The Council of Europe celebrates its 70th anniversary this week! It is an important organisation for Inclusion Europe: We work with the Council to promote the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and their families; and we use membership in the Council of Europe as a basis for our own geographical expansion, with currently 74 members in 39 countries.
“70 years after its foundation, the Council of Europe is our continent’s leading human rights organisation,” says a statement by its Secretary-General, Thorbjørn Jagland. “47 member states have come together to agree common standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. All 830 million people living in this common legal space have an ultimate right of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. This is unprecedented in European history, and an achievement that we should celebrate. The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter are the living roots from which our Organisation grows.”
Why is the Council of Europe important to people with intellectual disabilities and their families?
The Council of Europe, which is not a European Union body, has some instruments and institutions that are especially important to people with intellectual disabilities and their families:
- The European Convention on Human Rights. The convention, which came into force in 1953, was the first instrument to implement some of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and make them binding.
- The European Court of Human Rights, which for example ruled in 2012 that the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment had been violated in the case of a person with a disability. It was also the first time the Court found the right to liberty had been violated in a social care case.
- The Istanbul convention on violence against women and domestic violence, which is important for ending violence against women with intellectual disabilities
- The Commissioner for Human Rights. The task of the Commissioner is to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the 47 Council of Europe member states. He or she examines the human rights situation during regular visits to these states, talking to both governments and civil society. In 2017, for example, the Commissioner published a report about education.
- The European Social Charter. It is a treaty that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights as a counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights, which refers to civil and political rights. The charter deals with a broad range of everyday human rights related to employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare. It was adopted in 1961.
How did Inclusion Europe work with the Council of Europe?
In 2012 Inclusion Europe prepared an easy-to-read document requested by the Council of Europe: Recommendations from the Council of Europe to European governments: How to make sure people with disabilities can take part in political and public life (.pdf)
We are a member of the Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations (Conference of INGOs), which is consulted by the Council on relevant topics.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe drafts reports and resolutions, many of which deal with issues that are important for people with disabilities. In 2017, for example, Inclusion Europe contributed to the topic of political participation.
How we engage with the Council of Europe today
We are urging the Council of Europe to stop the work on the Optional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention, as the document is harmful to people with intellectual disabilities.
We have lodged collective complaints against Belgium in 2017 and against France in 2018 on behalf of our national members in those countries. (Read more about the complaint against France.) The complaints are based upon the European Social Charter.
Last year we joined other disability groups in protesting the Council of Europe’s decision to suspend the Committee of Experts on People with Disabilities.
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Congratulations to the Council of Europe on its anniversary and its contributions towards achieving equal rights of people with intellectual disabilities and their families in Europe!