice a year during PACE ordinary sessions; the majority of its work is prepared by committees and groups meeting regularly on specific issues.
The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe’s political decision-making body. Moreover, it is responsible for overseeing and monitoring the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. It is made up of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of each member states or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg. It is responsible for deciding Council of Europe policy and for approving the organisation’s programme and budget.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is responsible for strengthening local and regional democracy, improving local and regional governance and strengthening authorities’ self-government. It is made up of 636 elected representatives from over 200 000 local and regional authorities.
To ensure compliance with the international conventions, the Council of Europe monitors member states’ progress in the areas they cover and makes recommendations through independent expert monitoring bodies.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is the judicial body responsible for overseeing implementation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Established under the Convention in 1959, it has sat as a full-time court since 1998. It has as many judges as there are member states, i.e. 47. Applications can be brought by an individual, group of individuals or non-governmental organisation, regardless of nationality, provided that they have exhausted all domestic remedies (individual applications); or by one State against another (inter-State applications). The Court’s judgments are legally binding and affect over 820 million people.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) was established in 1987 by the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, which has now been ratified by the Council of Europe’s 47 member states. The Committee began its work in 1989. It is made up of independent experts from the various States parties and is entitled to carry out periodic or ad hoc investigations into the human rights situation in places of detention. The CPT has unlimited access to all potential places of detention in member states, plus the right to move inside such places without restriction and interview detainees in private. After each visit the CPT drafts a report setting out its findings, recommendations and requests for additional information, which are then monitored. The CPT is not a judicial body; as such, its aim is not to condemn States, but to assist them in finding solutions. In taking proactive and preventive action it complements the ECHR’s a posteriori control.
The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent and impartial non-judicial institution established in 1999 to promote human rights and draw attention to human rights violations. The Commissioner’s jurisdiction is broader than that of the CPT in that he focuses on all human rights. He makes visits where the human rights situation so requires, he meets with the authorities and suggests necessary measures. The Commissioner’s activities also include thematic reporting and advising and awareness-raising on human rights.
Other monitoring bodies include GRETA (the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings), the CEPEJ (European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice), MONEYVAL (the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism) and ECRI (the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance).