Abolition of the death penalty
The Council of Europe played a pioneering role in the struggle for the abolition of capital punishment, which it regards as having no place in democratic societies. In April 1983 it adopted Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights abolishing the death penalty, followed in May 2002 by Protocol No. 13 on abolition in all circumstances.
The Council of Europe has made abolition of the death penalty a precondition for accession. No executions have been carried out in any of the Organisation's 46 member states since 1997.
Strengthening of human rights
Every country which joins the Council of Europe agrees to be subject to independent monitoring mechanisms which assess its compliance with human rights and democratic practices.
One example is the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which regularly makes unannounced visits to places of detention in the 46 member states (prisons, police stations, holding centres for foreign nationals) in order to evaluate the way in which people deprived of their liberty are treated.
For its part, the European Committee of Social Rights verifies that the rights to housing, health, education, employment and freedom of movement guaranteed by the European Social Charter are implemented by the countries concerned.
Another example is the Group of States against Corruption (Greco), which identifies deficiencies in national anti-corruption policies and encourages states to carry out the necessary legislative, institutional or administrative reforms. Its evaluation is based on the relevant Council of Europe conventions.
Non-discrimination and the fight against racism
The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits all forms of discrimination by public authorities, on any grounds whatsoever. The Council of Europe carries out various activities to protect minorities, including the largest minority in Europe, the Roma.
The European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, for instance, is an initiative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. One tangible result of the Alliance is the Romact project run jointly with the European Union.
For its part, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance analyses those specific problems and makes regular recommendations to the 46 member states of the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe also plays a leading role in the fight against discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Finally, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities provides for a monitoring mechanism which evaluates and improves the protection of minorities in the countries concerned.
Upholding freedom of expression
There can be no true democracy without freedom of expression and without free and pluralist media. The case-law of the European Court of Human Rights affords the press extremely wide-ranging protection, especially where the confidential nature of journalists' sources is concerned. According to the Court, the absence of such protection could deter sources from helping the press to keep people informed about matters of public interest.
The right to freedom of expression also applies to new forms of mass communication, including the Internet. The Council of Europe is constantly active in defence of this right, taking account of any developments.
It is helping several of its member states to improve their legislation and policies on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Training courses and study visits are also organised for media professionals.
In the sphere of justice and democracy, gender equality is now considered to be important to countries' economic growth. The aim of the relevant Council of Europe instruments is to combat all forms of discrimination against women and to promote women's role in society.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, which constitutes a significant step forward in this field, is based on the premise that such violence cannot be eradicated unless efforts are made to achieve greater equality between women and men.
Protection of children's rights
Children are vulnerable and depend on adults for most of their needs. The aim of the Council of Europe's programme for children is to protect their rights, prevent every kind of violence against them, ensure that offenders are prosecuted and promote children's participation in those decisions which concern them.
Hence the Convention for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse is the first instrument criminalising sexual abuse of children, including at home or in the family. The convention came into force on 1 July 2010.
In addition, the Council of Europe has adopted guidelines to improve children's access to justice.
Defence of cultural diversity
Following the adoption in 2008 of its "White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue", the Council of Europe started several programmes on teacher training, the protection of minorities and social cohesion, including an annual dialogue with religious communities and representatives of non-religious beliefs. A network of Intercultural Cities helps its member cities to manage cultural diversity and fosters mixing and interaction between heterogeneous groups in public places in order to promote cohesion. It designs tools for resolving cultural conflicts.
In order to promote intercultural understanding, the Council of Europe prepares programmes and tools to improve language teaching.
Through their advisory and observation activities, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and some other European institutions, such as the OSCE, help to guarantee democratic, free and fair elections throughout the continent.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities periodically observes local and regional elections in the Council of Europe's 46 member states. Its observation missions cover the whole electoral process and complement its activities in monitoring the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
Furthermore, in order to improve the proper conduct of elections, the Council of Europe draws up programmes of assistance for fundamental reform of electoral legislation, for the drawing up of electoral rolls and for the training of national observers and election officials.
Education in human rights and democracy
Democracy also extends to active public participation in community life, especially in the context of civil society activities. The Council of Europe develops strategies and tools to promote the learning of human rights and democracy. The Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education shows us how to put those values into practice.
Over 5,000 youth leaders are trained each year at the Council of Europe's European Youth Centres in Budapest and Strasbourg. The courses provided produce a cascade effect, with the youth leaders passing on what they have learned to the members of their associations. Over 15,000 young people also benefit from projects supported by the European Youth Foundation with a view to promoting understanding, tolerance and solidarity.
Quality of medicines and health care
The mission of the Council of Europe’s European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM) is to contribute to the basic human right of access to good quality medicines and health care, and to promote and protect human and animal health.
The work of the EDQM encompasses specific fields, such as medicines, blood transfusion, transplantation, as well as cosmetics and food contact materials. In line with its mission, all the activities of the EDQM aim at ensuring optimum standards for protecting public health throughout the continent.