The oldest post-WWII European institution, the council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization created in 1949. It functions on the basis of unanimity and absolute respect for national sovereignty. This is not to say that the Council of Europe has not made a remarkable contribution to the task of integration and democratization of all of Greater Europe. On the contrary, the cooperation of Member States of the Council of Europe, today numbering 47, has led to the adoption of more than 200 very important European conventions and numerous recommendations and resolutions, which all agree in their respect and their promotion of European values.
The Committee of Ministers
The Committee of Ministers is made up of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Member States or their permanent representatives. It is the body that makes decisions on the adoption and execution of decisions. It also falls upon the Committee of Ministers to oversee the execution of arrests on made by the European Court of Justice.
The Parliamentary Assembly
The Parliamentary Assembly is composed of representatives elected indirectly, by the national parliaments of Member States. The Assembly meets in plenary assembly four times per year. It contains a number of committees, including the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. It is the responsibility of the Assembly to elect the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the Commissioner of Human Rights for the Council of Europe, as well as the judges of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe plays an essential role in the functioning of the Council and its international representation.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is under the control of the Council of Europe. It was created by the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture in 1987 and became operational in 1989.
This Committee possesses the power to inquire, in a periodic or ad hoc manner, into the situation in places of detention in Member States.
The national experts that make up the Committee use these field visits to examine the treatment of people deprived of liberty. The results of the visit will be used, if need be, to reinforce protection against torture. The work of CPT is considered to be an integral part of the Council of Europe’s system for the protection of human rights. It is a non-judicial, proactive mechanism, in parallel with the a posteriori control mechanism of the European Court of Human Rights.
The role of CPT is not to condemn states, but to assist them in order prevent mistreatment. Their reports are submitted to the governments under consideration and then published and followed up on.
The Commissioner of Human Rights
Created more recently, the Commissioner of Human Rights has wide jurisdiction that encompasses the entirety of human rights. The Commissioner carries out numerous visits in states where the situation of human rights requires it. He meets with the authorities and proposes action. He can also, on his own initiative, adopt recommendations on any subject. He works in cooperation with national consultative authorities for human rights.
Each year he presents a general report on the Human Rights situation in the states of the Council of Europe to the Parliamentary Assembly, which debates it. The Commissioner can also be called upon to testify before the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights, created by the Convention of the same name adopted in 1951, is an entirely remarkable judicial institution. A court of final appeal (to be used when all national recourses have been exhausted), its jurisprudence is legally binding and applies to a community of more than 800 million people. The Court, composed of 47 judges elected by the Parliamentary Assembly, issues rulings in Grand Chamber or in Sections.
Since the adoption of Protocol 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, a single judge is, among other things, charged with screening requests. In effect, the Court is a victim of its own success: 139,500 cases were pending at the end of 2010.
Finally these last years the Council of Europe came closer to NGO’s concerned about respect for human rights. A conference of NGO’s was created that comes together with each parliamentary session and works in committees. This Conference, as well as its committees, prepare reports and can adopt recommendations aimed at the Council.