The Support to Human Rights National Implementation Unit of the Human Rights Policy and Development Department (Directorate of Human Rights – DGI) (the Unit) is supporting the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other European human rights standards at the national level in all Council of Europe (CoE) member states through cooperation programmes in line with the 2012 Brighton Declaration and more particularly its paragraph 9.vi (“Providing appropriate information and training about the Convention in the study, training and professional development of judges, lawyers and prosecutors”.)
As of July 2013, the Unit manages large-scale 11 projects. All of these projects are funded by extra-budgetary resources, through EU/CoE Joint Programmes, the Human Rights Trust Fund or voluntary contributions, with a total budget of more than 17 million Euros. All the projects include support to structural changes in respect of issues such as criminal justice reform or the fight against ill-treatment and impunity and at least one capacity building component for legal professionals on European human rights standards.
Particular emphasis has been placed on developing projects which target those groups that have a direct role in applying or invoking the ECHR in member states, i.e. judges, prosecutors and lawyers. The projects have been designed on the basis of an assessment of the needs in the partner countries by the CoE monitoring bodies, including the ECtHR and the Human Rights Commissioner, the authorities and partner institutions themselves and in close connection with the supervision of the execution of judgments by the Committee of Ministers. In particular, ECHR training is planned on the basis of the analysis of the ECtHR case law in respect of individual countries in order to assess as specifically as possible the training needs in each beneficiary country. As a result, each project is tailor-made with particular reference to the specific needs of the partner state and target group concerned.
The Unit provides a combination of legislative expertise and capacity building support, paying attention to impact and aiming at sustainability, all essential and complementary elements to ensure effective implementation of the ECHR at the national level. Through the projects, the Unit disseminates good practices and contributes to raising the standards of human rights observance in Europe.
The Unit draws upon an extensive network of both national and international experts to carry out its co-operation work. This combination ensures that CoE standards are understood and applied, bearing in mind the national context, including the legislative framework.
The Unit’s support is based on a comprehensive approach. Projects developed include needs assessment, legislative expertise, capacity-building, awareness-raising, peer-to-peer exchanges and evaluation, paying attention to impact and aiming at sustainability.
Legislative expertise helps ensure that national regulatory frameworks are brought into line with the CoE human rights standards, or do not stray from them. Such expert opinions, carried out at the request of the national authorities, make it possible to address possible issues in national legislation which otherwise might give rise to problems that could lead to the ECtHR finding violations of the Convention. In this way, the CoE ultimately, prevents new applications being brought before the ECtHR. Examples of draft legislation reviewed includes Codes of Criminal Procedure, Criminal Codes, laws on alternative service, laws on property, laws on freedom of religion, laws on freedom of assembly, laws setting up Ombudsperson institutions, laws on privacy etc. More specifically, the Unit has contributed to the adoption of new Criminal Procedure Codes in several countries which created the basis for a modern adversarial criminal procedure with the necessary safeguards and guarantees. This helped eliminate many typical problems which served as a major source of repetitive applications to the ECtHR, such as lengthy or unjustified pre-trial detention, non–independence of investigations, unfair trial, restrictions on the right to legal aid, etc.
The work on capacity building and awareness-raising focuses on European human rights standards, in particular the ECHR. The training is aimed at those groups with a direct role in applying or invoking the Convention in the national judicial systems in member states: that is, judges, prosecutors and lawyers. All training is interactive and based on adult learning techniques and open education. The trainees are provided with publications and case extracts or full texts of judgments, in the relevant language. They are also given access to on-line materials such as HUDOC and the HELP training tools. These materials are available to any individual who wishes to improve his or her knowledge of the Convention.
All these projects are implemented under the umbrella of the HELP Programme, which overall objective is to support member states to ensure effective implementation of the ECHR at the national level by providing tools and methodology to national training institutions for judges, prosecutors and lawyers. It has become the platform for all human rights capacity development endeavours undertaken by the CoE and its training methodology is used transversally in these.