The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote the awareness of and respect for human rights in 47 Council of Europe member states. The initiative for setting up the institution was taken by the Council of Europe’s Heads of State and Government at their Second Summit in Strasbourg on 10-11 October 1997. On 7 May 1999, the Committee of Ministers adopted a resolution which instituted the office of the Commissioner and elaborated the Commissioner’s mandate. The current Commissioner, Mr. Nils Muižnieks, succeeded Thomas Hammarberg (2006-2012) and Álvaro Gil-Robles (1999-2006).
As regards challenges related to migration,there are alarming trends in the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, as well as of irregular migrants in all parts of Europe. States are engaging ever more intensely in extensive border patrols, trying to deter the entry of migrants into their territory. Migrants, including asylum seekers, who do manage to enter irregularly Council of Europe member states are often criminalised, locked up in prison-like conditions, and expelled as quickly as possible – even to countries where they risk persecution and torture. However, irregular migration is not a criminal act and irregular migrants also enjoy certain rights under international law, which need to be respected.
The Commissioner works with and advises member states to improve the protection of human rights of migrants and to ensure that undocumented migrants and their children have the right to basic health care and education. He promotes their right to protection against arbitrary detention, as well as their right not to be sent to countries where they risk ill-treatment and torture.
He draws attention to the fact that one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe today is migrant children, who often are denied basic health care and education, and run the risk of being exploited by traffickers or smugglers. Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg intervened as a third party before the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning the return of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, which has lead to the groundbreaking judgment in the M.S.S v. Belgium and Greece case.