Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

The Commissioner’s mandate includes identifying any shortcomings in legislation, regulations and practice with regard to the overall objective of promoting respect for human rights in all 47 member countries of the Council of Europe.

The Commissioner for Human Rights is a quite new element in the structure of the Council of Europe. The idea to create this office emerged during the Council of Europe summit in 1997. The formal decision was made in 1999. Among other things, the Commissioner is mandated to:

  • promote education in and awareness of human rights in Council of Europe member states;
  • identify possible shortcomings in laws and regulations and in practice concerning respect for human rights; and
  • promote respect for human rights as stipulated in the different instruments of the Council of Europe.

The Commissioner for Human Rights is not a judicial body and cannot act upon individual complaints. The Commissioner may, however, act on shortcomings highlighted by individual cases. The Commissioner is to cooperate with bodies that protect human rights in member countries. Where such structures are lacking, the Commissioner is to encourage their establishment. The Commissioner can highlight the situation in a single country, but also take on a theme that has relevance for several countries. Both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers can turn to the Commissioner for viewpoints.

Reports, recommendations and opinions
The Commissioner for Human Rights draws up reports, recommendations and opinions. Furthermore, every year the Commissioner presents an annual report and arranges various seminars. 

Visits to individual countries make up the core of the activities. During these visits, the Commissioner raises different issues which have been identified as problematic. Contacts with non-governmental organisations are important. A few months after the visit, the country in question has an opportunity to see a draft of the report for a period of around one week. The report is then submitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Commissioner presents the main features of the report to the ministers’ representatives (the ambassadors in Strasbourg), and a short discussion also usually follows. The report is then published.

The Commissioner’s recommendations apply to themes. Just a few recommendations have been issued so far, but they have concerned sensitive issues, such as the forced sterilisation of Roma woman in Slovakia and respect for human rights in Chechnya. The opinions that have been issued so far are also quite few and concern more technical matters, such as proposals for a new aliens act in Finland.