The Council of Europe: key facts
The Council of Europe is the continent’s leading human rights organisation. Since its foundation in 1949, the organisation has created a common legal space, centred on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), across its 46 member states. This represents a death penalty-free zone for more than 700 million people.
- Everyone has the ultimate right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to uphold their fundamental rights and freedoms.
- The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has overseen the implementation of 25,000 judgments and decisions from the Court, benefitting millions of people across the continent in many different ways.
- The Committee of Ministers is made up of the ministers of foreign affairs of each member state or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg. This is the Council of Europe’s main decision-making body.
- The Secretary General leads the organisation and has the overall responsibility for its strategic management. Marija Pejčinović Burić is the 14th Secretary General and was elected in June 2019.
- The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe consists of 306 members of parliament from the 46 member states; the Assembly elects the Secretary General, the Human Rights Commissioner and the judges to the European Court of Human Rights; it provides a democratic forum for debate and monitors elections; its committees play an important role in examining current issues.
- Created in its current form in 1994, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is responsible for strengthening local and regional democracy. It brings together 612 elected officials representing more than 130, 000 local and regional authorities.
- The Commissioner for Human Rights, whose office was established in 1999 with an independent mandate, plays a crucial role in advancing human rights protection by raising awareness about important trends and issues in our societies and through regular country visits and interaction with both national authorities and civil society.
- Alongside the ECHR, the Council of Europe has developed more than 200 legally binding international treaties to help protect people from various threats including torture, violence and sexual abuse.
- 42 member states have ratified the original or revised European Social Charter, which protects key economic and social rights, and 16 countries have accepted the collective complaints procedure before the European Committee of Social Rights.
- 45 European countries, and the European Union, have signed the ground-breaking Istanbul Convention on violence against women and domestic violence; 37 countries have so far ratified the convention, enabling its entry into force.
- All 46 Council of Europe countries have ratified the Lanzarote Convention on protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse. In 2019, Tunisia became the first non-European country to accede to the convention.
- Every member state, plus Belarus and Israel, has also signed and ratified the Council of Europe convention on action against human trafficking.
- Furthermore, 68 countries – including the USA, Australia and Japan – are covered by the Council of Europe convention on cybercrime and 54 countries around the world are now covered by its data protection convention.
- Europe’s rich cultural and natural heritage is protected through the European Cultural Convention, which covers some 50 countries across the continent.
- The Council of Europe has developed a unique Youth Policy bringing together youth representatives and public authorities to increase the voice of young people in the democratic process.
- The Council of Europe has also developed a key competence in the area of sport, with three unique conventions on match-fixing, doping, safety and security at sporting events.
- The Council of Europe is currently developing a legal framework to protect human rights in the use of artificial intelligence. The organisation is also working on new approaches to protect human rights in relation to the environment.
- A key objective of the Council of Europe is to help states to meet common European standards through expert monitoring and advisory bodies including the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission). In addition, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) monitors trends in the areas of racism, discrimination and hate speech and issues recommendations to member states.
- The Council of Europe also regularly monitors the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and regional and minority languages. It has set standards in the area of education for democratic citizenship and the fight against hate speech.
- Since its creation in 2015, the Platform for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists has published more than 1,400 alerts concerning 42 member states, raising awareness of risks to freedom of expression.
- Thanks to its unique HELP Programme, the Council of Europe is a key provider of online training on human rights for legal professionals, academics and the wider public across Europe and beyond.
- Faced with a shrinking space for civil society in many parts of Europe, the Council of Europe also supports Belarusian democratic forces and civil society through a newly established Belarus Contact Group.
- The European Union and the Council of Europe have developed a strong political and strategic partnership including joint cooperation programmes in a large number of countries, inside and outside the European Union, worth more than €230 million.
Our number one priority: supporting Ukraine
- Russia’s war against Ukraine, launched on 24 February 2022, marked the return to armed aggression on a scale not seen since 1945. On 25 February 2022, the Committee of Ministers suspended Russia’s rights of representation at the Council of Europe and on 16 March, Russia was excluded from the organisation due to its blatant violations of the Council of Europe Statute.
- In the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression, our priority is to support Ukraine and its people, including through a dedicated Ukraine Action Plan “Resilience, Recovery and Reconstruction”. The Council of Europe Development Bank is also helping Ukraine in its recovery efforts and other member states in accommodating refugees from Ukraine.
- At the 4th Council of Europe summit held in Reykjavik on 16 and 17 May 2023, the 46 Head of State and Government stood in solidarity with Ukraine against Russia’s war of aggression and gave further priority and direction to the Organisation’s work with the Reykjavik Declaration. Council of Europe leaders to the important decision to establish the Register of damage caused by the Russian Federation’s aggression as a first step towards an international compensation mechanism. They also agreed to strengthen the Council of Europe’s work in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, to recommit to the European Convention on Human Rights and to develop new tools to address human rights challenges related to new technologies and the environment.