Europe's Best Kept Secret
On the evening of 20th November, 17 members of the Chipping Norton Group were delighted to be joined by the Rt Hon Terry Davis CMG, sometime Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Terry explained the history of the Council and its far-reaching role in achieving unity around its aims of protecting and extending human rights, democracy and the rule of law amongst its 47 Member States. He explained that its influence extends even further afield, with several countries (USA, Japan, Israel, Canada and Mexico) having observer status. The Council's remit is far-reaching and includes all aspects of government business other than defence.
In introducing the evening, Kate Ward expressed concern about the Conservative pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a new Bill of Rights "that would transform Britain's relationship with the European Court of Human Rights", and our wish to understand the implications of such a move.
Terry explained that Membership of the Council of Europe is conditional upon signing up to The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); this is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. It is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which enables any person who feels their rights have been violated by a state party to take a case to the Court: judgements finding violations are binding on the States concerned. The Human Rights Act puts into statute everything that is in the ECHR; it thereby makes it possible for a complainant to take legal action in the UK, rather than incurring the expense of going to the ECtHR in Strasbourg. It is assumed that any state not signing up to the ECHR would be expelled from the Council of Europe.
Terry's talk left at least some of us feeling that we must become better informed about the Council of Europe's important human rights work. Given the central role of Human Rights in the Council's objectives, the meeting concluded that AIUK should aim to be represented on the Council's Advisory Body of Non-governmental Organisations which meets quarterly in Strasbourg and which participates actively in the Council's policy and work programme. Terry also provided us with tips about lobbying our MPs and hardened our resolve to continue campaigning to raise the level of human rights at home and abroad.